Good 2017 to those of you taking the time to read this first post of the new year. It’s unbelievable how quickly time flies by, isn’t it? Just think, it feels like just yesterday Matt Wieters took an 0-1 pitch from Joe Smith over the left-center field wall in Anaheim to put the O’s on top 3-1. But, that was seven and a half months ago now, and Wieters has more than likely worn an Orioles uniform for the last time.
It also feels like the Orioles were just recently ousted from the postseason after just eleven innings. An Edwin Encarnacion three-run homer sent them packing their bags in Toronto. Fast forward almost three months, and Encarnacion will be playing baseball in Cleveland, and the Orioles will be gunning to make their fourth trip to the postseason in six years.
Four trips in six years? That’s remarkable given the span of losing seasons the club had from 1998 until 2011. The last time the O’s made the postseason four times in six years was between 1969, and 1974, making three trips to the World Series, winning once, and losing in the Championship round in 1973, and 1974. I know, that’s five trips in six years, don’t think I’m not aware.
The 63rd season in Baltimore Orioles franchise history will begin on Monday, April 3, and you have to believe that anything less than a postseason birth will be a failure. Some may even go as far as saying that if this team doesn’t make it to the World Series, everything they have been building for as of late could be considered a failure.
I can understand that thought process though, and it’s completely justified. A team that started from the bottom (literally), and roared back in 2012 to make their first postseason appearance since gas was $1.23 a gallon, has but one division title, and no American League pennants in six years of baseball relevancy. A manager that has seemingly brought Orioles Magic back to Baltimore, and restored fans hope and faith in this team, has not a single ring on his finger to show off. And lastly, a general manager that had been named Major League Baseball Executive of the Year in 1992, and who accumulated a .533 win percentage over eight years with the Red Sox, STILL does not have a World Series championship to talk about.
The club window of opportunity seems to be closing, quite rapidly to be extremely honest. The 2017 season will be the final contracted year for Ubaldo Jimenez, while super-utility man Ryan Flaherty, and rotation ace Chris Tillman will become free agents as well. Also, the team will have seven players who are arbitration eligible.
That’s not the worst of it though. The following season, if not signed to extensions, the Orioles will have Adam Jones, JJ Hardy, Yovani Gallardo, Wade Miley, Welington Castillo, Logan Ondrusek, Zach Britton, Brad Brach, and the all mighty Manny Machado hitting the free agent market.
Sure, some of those names may not be alarming, and might not bother anyone if they hit the market, however, for guys like Jones, Britton, Brach, and of course, Machado, it will sting to see them hit the market and not wind up back in Baltimore. Of course, a few of those names could net a HUGE return for the Orioles, and in the event this team wants to win for years, it may prove pivotal to try to include one, or two in a trade to return prospects to build for the future.
It’s way too early to predict how the Orioles are going to finish in 2017. With their proven track record of signing players just prior to Spring Training, anything can still happen this offseason. Don’t rule out the return of Pedro Alvarez. I’ve been saying it all offseason long, Pedro Alvarez would be a great fit at DH, and could platoon nicely with the call-up (for good) of Trey Mancini.
I’m usually not one for lineup or rotation predictions, but I’m throwing it all out the window for 2017. Here goes:
Opening Day Lineup:
Joey Rickard (RF)
Jonathan Schoop (2B)
Manny Machado (3B)
Mark Trumbo (DH)
Chris Davis (1B)
Adam Jones (CF)
Welington Castillo (C)
JJ Hardy (SS)
Hyun-Soo Kim (LF)
Opening Day Bench:
Opening Day Starting Rotation:
Opening Day Bullpen:
Have at it. Disect it in every way possible, tell me how wrong I am, or how right I may be, and let’s hope that if 90% of my predictions are right, it’s the best possible team for a championship in 2017.