I like a lot of players on the Orioles. The core is certainly there – few teams in baseball can boast a young stable of talent like the O’s have, who can build around Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and Brian Matusz, plus a host of other quality guys without the same star potential but who are productive nonetheless. They also have a star player in Brian Roberts, who doesn’t get nearly enough credit for how good he is. Andy MacPhail has done a lot of good things for the Orioles, acquiring talent and building a team that should be at least decent in 2010 and better going forward.
There’s just one really large glaring problem; they play in the American League East, the division of behemoths. The bar is set so ridiculously high that even with all the things that Baltimore has done well the last few years, they’re still extreme long shots to make the playoffs. They have to climb over two of the three best teams in baseball just in order to have a chance at a Wild Card spot. The degree of difficulty for the Orioles is off the charts.
And, fair or not, we have to hold this against them in a series where we’re trying to figure out which teams are in position to win now and in the future. In any other division, the Orioles are an interesting sleeper for 2010 and a potential giant going forward, but in the AL East, they’re an afterthought. They would need monstrous career years from multiple players at the same time just to get in the discussion, and then they’d still have to hope that the Yankees or Red Sox didn’t react to having another contender by just trading for the best player available at the deadline.
It’s sad, in a way. This roster should offer O’s fans a lot of hope, but due to factors beyond their control, that hope is significantly diminished. Even if Jones, Wieters, and Matusz all develop into stars, it still probably won’t be enough. MacPhail needs to continue to hit home runs on trades, have every draft pick pan out, and they need to stay completely healthy – if all those things happen, they could challenge for the AL East crown in a year or two, until their core gets so expensive that they’ll struggle to surround them with enough quality players to keep up.
It’s the crappiest situation in baseball, outside of Toronto, anyway. The O’s front office has done yeoman’s work in building a good young roster, yet there’s still a pretty decent chance it won’t result in anything besides a few better than .500 finishes and frustration at the size of the mountain they’re trying to climb. If anyone ever deserved a medal for finishing fourth, it’s these guys.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.