Wednesday, April 22, 2009

When can the Orioles compete?

Childs Walker today, writing for the Toy Department, makes the claim that the Orioles "have to think about what would be best in 2011-2013, not what's best now." I think he has the concept right, but the timeline wrong. As I wrote in the comments:
I agree that the pitching would have to develop quickly, but I disagree that this is highly unlikely (at least in terms of the relative likeliness of any pitching developing). Bergesen is here, and Hernandez probably isn't far behind. Matusz is probably on the Wieters timeline, but he was regarded last summer as someone who should reach the big leagues quickly (as in potentially in 2009). Tillman is in AAA, and while he still has a ways to go, he's not exactly far off. Arrieta is off to a solid start in Bowie, and so is Brandon Erbe. Other than Matusz, all of these guys have had success in full season leagues, and all have reached the upper levels of the system. Is 2010 a dream? Sure. But is it unrealistic to expect that next year's rotation will be filled with four of those guys listed above? Definitely not. And when that's the case, the window for contention is open.
Now, we all know about the difficulty in developing pitching. There will be bumps and bruises and Tommy Johns along the way, which is part of why I omitted Troy Patton completely. But think about that list: Brad Bergesen, David Hernandez, Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, Brandon Erbe, Brian Matusz and Troy Patton. Those are seven arms about whom Orioles fans have legitimate reasons to expect valuable Major League contributions. Will all of them reach their potential? Highly unlikely. But could a few of them be ready for Baltimore in 2010? I don't see why not. And that's why I'm willing to define the Orioles window for contention as beginning in 2010.

Walker's post begins with a discussion about the fate of Nolan Reimold. Here are The Nest, I'm a big fan of Nolan Reimold. He's a potential power bat, but also someone who plays a position (leftfield) at which the Orioles have a surplus of serviceable players (Pie, Scott, Freel, Montanez). I have absolutely no problem with the Orioles allowing Felix Pie to play everyday. No, he hasn't done much so far (.212/.276/.316 so far in 329 career plate appearances), but Brian Roberts, over 441 plate appearances in his age 23 and 24 seasons, hit .253/.284/.341 and .227/.308/.297 and that seemed to work out OK. Pie is a talented athlete, and when you consider his minor league track record, he deserves a shot to prove himself in the Majors. Unfortunately, so does Nolan Reimold. What to do?

One solution would be to allow Reimold to play every day in Norfolk and promote if and when there is an injury to Pie, Huff or Scott. I believe that it is far better if he gets four or five plate appearances per game in Norfolk than if he plays once or twice a week in Baltimore. Could Reimold play a bit of first base? Now would be a good time to find out. Then, he could provide the right-handed part of a platoon among LF, 1B and DH. Regardless, if he continues to hit in Norfolk, he's going to force the Orioles hand at some point. Scott is not part of the long-term plans for this club, and he could be moved for a useful part to free up at-bats. Having too many players for too few positions is something very new for the Orioles, and it's not a bad problem to have.

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