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Thoughts off the top of an open mind

A few thoughts as the Orioles' regular season begins with today's game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays:

  • Most prognosticators (human and computer-assisted) have the Orioles pegged for yet another fourth-place finish this year. Given the nearly static nature of the AL East's order of finish in the last eight seasons, it is only sensible of them to expect more of the same. But it would be nice to see someone show a little creativity every once in a while. Virtually everyone has New York and Boston maintaining their lock on the top two positions in the division, though they disagree on which will finish first. Toronto usually ends up in a respectable third, while Baltimore and Tampa Bay (usually in that order) pull up the rear. Some links to preseason predictions:

  • The season-opening roster contains no major surprises for those who followed the team during spring training. Still, there are several new faces this year, including a few who may be relatively unknown to most O's fans, such as relievers Jim Brower and Sendy Rleal and backup catcher Raúl Chávez. The most talked-about decision, although it was not totally unexpected, was allowing the team's top prospect, outfielder Nick Markakis, to begin the season on the big-league club. Perhaps this may be an astute move, but in my view it was premature. I'll go into more detail when I do a deeper roster analysis in a later post.
  • Rodrigo López is today's starting pitcher for the O's. He's a safe choice, but more because of his experience and consistency than his likelihood to dominate the opposition. In the last four seasons, he's shown that he is a durable big-league starter of average to slightly above-average ability who seems to do well in even-numbered years. But if he's the staff ace, then the Orioles are probably destined for another sub-.500 season. The Orioles' hopes for improvement in the starting pitching department rest on whether their two most talented young arms, Erik Bedard and Daniel Cabrera, can take their games to the next level. By the end of the year, one of those two should replace López as the staff's king of the hill.
  • Tampa Bay's Opening Day starter, young southpaw Scott Kazmir, is a blast from the past for Orioles VP for baseball ops Jim Duquette going back to their days with the New York Mets. In fact, Kazmir is probably one of the reasons that Duquette is no longer with the Mets. Two seasons ago, Duquette was the Mets' general manager and pulled off a July 30 trade that sent Kazmir, who was the Mets' 2002 first-round draft choice, and a minor-leaguer to the Devil Rays for erratic veteran starter Víctor Zambrano and reliever Bartolomé Fortunato. The trade was roundly criticized at the time because Kazmir was considered one of the game's top pitching prospects, while the Mets, though not out of wild-card contention at the time of the trade, were realistically in a rebuilding year. The results since then have not reflected well on Duquette's judgment. Kazmir has emerged at the big-league level as a pitcher of at least Zambrano's caliber, while Zambrano has stagnated with the Mets. I've been doing research on Duquette's background, and I hope to share more of my findings here in the near future.
  • Update (May 31): Lee Jenkins of the New York Times has written an elegiac retrospective of the Scott Kazmir-Víctor Zambrano trade. With Zambrano sidelined for the season with an elbow injury and Kazmir pitching like an all-star, the trade is looking even more lopsided as time passes. Of course it's still early, but Jenkins boldly suggests that "maybe it really was [the Mets'] worst deal since they sent Nolan Ryan to the Angels for Jim Fregosi in 1971." In the article, Duquette blames the trade on "too many cooks in the kitchen" in the Mets' decision-making camp, plus he accuses the Devil Rays of downplaying the severity of Zambrano's elbow condition. At least he didn't try to defend the transaction as a good one.

    Since Duquette came to Baltimore last fall, he's helped steer swaps for Kris Benson and Corey Patterson that have yielded promising early returns. Acquiring LaTroy Hawkins for Steve Kline has been less successful, but hardly a total loss yet. Nevertheless, if Kazmir keeps pitching like he is now—right now he's one of the ten best starting pitchers in baseball—Duquette may never be able to live down that one bad trade, no matter how many good ones he pulls off with his new team. The New York media and Met fan base will surely remind him about it whenever he comes back to visit the Big Apple, and as long as Kazmir is in the AL East, he'll provide several annual in-person reminders whenever he pitches against the O's. I bet Duquette secretly hopes that the kid's 22-year-old arm falls off.

    Comments (3)

    Ryan McLaughlin:

    This is what O's baseball usually is in April. Hot! Hot! Hot! 2-0 start to the year and going for the sweep of Tampa Bay tonight. It seems like every year, we get off to a great start and peak somewhere around the All-Star Break. Of those pitchers you mentioned, we need someone to step up as the ace. The bats are going to cool off. We're not going to score 16 runs every game. We're going to have to win the 2-1 games. Who do you think is going to step up and be the backbone of the rotation??


    Regarding the Orioles' "hot" starts: it helps when you have a bunch of games against Tampa Bay in the month of April. That has often been the case for the Orioles over the past few years.

    The offensive outburst of the first two games is nothing to get excited about because of whom it came against: the Devil Rays' pitching staff. Kazmir and Seth McClung have good stuff, but lack command at this point in their careers. Their bullpen and the rest of their rotation look to me like a bunch of belly-itchers, if you'll pardon the expression.

    I'll explore the Orioles' pitching more deeply in an article sometime soon, I hope. In short, I like Cabrera's chances of success the most.


    Sorry to say but the O's will be fighting for 3rd in the division with Toronto. Sox over Yanks in the east.


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