March 19, 2014
Hey Spring, thanks for coming. I don't want to sound like an ass-hat or anything, but your brother Winter was a royal douche this year. I hope you're planning something nice. The Orioles? You bring the Orioles every year. You added free agents this go-round? Like, 75-year-old retreaded also-rans, right? Maybe Sammy Sosa's grandfather or a homunculus slapped together from pine tar, Louisville Slugger bat shavings, and the pickled liver of Babe Ruth? I hear Albert Belle has finally finished his court-ordered anger management and is available. I think the O's have finally paid off his last contract, so they could use that money to re-sign him. Wait, they landed Nelson Cruz for only $8 million, you say? Wow! They signed Korean pitcher Suk-min Yoon-who, while coveted by many teams, had never played in the States-for $5.75 million, and they gave starter Ubaldo Jimenez a four-year deal? The Orioles did that? Did Peter Angelos mysteriously vanish after the Grant Balfour deal fell through? Has someone checked Dan Duquette's steamer trunk? Are there muffled screams coming out of Buck Showalter's closet? Wait, forget I asked. Let sleeping Angeloses lie.
There's no question the Birds had one of the best nucleuses (or nuclei, if you're reading this on the Hopkins campus) in the bigs, but they lacked some essential ganglia (it's a word. Look it up. And if you do, let me know if I used it right) to make these Birds a team that could compete in the stacked AL East, and no one, least of all me, thought they'd spend the cash required to make this a complete club. I mean, as Jack Frost spent the winter giving the mid-Atlantic a less than jolly rogering, the O's offseason was shaping up like a wretched repeat of the previous 13, dating back to the loss of Mike Mussina and the unofficial start of the Orioles' Dark Ages. Winter kicked off with the loss of 50-save closer Jim Johnson and crescendoed with a hinky medical report, like so many before, putting the kibosh on the signing of Balfour, Johnson's presumed replacement. Rumors swirled, of course, as they always do-the Birds were going after Bronson Arroyo and Shin-Soo Choo, and those rumors flopped, as they always do. But through it all, O's de facto GM Duquette swore the Orioles were still looking, and they were going to spend big-boy money. Here's the crazy part: It happened!
Duquette made some of the shrewdest moves this club has seen since the days of Pat Gillick way back in the mid-'90s. He waited out the market like Crush Davis sitting on a hanging slider and sent this offseason sailing over the fence. For the casual fan, I cannot stress enough the importance of the moves your Baltimore Orioles have made. Let's start with Yoon, a 27-year-old just entering his prime with four solid pitches. He could flourish as a starter or possibly move to the pen to fill the Birds' closer role, but more than that, his signing makes a statement: The Baltimore Orioles are a player in the international market. They are willing to sign top talent from around the world and will part with the ducats required to make it happen.
Then there's Ubaldo Jimenez. Jimenez is like a vintage Ferrari: When he's running right, he's one of the best in the game. But like an Italian V-12, his delivery's got a lot of moving parts, and when something goes wrong, it goes really wrong. In 2010 Jimenez started for the National League in the All-Star Game and finished third in Cy Young voting, but something happened to his mechanics and it all fell apart. Then something clicked late last season, and it looks like he's running right again. If his 96-mph heater is working, he could rebound to be truly dominant in the number-two spot of the rotation. All that is great, but even more importantly the Baltimore Orioles gave him a four-year deal! That's been unheard of in the Angelos era, and without the willingness to make a four- or five-year commitment, the best hurlers in baseball would remain forever out of the Orioles' league. On top of that, signing Jimenez required the Orioles to give up their top draft pick in next year's draft. That's a move the Orioles had seemed unwilling to make, but they pulled the trigger. With just one signing, Dan Duquette and Peter Angelos rewrote the Orioles offseason playbook.
And finally, we've got the big bat of outfielder Nelson Cruz. Cruz smacked 27 homers in just 109 games last year and could very easily top 30 in a full season in tiny Camden Yards. Probably batting in the five-hole, he'll make it tough for teams to pitch around Davis, and he makes an intimidating lineup that already led the majors in home runs downright scary. Of course, many were predicting Cruz, the former Ranger, would command a four-year, $60 million-plus deal, but teams were turned off by his history with performance-enhancing drugs (or, more particularly, with getting caught), and the fact that they'd have to give up one of those precious draft picks. But coming five days after the Jimenez deal, the Orioles had already given up their top pick, a second rounder was a no brainer. And after waiting so long, Cruz was desperate and signed for one year at a (God help us) bargain-basement $8 million. In short, Cruz's signing proves the Orioles want to win and do it now.
So the O's have made a lot of great moves and have transformed this team from a reason for Baltimoreans to rip out their hair to a very real threat to win the toughest division in baseball. Huzzah! Huzzah! It looks to be a sweet summer down at the yard. But even more importantly, opening the Angelos purse strings gives fans a reason to think that maybe, just maybe, the Orioles can keep Matt Wieters and Chris Davis around after the next two years. That's a hope that seemed like science fiction just a month ago, but thanks to Duquette's wheeling and dealing and Angelos' investment in the team, I might just make an investment in a Chris Davis jersey. It would be sweet to wear to a World Series parade, and I might get more than two seasons wear out of it. Let's Go O's!
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