Chris Davis (Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)
You would not be faulted if you forgot about the Baltimore Orioles when thinking about the American League East. Were they in another division, that would likely not be the case. But when teamed against their deep pocketed opponents and Tampa Bay, they are fighting an uphill battle. And that is with Chris Davis and his 50-plus home runs.
Prediction: 5th Place American League East
Additions & Subtractions:
For most of the off-season, the Orioles were dormant. Yes they do have an impressive core of young players in their lineup, but that is not going to cut it. They traded Jim Johnson to the Oakland A’s for essentially a flier of speedy second baseman Jemile Weeks, but that still left them with holes at two positions. Johnson was due about $10 million this year, so it is understandable that the Orioles would want to save some money on such a volatile position. The fact that Johnson did struggle some last season is also a factor. But when the deal fell through with Grant Balfour over injury concerns, Baltimore was left without a closer.
We know that Weeks can run, but getting on base is a different story for the second baseman. He will be in the mix to replace the departed Brian Roberts but that will likely be a position in flux all season.
After being dormant for most of the winter, the Orioles did find some value as it got closer to Spring Training. Nelson Cruz was brought in on very good terms, one year and $8 million, to provide some right-handed power and augment the middle of the order. Ubaldo Jimenez cannot be counted on to be an ace, but he was a welcome addition to the starting rotation on a four year, $50 million contract. Sun-Min Yook was also signed out of Korea to give Baltimore another rotation arm.
It has to be the middle of the order core of Chris Davis, Adam Jones, and the newly acquired Cruz. The three should combine for over 100 home runs, and that is accounting for a “regression” from Davis. Expecting the first baseman to hit over 50 home runs again in 2014 is a little over zealous, but I think Baltimore would be perfectly happy with 40-45. Jones is as steady and well rounded as they come and Cruz has a proven track record of run production.
Tommy Hunter is slated to open to season as closer, but he doesn’t have much experience pitching out of the bullpen in high pressure situations, let alone closing games. Hunter’s propensity for giving up home runs could also be a problem. Other than trying to sign Balfour, Baltimore did not make much of an effort to replace Johnson, and that could hurt them this season.
Manny Machado took the league by storm upon his promotion in 2012. How he recovers and returns from his knee injury this year could play a large part in the Orioles’ success in 2014. He will likely not be ready for the start of the season, and how long it takes him to shake off the rust could dictate whether or not Baltimore can improve upon my prediction.