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2006 Baltimore Orioles Team Preview
by Asher B. Chancey
March 19, 2006

2005 Record: 74-88 (4th Place AL East Division)

2005 Runs Scored: 729

2005 Runs Allowed: 800

Pythagorean 2005 Record: 74-88

On June 21, 2005, the Baltimore Orioles were in first place in the mighty AL East division, ahead of both the Red Sox and the Yankees with a 42-28 record. Since that day, no franchise has had such a downward turn as the Orioles. By the time the team had played 102 games, they were at .500, 51-51 after a 9-23 mid-summer slide. Rafael Palmeiro got busted for steroids and is no longer with the team. Sammy Sosa hit like Sammy Esposito and is about to retire. Brian Roberts got hurt and missed the end of the season. Sidney Ponson suffered through myriad problems and was shipped.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of all of this, though, has been the front office. When everyone on earth knew the Orioles needed pitching help to be competitive coming down the stretch, the O's picked up Eric Byrnes for Larry Bigbie in their only major mid-season move. In the off-season, with pitching again the number one issue facing the team, the Orioles picked up only Kris Benson, a mediocre pitcher with baggage, and acquired Ramon Hernandez, who plays a position where the Orioles already had a high-priced catcher, Corey Patterson, who is simply terrible, Kevin Millar, whose skills are eroding, and LaTroy Hawkins, who would have been a solid pickup had the Orioles not let B.J. Ryan go.

During the off-season, Miguel Tejada made a public demand for a trade, saying he didn't like the direction the team was headed in. When his team, which has very little pitching, spends its off-season picking up a second catcher, a third first baseman, a mediocre (on a good day) outfielder, and lets its closer go while picking up nothing in return, it is hard to blame Tejada for feeling that way.

Catcher

2005 Starters: Javy Lopez, Sal Fasano

Projected 2006 Starters: Ramon Hernandez, Javy Lopez

At least Lopez has taken his move like a champ, complaining minimally before diving in to learn first base, though he is probably this team's DH. Fans will like Ramon's bat, the fact that he doesn't strike out a ton, and his solid defensive play. Fans will not like the fact that Ramon has played in a declining number of games in each of the last three seasons. Still, one of the best when healthy

Position Grade - A-

First Base

2005 Starter: Rafael Palmeiro, Chris Gomez, Jay Gibbons

Projected 2006 Starters: Jeff Conine, Kevin Millar, Gibbons, Lopez

The Orioles really do believe in the Cal Ripken, Jr. approach to baseball - fan favorite veterans who fans love but who don't contribute hugely on offense. Last season it was B.J. Surhoff, this season it is 40 year old Jeff Conine, who returns for a second stint with the Orioles. This is the third team for whom Conine has had a second stint (Royals, Marlins). He was solid last season, but not great. Won't hurt, but won't really help. As for Gibbons and Millar, they are slated to start in the outfield on either side of Corey Patterson, so Lopez will probably be Conine's prime backup.

Position Grade - B

Second Base

2005 Starters: Brian Roberts

Projected 2006 Starter: Brian Roberts

Brian "Ripken" Roberts is incredibly popular in Baltimore. I mean, people just love him. He is good looking, spunky, and does lots of things pretty well. Frankly, if Roberts season had been reversed, with his 162nd game being his first and so on, I am not sure anyone in the city of Baltimore would have noticed BRob, as his fantastic start would become his fantastic finish, and by the time he started hitting no one would have been paying attention.

Still, if he recovers from his horrific injury at the end of last year, he is one of the top second basemen in the league. According to the Fielding Bible, last season he was 9th in double play percentage and 6th in plus/minus rating.

Position Grade - A-

Third Base

2005 Starters: Melvin Mora

Projected 2006 Starters: Melvin Mora

The Orioles enter the 2006 season with Melvin Mora as their third baseman. You may recall that two seasons ago Mora came out of nowhere, as part of the Year of the Third Baseman, with a terrific season to the tune of .340/.419/.562. Last season he dropped off a bit - in fact, he dropped off in every offensive category, signalling a bit of a return to earth. Now, at the age of 34 and heading into his contract year, Mora is asking the Orioles to give him an extension worth a reported $10 million per year.

The other day, a Talk Radio Host on WBAL here in Maryland said something along the lines of "sure, he may be asking for a little bit more than he is worth, but look what he has done for this team! This is what the Orioles do - they alienate guys, and end up running them off."

First of all, I wish I could think of one Oriole who has left the team and starred for another team. Seriously, who is he talking about? Jason Johnson? Gary Matthews? Tony Batista? Maybe Mike Mussina, but that was almost a decade ago.

Secondly, if the Orioles give Mora a penny over $5 million, it would be silly. The Fielding Bible ranks him 26th in the Majors in fielding bunts, while 11th in plus/minus. This is a guy who is good but declining, who is old and not fighting, and now is a bit of a whiner. If Mora wants $10 million per year, I suggest he prove he is worth $10 million per year, because he didn't do it last year. You don't reward a guy for one fantastic year two years after he had it.

Position Grade - B+

Shortstop

2005 Starters: Miguel Tejada

Projected 2006 Starter: Miguel Tejada

In theory, I don't like Tejada because of the way he left Oakland - sulking. But in reality, I like Tejada a lot, and what's not to love? He plays everyday, he hits for power, he hits for average, he is a solid (but not great according to the Bible) fielder, he produces runs, he is exciting. His numbers also declined in 2005 after a fantastic 2004, and his double plays show no sign of decreasing, but his decline was less significant that Mora's, and he will be good once again in 2006.

Position Grade - A

Outfield

2005 Starters: B.J. Surhoff, Luis Matos, Sammy Sosa, David Newhan, Larry Bigbie, Eric Byrnes

Projected 2006 Starters: Millar, Patterson, Gibbons, Matos

How how how how HOW did the Orioles, fresh off of the Sammy Sosa debacle, allow themselves to go back to the Cubs and, for the second year in a row, pick up a terrible outfielder to plug into their starting lineup.

Let me tell you something - Millar won't hurt you with the bat, and Gibbons is a solid but not great player, but none of that matters. If this is seriously the outfield that the Orioles plan to put on the field, the pitching staff is in a lot of trouble, because the outfield is going to be very poorly covered.

Position Grade - D+

Designated Hitter

2005 Starter: Gibbons, Sosa, Lopez, Palmeiro

Projected 2006 Starter: Lopez, Millar

Not surprisingly, Javy Lopez was very good in his first year with the O's, and not so good in his second. Playing DH or first base every day should help keep him fresh, but at 35, don't expect much. Millar should see a fair amoount of time at DH.

Positional Grade - B-

Pitching

2005 Front Three Starters: Rodrigo Lopez, Bruce Chen, Daniel Cabrera

Projected 2006 Front Three: Rodrigo Lopez, Kris Benson, Erik Bedard

Oh, I'm sorry. I forgot to mention that the O's picked up Kris Benson when I was talking about pitching help - that's because he isn't much help. As far as I am concerned, the thing that happened in New York to run him out of town was stupid. It is clear that Benson's wife is a) pretty hot, and b) kinda trashy, but neither of those things should get him run off of a team. Of course, perhaps the fact that he is not a good pitcher got him run off. Who knows. Will he be better than Sidney Ponson? Yes. Will he be any good? No.

Bedard got off to a great start as a rookie last season, then got hurt and wasn't really the same when he returned. Walks a few too many, but solid all around.

Lopez is the presumed ace of this staff, though Chen had better numbers last season. He has been on-again off-again in his career, but fortunately this is his on-again year, so . . .

Positional Grade - C

Other 2005 Starters: Bedard, Ponson, Hayden Penn

Other Possible 2006 Starters: Cabrera, Chen, Penn

Truth be told, Cabrera and Chen as your fourth and fifth starters is pretty good. But truth is they are closer to 1 and 2 than most fourth and fifth starters are. Cabrera has shown flashes of brilliance, and his numbers dramatically improved last season (89/76 to 87/156 BB/K). At 6'7", with an elite fastball, and under the tutelage of Leo Mazzone, Cabrera could dominate if his control improves.

I saw Bruce Chen pitch on two separate occasions last season - he was bend-but-don't-break against a slumping Astros team in June, and he got torched by a surging Yankees team in July. And that sums up Bruce Chen, who had his first full season as a starter since 2001 last year. He strikes out a lot of guys, but with crafty, not dominant, stuff, and he gives up a lot of homeruns, but in clumps, so that he can win games. Chen came up under Mazzone in the late 90's, so we'll see if Leo can work some magic.

Positional Grade - B-

2005 Top Relievers: B.J. Ryan, Todd Williams, Steve Kline, Tim Byrdak, Chris Ray

Projected 2006 Top Relievers: LaTroy Hawkins, Williams, Kline, Byrdak, Ray

Letting B.J. Ryan get away may come back to haunt the Orioles. But with the departure of Ryan, Jorge Julio also left, so maybe the O's will break even. Chris Ray was awesome last year in his first big league action. He averaged over a strikeout per inning, and might be the closer this year, though that role has yet to officially be filled. LaTroy is not the answer.

Positional Grade - B-

Final Word:

Predicted 2006 Record: 70-92

Everyone around them has improved. The Orioles have not. The offense will be enough to push them to 70 wins, but this will be the year that the O's supplant the D'Rays in the AL East basement.





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