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How Hopeless is it for the Baltimore Orioles?

Living where I do, I watch the Orioles more than any team other than the Royals. I wouldn't say I root for them, but I do tend to feel empathy for, or with, their fans. Just a few years ago, maybe even just a few months ago, the Orioles were seen by many as a team on the rise, they had a number of exciting young players on both the Major League roster and in the minor leagues. During the Mark Teixeira free agency sweepstakes, I can recall a few smart baseball writers of the saber perspective arguing that he actually made sense for Baltimore, a team that was ready to take the next step.

Now, they just look hopeless to me. As Royals fans we know what hopeless looks like. From the outside I'd say their best course of action is to begin a massive rebuild. Trade everyone: Wieters, Jones, everyone.

  • In the last two years, seemingly all of their pitching prospects have taken steps backwards, lost velocity, etc. This was a group that prospect hounds were quite excited about at one point. However, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, etc have not panned out. As a group, it seems unlikely that they will produce much value for the Orioles. Perhaps one good pitcher will emerge from the pile, but it no longer looks like a young staff is in the making.
  • Matt Wieters and Adam Jones are good young players who have not lived up to expectations. In the offseason BP described Wieters as one of the most disapointing prospects of all time, a designation that gained a lot of attention and vitriol. Weiters has had a nice season, but he has not emerged as a Joe Mauer at his peak superstar. Moreover, much of his value is tied up in the mysterious world of catcher defense. Jones has been a 2-3 win player in Baltimore. He's a nice player but isn't one that's pushing the Orioles to greatness. Worse still, for both Wieters and Jones, their cheap years are coming to an end. Jones is already in arbitration and will be a free agent in 2014. Wieters hits arbitration in 2013. Perhaps Wieters will be part of the next contending Orioles team, it seems unlikely Jones will.
  • Nick Markakis has been in a mysterious decline for years and is set to become very well paid through 2015. The Orioles owe him $42 million through 2014 with an option for $15 million in 2015. He might be break even salary-wise, value-wise, going forward. Might. He's not an asset.
  • The Orioles owe Brian Roberts $20 million for 2012-12 and are probably hoping he pulls a Gil Meche.
  • Finally, we have the daunting matter of context. The Orioles play in the best division in baseball, by far. Obviously, the Yankees and Red Sox will almost always be 90 win teams, at minimum. However, the terrible news for the Orioles is that they now appear to be well behind the Blue Jays and Rays going forward. Tampa probably has the best farm system in baseball right now and a good young core of talent. The Blue Jays are a little behind the Rays on both counts, but have more resources.

    I just can't help but conclude that the Orioles should blow it up. Step one is a massive FO overhaul. The current regime did ok, in building the Orioles up to a few years of Baseball America glory, but it didn't work out.  Hire the best GM candidate on the market and let him assemble a new team. Then, trade Markakis for anything, shop the pitchers for anything, and, importantly, maximize the assets you have in Jones and Wieters. Trading Weiters won't happen and would be incredible risky, but what else can the Orioles do? They have to get dramatically better. Dramatically. They could build a roster that would win the AL Central, and they might not get to .500 in the AL East. They have to get radical. As Seal once said, the only way they're gonna survive, is to get a little crazy.