A year ago the Orioles won 93 games. The Boston Red Sox lost 93 games. Somehow, the Red Sox won 28 more games in the regular season and captured their third World Series in nine years.
On Thursday morning, the oddsmaker Bovada said the Orioles are 25:1 to win the 2014 World Series.
An Orioles fan has to be nearing 40 to remember their last World Series in 1983.
What will it take for the Orioles to get back to the World Series? If the Red Sox can go from 69 wins to 97, shouldn’t the Orioles be able to move up from 85 to 97? Many of the same players who won 93 games are still going to be with the team in 2014.
Boston recognized its mistake by choosing Bobby Valentine to manage their team in 2012. Wanting a change from Terry Francona, whose message had grown stale they thought, they went to a manager who was a lightning rod.
After quickly dismissing him, they lured Francona’s pitching coach John Farrell from Toronto, where he had managed the last two years. Farrell’s steadying influence in a difficult environment helped the Red Sox enormously.
Just as Farrell was good for Boston, Buck Showalter knows his team and is a good match for the market.
Coincidentally, Farrell replaced newly hired Orioles pitching coach Dave Wallace in Boston in 2007, and Wallace worked for Valentine in New York for two years.
The Orioles recognize that many of their players are as good or better than the Red Sox. Boston lost 11 of 19 games to the Orioles this season.
Matt Wieters, Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy, Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis are all good enough not only to be Gold Glove winners or finalists, but skilled enough to play important roles on championship clubs.
During the winter, the Orioles will address second base, left field and the bench. Danny Valencia, who briefly play for the Red Sox, is penciled in as the right-handed hitting DH. If Nate McLouth and Brian Roberts are re-signed, the Orioles’ team on the field certainly can compete with Boston or Tampa.
They know their pitching isn’t good enough. In order for their pitching to be championship quality, it has to be much deeper.
The Orioles did a have a chance to sign Koji Uehara last winter, but Boston outbid them. A year ago, the bullpen looked like a strength. Jim Johnson had converted 51 of 54 chances, and the Orioles also had Darren O’Day, Luis Ayala, Pedro Strop, Brian Matusz and Troy Patton returning.
Matusz and Tommy Hunter were late converts to the bullpen, and after they drafted T.J. McFarland, their bullpen looked stacked. In fact, they dealt Ayala early in the season to make room for McFarland.
It turned out that Strop struggled, and other than Hunter, the rest weren’t quite as good as they’d been in 2013.
Uehara signed a two-year, $9.25 million contract that in retrospect looks like a bargain. But, he wasn’t the Red Sox closer to begin the season. Joel Hanrahan was, and it wasn’t until Andrew Bailey was hurt that Uehara stepped in.
Uehara was a most respectable third option as closer.
The Orioles know they have to get deeper. Look for some new names in the bullpen next year.
Chris Tillman will enter spring training as the staff leader with Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Bud Norris behind him. Kevin Gausman should be on the starting staff, and if the Orioles re-sign Scott Feldman, he’ll be there, too.
It’s unlikely that the Orioles will spend big money in the offseason on outside free agents.
Last winter, Boston signed Uehara, Ryan Dempster, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli, David Ross and Shane Victorino as free agents. Only Dempster (two years, $26.5 million) and Victorino (three years, $39 million) were relatively big ticket contracts.
Victorino’s was scoffed at in many quarters. A solid player for many years, his performance with the Phillies and Dodgers convinced a number of teams that he was heading south. Instead, he rebounded sharply to hit .294 with a .351 on-base percentage. He’ll turn 33 next month, and should be able to play well for another two years.
Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette may sign a few smaller ticket free agents, perhaps to play left or DH and to fill out the bullpen.
They’re hoping that Wallace can help get the starters they have to the championship level.
While the Orioles are most familiar with the Red Sox, they’d prefer to follow the St. Louis Cardinals’ model of growing their own. More product from the minor leagues will be crucial.
Boston’s payroll of $176.4 million is out of the Orioles’ league. St. Louis’ $116.4 million is more realistic.