I get the feeling that a lot of the frustration surrounding the Orioles this winter is rooted in the fact that the majority, if not all, of the Orioles’ off season acquisitions have been perceived as “depth” signings. In other words, the Orioles have brought in many players that bring to the table some amount of upside or productivity, but none of them are truly star players. The general perception is that this is par for the course for the Orioles – just another off season where the team failed to address the needs of the roster with quality, star signings. It is often perceived that depth or quantity is the alternative an organization resorts to when it cannot, or refuses to, pay the high price for quality talent. I disagree with that perception, at least when used as a generality. When it comes to building a Major League roster, quality and quantity are not polar opposites. In the end, it comes down to the value of the depth acquired but there is no reason a competitive Major League Baseball team cannot be built successfully using a “depth first” approach. For a team like the Orioles, who simply cannot attract high priced free agents at anything even resembling a reasonable price, it is often the most economically sound way to build a team. The importance of depth as a roster building mechanism becomes even more important when an organization, like the Orioles, lacks a quality farm system.
The O’s strategy this winter as simply been to hedge their bets at all positions. They surveyed the landscape and right or wrong, decided that there was no sure-fire bets worth gambling on. So they’ve spread their chips around. They might lose on a few bets, but if they hit on more than they miss on, the team has a chance to take a positive step forward in 2012. As fans of a team that hasn’t won in fourteen seasons, this strategy can be frustrating. Everyone wants the sure thing, even if we know that those sure things sometimes miss as well (see the 2011 Boston Red Sox). It is difficult for us to put faith in the fact that this year will be different, that this will be the year where the team makes shrewd depth acquisitions and hits on a few of them. I completely understand that and share the same frustrations. However, the question ultimately becomes one of whether or not the depth players that have been brought in are quality players.
The unfortunate and frustrating (there’s that word again . . . funny how often it pops up when talking about the Orioles) reality is that we simply will not know the answer to that question until the games are played. Like I said, there are questions surrounding all player acquisitions but there are certainly more questions when the acquired players don’t have major league track records. The answer to whether the Orioles made enough positive moves this winter to reach .500 and set themselves up well for the future will not be answered until we see how the players perform. I know this is obvious, but sometimes this is worth repeating in February. It becomes a game of “what if’s?” this time of the year and that never leads anywhere.
All that can really be done at this juncture is for everyone to conclude for themselves whether or not the players brought in have a realistic ability to succeed and if they do succeed, will that be enough to significantly improve the team? My gut feeling is to answer “yes” to both questions. It doesn’t mean that it will happen, but I do believe the potential is there. In general, I am hopeful that out of Ryan Flaherety, Robert Andino, and Matt Antontelli, one should play well enough to be a component everyday second baseman and in the cases of Flaherety and Antonelli, provide some much needed ability to get on base. We will discuss the potential pitching staff in much more detail as spring training gets under way and we get closer to Opening Day. However, you will have a hard time convincing me that the Orioles will not be able to put together an improved starting rotation with much improved minor league depth out of the eleven or twelve starting pitching candidates the team has. How good of a rotation can be made up out of the candidates remains to be seen, but I think the potential is there.
We all know that the organization still has a lot of work to do in order to return to its winning ways. The farm system needs to be replenished, international scouting is still a work in process, there are many improvements needed to be made in player development, and eventually the team is going to have to be able to sign quality, free agent talent to supplement. Those are all long-term goals. As far as the 2012 season is concerned, Dan Duquette has attempted to put the team in a position to succeed by stacking the odds in their favor through depth.
Will it work? Has the front office acquired enough good players with potential to succeed? That is the million dollar question and one I anxiously await an answer to this upcoming season.