The Orioles are back from their winter break with a new team and a new mission statement, and they're hoping that 2008 signals the beginning of a new trend in their organizational history. Baltimore has endured 10 straight seasons without a winning record and has decided to cut bait, trading away veterans for multiple groups of prospects.
Shortstop Miguel Tejada and staff ace Erik Bedard have already been dealt, and speculation has followed second baseman Brian Roberts for several months. The Orioles have clearly decided to stake out a new direction centered around homegrown prospects Adam Loewen and Nick Markakis, a goal well suited to the team's current talent structure.
Baltimore has several high-caliber prospects littered throughout the farm system, and it will take a couple seasons to see them work up to the parent club. The Orioles are prepared to wait, though, and provide competition for homegrown prospects through more trades, waiver claims and the First-Year Player Draft.
It's a full-fledged rebuilding effort, although it's one that's still in the early stages of reconstruction. The Orioles will go as far as players like Markakis and Adam Jones can take them, and they're excited to watch them develop in a pressure-free environment. Now, the trick is surrounding them with enough talent to take the next step.
The Orioles have invested heavily in starting pitching in recent seasons, stockpiling arms through trades and through the First-Year Player Draft. Baltimore has been hoping that youngsters like Daniel Cabrera and Loewen would step up and show tangible signs of improvement, and the team's forward momentum is geared to that development. If the current crop doesn't thrive as expected, the Orioles have another batch of highly anticipated pitchers coming through the system.
Projected starting lineup
|1. 2B Brian Roberts|
|2. 3B Melvin Mora|
|3. RF Nick Markakis|
|4. 1B Kevin Millar|
|5. DH Aubrey Huff|
|6. C Ramon Hernandez|
|7. LF Luke Scott|
|8. CF Adam Jones|
|9. SS Luis Hernandez|
|1. RHP Jeremy Guthrie|
|2. LHP Adam Loewen|
|3. RHP Daniel Cabrera|
|4. RHP Steve Trachsel|
|5. LHP Brian Burres|
|Closer: LHP George Sherrill|
|Setup: RHP Chad Bradford|
|Setup: LHP Jamie Walker|
|Middle: RHP Dennis Sarfate|
|Middle: RHP Randor Bierd|
|Long: RHP Matt Albers|
The Orioles were a team with a middling power output even before they traded Tejada, and now they need to find a way to replace his production. Scott may provide a boost in left field and veterans Aubrey Huff and Ramon Hernandez should be looking at a modest bounce-back season, but the Orioles are still going to struggle to score runs on most nights.
You'll know they're rollin' if ...
Baltimore has several choices to round out the back end of its rotation. The Orioles will likely dip down to Triple-A Norfolk at some point in the season to audition starters Hayden Penn, Garrett Olson and Radhames Liz. If all three thrive in their brief opportunities, the Orioles may have to make a trade or two to thin out the ranks.
You'll know they're in trouble if ...
Should a player like Markakis or Scott get hurt early in the season, it will hurt. Baltimore has depth in a few areas, but there isn't much to speak of in the hitting department. The Orioles only have a few players capable of hitting 20 home runs, and if they get injured, there isn't much in the way of offensive succor to be found in the upper rungs of the organization.
The Orioles went 9-9 against the Yankees last season and will have their first test against New York early in the season. The Yankees will visit Camden Yards for a three-game set on April 18-20, and it will give Baltimore a chance to gauge how its new configuration will play against one of the best teams in the league.
The Orioles will play the Astros, Brewers and Cubs in addition to a home-and-home series with Washington. The Houston series will bring Tejada back to Baltimore, and the Orioles will get the rare treat of playing in Milwaukee and at Chicago's Wrigley Field. The Orioles went 5-13 against their Interleague opponents last season.
The Bottom Line
Baltimore's executives haven't been shy about branding this a rebuilding season and have been up-front about the organization's general direction. The Orioles are well aware that 2008 may be a difficult year as far as the standings go, but the general hope is that the team will do everything it needs to do to be competitive in 2009 or 2010.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.