The Orioles' quiet offseason


The Baltimore Orioles didn't do much of anything this winter. Should they still be confident about the 2013 season?

The sum of the Baltimore Orioles' offseason:

  • Jair Jurrjens
  • Russ Canzler
  • Alexi Casilla
  • Danny Valencia
  • Todd Redmond

Your reaction was probably similar. "Wow, Todd Redmond is still active!" Your second reaction was probably similar. "Wait, I thought they were talking about Mike Redmond." Your third reaction was probably, "There's a Todd Redmond now?" Your fourth reaction was probably something about being hungry.

But eventually you would get to the part about the Orioles not doing anything this offseason. Their biggest financial move was re-signing Nate McLouth for $2 million. Their biggest trade was for Yamaico Navarro, a six-position utility player formerly in the Pirates' system.

The Orioles don't think this is a problem, and Jon Heyman helps explain why:

A national columnist recently ranked their offseason as 28th best of 30 teams, to which Duquette responded, "Where did he pick us last year?''

One skeptical competitor, mocking the Orioles' do-little winter, said, "They obviously plan to win 16 straight extra-inning games again.''

The Orioles decision-makers don't see it as a joke, though. "It's not luck. You don't get lucky over 162 games,'' Showalter said.

His explanation is simple, really. "Our bullpen was really, really good,'' he said.

They kicked the tires on Josh Hamilton. Zack Greinke was on their list. They talked about Adam LaRoche, Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse. They made an offer for Joe Saunders. Some players were unrealistic for them. With others, they ultimately decided they didn't want to give up the draft choice attached.

I applaud the Orioles' confidence. But I have about 632 different reservations, which I'll try to condense into a few points.

1. No, no. You really do get lucky over 162 games. Like, historically lucky. I know that Orioles fans don't care for pundits constantly referencing their record in extra-inning/one-run games or their Pythagorean record as a shorthand for why the team is doomed, but it's kind of unavoidable. You can choose to believe the Orioles will set records for close-and-late play again, but it would be like expecting Miguel Cabrera to win the Triple Crown again. You can posit that Cabrera is unlikely to win the Triple Crown without thinking he's devoid of talent, you know.

(I will note that the team I mention far too often, the 1997 Giants, was supposed to disintegrate into nothingness after being outscored during the regular season, but they did just fine).

2. Yes, the bullpen was really, really good. That's almost underselling it. Five relievers had ERAs under 3.00 with ERA+ over 160, and that doesn't include the late-season renaissance of Brian Matusz. ERA isn't the best way to measure relievers, so you can also note that the core of Baltimore's bullpen had 132 shutdowns to 39 meltdowns. That's roughly 30 more shutdowns than you might expect, even from a good bullpen.

That's 30 extra shutdown performances in a full season for a team that won their playoff spot by three games. It was most certainly the reason the O's made the playoffs. And it isn't going to happen again. Not because the Orioles have relievers who are doomed for a specific reason, but because the Orioles have relievers. Counting on any bullpen to replicate its exact success from a previous season rarely works. When I put "correlation of bullpen success from year to year" into Google, our old friend Sam Miller popped up.

Play it, Sam. Play "As Bullpens Go Kerflooey":

And then there’s Strop, whose acquisition is the perfect microcosm of this article’s point. Strop was an apparently lousy reliever traded for a pretty good reliever. The pretty good reliever, Mike Gonzalez, didn’t do squat. The lousy one turned into a bullpen ace, for a year at least. You just can’t predict bullpens. That’s what makes it all fun, and that’s what makes the Orioles’ 2012 season possible.

And unrepeatable.

That was the conclusion, and it kind of ruins the rest of the article, but it's not like you were going to read the rest (no GIFs). Predicting bullpens is lunacy. Jim Johnson should be good. A couple of the others will still be good. But collectively, they won't be as good.

3. Baseball Prospectus also has a nifty little depth chart up based on their PECOTA projections, where they add up the collective wins a team is supposed to get from their combined position players. The horrible situations get red, the bad situations get pink, and the color coding goes all the way up to Votto green. The Cubs and Mariners each have a pink and a bunch of yellows, for example.

The Orioles have four pinks.

Which is kind of a weird thing to give the single-sentence-paragraph treatment, especially if you don't know the context. But the Orioles are projected to get well-below-average production from first, second, third, and DH. If you think they're being too harsh with Manny Machado (I do, too), it's harder to quibble with Chris Davis, Wilson Betemit, and Brian Roberts and Friends. There were places to upgrade. Even if the second-base market was Marco Scutaro and a can filled with spring-loaded snakes, you would have thought DH would be an easy upgrade.

4. This was the perfect time to spend. Look at the Blue Jays. The Yankees can't even afford a starting catcher, the Rays can afford only a James Loney when they go on the market for a first baseman, and the Red Sox are still a hot mess until proven otherwise. Coming off a surprising season, with a division that's more up for grabs than it has been in 15 years, there were a lot of reasons to expect a Return of the Angelos. The Orioles used to be financial bullies, you know. They had the highest payroll in baseball in 1998, and it wasn't until they started losing 90 games every year that they dropped out of the top five.

I'm not saying they needed to sign Josh Hamilton, but Nick Swisher, Lance Berkman, Mike Napoli, Melky Cabrera, Ryan Ludwick … heck, even Eric Chavez. Something, anything to help the lineup. (And Josh Hamilton would have been pretty nifty, too.)

5. Worried about the draft pick? The Orioles will pick 24th this year. In the 47-year history of the draft, seven players picked 24th produced more than a win above replacement over their respective careers. Six of them produced more two wins: Terry Mulholland, Joe Blanton, Rich Dauer, Chad Billingsley, Rondell White, and Alex Fernandez.

Holding on to the draft pick for dear life might have given the Orioles a four-percent chance for Rondell White or Alex Fernandez, and about a 13-percent chance for someone as productive as Joe Blanton.

I'm not trying to say the Orioles are doomed. There will be enough of those articles, and I'm not sure I buy into the idea completely. What I am trying to say is that considering the Orioles' momentum coming off a surprising season, their success in areas (one-run games, bullpen) that are hard to replicate, the apparent holes in the lineup, the relative strength of the division, and the minimal risk of punting a No. 24 pick, this was the strangest possible offseason for the Baltimore Orioles to be dormant. It makes no sense. They were the anti-Blue Jays, even though they had far more reasons to go full Blue Jays.

The Orioles' confidence is admirable. I'm just not sure it's justified.

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