To say that the Orioles pitching staff was decimated in 2008 – not by injuries but by opponents’ bats – would be an understatement. Going into the season, the team knew that they would not have reliever Chris Ray for the entire year following Tommy John surgery. But for the most part, the Orioles were healthy in 2008. They just weren’t very good.

As a team, they gave up 5.4 runs per game (13th of 14 AL teams), struck out a meager 5.5 batters per game (last in AL) and walked 4.1 (last again). Opponents hit 184 HRs (last) and had a statistical line of .277 (13th)/.361 (13th)/.436 (12th). Beginning to see a pattern here?

Things have gotten so “interesting” that the team is reportedly considering putting Danys Baez into the rotation next year. I don’t think it will happen (I mean, try giving him 160 innings and you’re going to lose your job), but it acts as a microcosm of their current situation.

As it now stands, the only pitcher with a guaranteed spot in the rotation is the oft-ignored Jeremy Guthrie. I do think that the arbitration-eligible Daniel Cabrera ought to be there as well, although I am no fan (where did those strikeouts go?). The moment a half-way decent offer is made for him the Orioles should pounce. But until that time, Cabrera should keep getting the opportunity to drive up his own trade value.

Beyond that? Who knows. I really don’t. The trip of Garrett Olson, Brian Burres, and Radhames Liz combined for 65 starts and none of them had ERAs south of 6. At this point, I’m not entirely sure that this is even all that important just because there aren’t better options out there. The O’s are better suited going this route than signing mediocre free agents to long-term deals that will have no payoff.

However, there is one thing that the Orioles absolutely need – patience, especially with their prospects.

The group is led by Matt Wieters, the 22-year old catcher who has produced eye-popping numbers in Single and Double-A in 2008, en route to becoming perhaps the best prospect in all of baseball. Their young arms are led by Chris Tillman, who, along with centerfielder Adam Jones and reliever George Sherrill, was acquired in the foolish (for the Mariners) Erik Bedard deal and Brian Matusz, the 4th overall pick in the 2008 draft. Add in Nick Markakis and the aforementioned Jones and the Orioles have quite the solid base upon which to build.

Here’s the bad news, however. They play in the AL East. They’re up against financial juggernauts (Red Sox and Yankees) and neither of them were division champs in 2008. The Rays’ future has been mentioned so often that I think we’re all bored with them already. And I quite like the Blue Jays’ chances in a couple of years.

So where does that leave the Orioles? On the outside, I’m afraid for the next few seasons. However, this should suit the Orioles just fine for the time being. Ever since the organization hired Andy McPhail in June of 2007, we all knew what that meant – a slow development. And that’s exactly what they’re facing at the moment. But with a solid farm system, and a potential franchise player in right field (Markakis), the Orioles certainly aren’t hopeless. They just need to sit tight and look towards the future.

P.S. I will bet my life that Aubrey Huff will never, ever, ever win a Silver Slugger Award ever again. I mean, who saw THAT coming?

– What They Need Index –

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