Another season in Baltimore hangs in the balance, and it’s not even August yet. The pitching woes plaguing this Orioles club have been the same for years now. Of course, injuries to Chris Davis and Zack Britton haven’t helped the situation, but in order to truly contend, this song cannot remain the same.
Starting with Ubaldo Jimenez, who turned back the clock in his last outing, tossing 8 innings of 2 hit ball against the Toronto Blue Jays. That outing, in which he struck out a season-high 8 batters, could easily be considered among his best in an Orioles uniform. Jimenez has struggled with fastball velocity, registering an average perceived speed of 89.37 MPH. Considering the league average is 91.78 MPH and the spin rate on Jimenez’s fastball is 130 RPMs fewer than the league average of 2140, it’s no mystery why he is projected by MLB.com to have given up 26 home runs by season’s end.
While keeping Jimenez in a starting role should come with a bottle of extra-strength Excedrin, using him in a relief role has been a relative success this season. When coming out of the pen, Jimenez has given up a total of 8 runs over 16.2 innings. While the 4.44 ERA attached to that seems high, the 7.10 ERA he’s posted as a starter is far more detrimental. However, transitioning Jimenez to the pen in a full-time capacity does require some stability in the rotation, something somewhat non-existent in Baltimore this season.
When Chris Tillman returned to the rotation May 7 and recorded a win on the strength of 4 strikeouts and three walks over 5 innings, many believed the rust was getting knocked off an arm that has been a staple of success in Baltimore since 2012. However, by Tillman’s June 10 outing in New York, alarm bells were blaring. While Tillman’s season has been the worst of his career to this point, there is still plenty of time to either trade Tillman for what value his history will bring, or wait in hopes that these first 11 outings was that proverbial rust. If his last two outings are any indicator, there may be hope yet for how the season progresses.
Ultimately, taking into account Tillman’s insanely cheap contract and current production levels, it would be hard to believe he ends the season anywhere else but Baltimore. But moves must be made. Remaining in this holding pattern with regard to the rotation will only force the issue of what is beginning to take the shape of a rebuild.
With an average age of 29.2, the Orioles are in a position that requires them to succeed or dismantle in the very near future. With a farm system that is listed near the lower rungs of the rankings, it seems doubtful a successful youth movement might occur without making some trades or smart draft decisions. The most glaring difficulty of having such a low-ranked system is the lack of viable prospects to entice or include in a deal.
Coming into the 2017 season, the top ranked players in the Orioles farm system were catcher Chance Cisco and righty Cody Sedlock. With Sedlock still in single-A and predicted to be a year or two removed from the majors, the O’s could conceivably package either Caleb Joseph or Wellington Castillo with Sedlock to make room for Cisco. Regardless of how well Cisco replaces either Joseph or Castillo behind the plate, the pitching return would be worth the minute decline in offense.
While trades may stave off the rebuild, it is fast approaching. This likely won’t be the season we see the departure of Manny Machado or Adam Jones, they will need to be moved to prevent another period of decline and eventual cellar-dwelling in a difficult American League East.