The beginning of the 2020 MLB season has been delayed due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, but that does not mean we can’t talk some baseball. This past decade has been quite the roller coaster for my favorite team; the Baltimore Orioles. They started off right where they left off the 2000s with two dreadful seasons. That was followed by six reasonably competitive to strong contender level seasons before the bottom fell out and they returned to irrelevance. Now they find themselves in the middle of a probably long rebuild. While there are many events that led to this wild ride, there are a handful that stand out above the rest. Let’s take a look at what I consider the five most significant events for the orioles from 2010-19:
5. Trade to Acquire Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter
The trade for Chris Tillman and Adam Jones was better overall for the Orioles, but that happened before the start of the decade. In July of 2011, Baltimore dealt relief pitcher Koji Uehara to the Texas Rangers in exchange for then platoon infielder Chris Davis and pitcher Tommy Hunter. Davis would go on to lock down the 1B job and hit 197 home runs over the next five seasons. His play has fallen off a cliff since then, but he was one of the catalysts for the Orioles playoff runs in the mid 2010s. Hunter did not amount to much as starter, but became a useful inning eating reliever and part of one of the best bullpens in baseball for that same stretch. It is difficult to imagine how the past decade would have gone without Davis, both better and for worse.
4. Darren O’Day/Zach Britton Injuries
Baltimore had one of the best bullpens in baseball for several years running. These two were the main reason why. O’Day was a brilliant 8th inning set up man, who pitched submarine style and had a rising fastball that was nearly untouchable. Britton was a powerful closer who at one point converted 55 consecutive save opportunities and finished 4th in Cy Young voting in 2016. Alas, those good times were not meant to last. By early 2018, injuries had taken both players down a few steps. This caused relievers like Brad Brach and Mychal Givens to switch to more prominent roles, which caused the shuffling that ultimately lead to the bullpen’s regression that season. The Orioles will struggle to get back to that level of dominance from their set-up men/closers.
3. Delmon Young’s Heroic Moment
2014 was the pinnacle season for Baltimore. They went 96-66, won the division for just the second time in 30 years, and hosted the Detroit Tigers in the divisional round. In game two, the Orioles were losing 6-3 in the bottom of the 8th. Steve Pearce drove in Adam Jones to make it 6-4, and Baltimore proceeded to load the bases for pinch hitter Delmon Young. The former Tiger hit a bases clearing double, which saw JJ Hardy run about as fast as he ever could and 3rd base coach Bobby Dickerson waiving him home so intensely he almost took off like a helicopter. The fans were ecstatic, and the city felt hope for the first time in a long time. Things did not go their way in the championship series, but that moment was easily the most exciting of the decade.
2. Letting Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz Walk in Free Agency
I’m going in depth on this one. Following their successful 2014 season, the Orioles had tough decisions to make in regards to their two biggest free agents. On one side you had Markakis, a veteran who had been with the team for nine years, lead them in OBP, and played good defense in right field. On the other you had Cruz, who had only been there for one season, but was the team leader in home runs, doubles, and RBI. So what was the result? Management let both walk in free agency, opting for a platoon at both corner outfield spots that resulted in less production in 2015. Neither signed a particularly lucrative deal, meaning the team could have kept one or both and not broken the bank. Still, the front office was unwilling to commit the money.
Both players signed four year contracts, and continued to be productive over that time. Cruz would go on to hit 163 HRs with 414 RBI for Seattle, numbers that were not matched by any Oriole from 2015-18. Markakis continued to provide quality defense while hitting around .285 with a .350+ OBP in Atlanta. The team failed to replace that production, and it gets worse. Losing two favored players to free agency caused an outcry from the fan base, which appeared to cause the organization to panic. The team proceeded to sign Chris Davis to a massive deal that was not wise in hindsight, but looked like an attempt to make up for the losses of Cruz and Markakis. They also gave solid deals to Mark Trumbo and Alex Cobb, neither of which worked out. So in summary Baltimore made a mistake by letting two really good players walk and compounded it by signing riskier contracts that failed. This is arguably the biggest series of events that led to the…
1. The Great Fire Sale of 2018
Baltimore entered the 2018 season with a semblance of hope. 2017 ended on a rough note, but the off-season had gone okay, and if they could fix their starting pitching and plate discipline woes there was a chance. For years the Orioles had gotten by on relief pitching, quality defense, and hitting lots of home runs. Those three categories regressed to league average, and failing to improve in their two weakest areas caused an epic collapse. With several players entering the final years of team control, it made sense to start wheeling and dealing. The Orioles traded away Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Brad Brach, Darren O’Day, Zach Britton, and Kevin Gausman for a total of 15 players and international bonus money. It was one of the most active trade deadlines in team history, and the kick-starting moment of their current rebuild.
There are plenty of honorable mentions that you could throw out there. The trade that sent Jake Arrieta to the Cubs would have made the list, but I doubt he would have developed into a cy young caliber pitcher had he stayed in Baltimore. You could easily including the Chris Tillman injury/drop-off as well as the poor pitching development. Their current rebuild will be difficult, and it may take multiple tries to get it right and return to contention. Missing a large portion of the season will hinder those efforts, but it is nice to remember the good moments of the past decade. They may be our best ones for a while. That will do it for this post. Thanks for reading, and we will see you next time on the IE Sports Radio Blog; your direct blog for all that is sports!
Blog By: Mike Patt