Sunday, February 8, 2009

Orioles ink Sherrill - Avoid arbitration

The Orioles secured a key arm in their bullpen by reaching an agreement and avoiding arbitration with left handed reliever George Sherrill. The deal is for one year at $2.75 million. Sherrill, 31, served as the Orioles primary closer last year in the absence of Chris Ray. Sherrill represented the Orioles in the All-Star game last season and finished with 31 saves. Because of his performance, representatives of Sherrill initially requested $3.4 million for the upcoming season. The Orioles counter offer was $2.2 million. On Friday the two sides came to terms and inked a one year $2.75 million deal.

Sherrill will be involved in a very interesting competition this Spring. He and Chris Ray will be battling for the role as closer. Chris Ray, 27, missed all of last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery. To this point, his recovery seems to be right on track. When pitchers and catchers report to camp next week he will be tested. Sherrill in now the incumbent and it will be up to Ray to prove that he is capable of closing for the Orioles once more.

No matter who ends up being the full time closer for the Orioles, the back end of the bullpen appears to be a great strength for this ball club (barring any injuries). Last year, RHP Jim Johnson emerged as an effective set-up man. He consistently worked the eighth inning last year getting the ball to Sherrill for the ninth. Johnson finished with an ERA of only 2.23. The additions of John Parrish and Mark Hendrickson should provide some added depth to the middle and long relievers. Their success and the teams success, however, will still lie with the starting pitching. If the starters can not consistently provide six and seven inning outings then the bullpen will be overworked and become less effective.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Starting Pitching

If Andy Macphail can hang his hat on anything at this point it is the fact that he has very efficiently stockpiled a number of young talented arms. The key, however, is to learn from past Oriole mistakes and keep those arms young for as long as possible.

The recent acquisition of Rich Hill will certainly help to do this.

Hill is a 28 year old left handed stater who has spent his entire career in the Chicago Cubs organization. In 2007, Hill went 11-8 with a 3.92 but was demoted early in 2008 as a result of control problems. Ultimately, Hill became expendable as he was not likely to stick with the Cubs major league roster and was out of options. The Cubs sent him to Baltimore in exchange for a player to be named later.

Hill will be reunited with pitching coachs Rick Kranitz and Alan Dunn - both of whom he worked with in the Cubs organization.

To make room for Rich Hill on the major league roster the Orioles assigned Brian Burres to the minors. He DID NOT clear waivers and was claimed by the Toronto Blue Jays.

Prior to signing Hill, the Orioles acquired Koji Uehara. Uehara too is likely to find a spot in the Orioles starting rotation. The 33 year old righty was very successful in Japan and his signing is a direct reflection of Andy Macphail's strategy of expanding overseas scouting.

Because neither Hill or Uehara have proven themselves as major league starters and the Orioles only have one entrenched starting pitcher in Jeremy Guthrie, Andy Macphail may push hard to sign free agent pitcher Braden Looper prior to February 14 when pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

In addition to Hill and Uehara the Orioles have also acquired John Parrish. The lefty spent time with the Orioles two seasons ago as a left handed specialist out of the bullpen. He spent time with the Toronto Blue Jays last year and could serve as either a long reliever or possibly as a spot starter at the back end of the rotation.

Hill, Uehara, and Parrish will be asked to join incumbent candidates Matt Albers and Troy Patton to help fill the four open starting spots so that the young arms that Macphail has effectively stockpiled wont have to be rushed to the top. Radhames Liz and Hayden Penn will likely be given opportunities to compete for major league spots in spring training as well.

With luck, the Orioles will compete through the end of the season without having to see the likes of Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, David Hernandez, Brad Bergesen, or Brandon Erbe.

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10 Days 'till Pitchers and Catchers Report

and here I post the question...

Who are the 2009 Baltimore Orioles?

To answer this we must first step back and consider whether the Orioles have hit the bottom yet. 2008 provided flashes of the future with the emergence of Adam Jones and Jeremy Guthrie as well as the elevation of Nick Markakis and Aubrey Huff as legitimate middle of the lineup bats. However, despite the teams resiliency under Dave Trembley, they failed to escape the cellar of the AL East. This combined with the World Series appearance by the Tampa Bay Rays made 2008 another miserable experience for O's fans everywhere.

It may have been easier to bear had the team been entirely composed of prospects and rising stars like Jones and Markakis - but it was not. The presence of veterans like Kevin Millar, Jay Payton, Ramon Hernandez, Juan Castro, Melvin Mora only added emphasis to the declining nature of the team on the field. but who are they now?

will the 2009 Orioles reflect the past 11 years and continue to decline?

or will they be the first team to begin the assent?

I do not believe the answer will be reflected in the teams record at the end of the season. Rather it is more important for the fans to believe that this team is going in the right direction. For that to happen, there has to be confidence in the players that are on the field at the end of the season.

Watching the Orioles win only 70 games will never be enjoyable. However, I would rather watch them win 70 games with a young team looking to gain experience then with overpaid veterans who likely will not be with the team when it returns to the top.