I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: There are only 1,206 residents of the northern Oklahoma town of Sperry, according to the 2010 census, which is just enough to provide the Orioles with a potential pitching staff. Robert Bundy, 22, might be an Oriole before much longer — an eighth-round pick in 2008, he had his best minor-league season in 2011 when he was 11-5 with a 2.75 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 121 innings at Class A Frederick. But younger brother Dylan Bundy, 19, might be an Oriole for longer — he was the fourth pick of the first round last year and is already Baseball America’s 12th-rated prospect, before he’s thrown a minor-league pitch. Unfortunately for the Orioles, we think Sperry is out of pitching prospects.
What is this man doing here? It may be that no one will ever be able to explain why Dontrelle Willis’ career fell apart, but the Orioles are the latest team to try to make it whole. Willis won at least 10 games in his first five years with the Marlins and then was traded to Detroit in December 2007. Since then, he’s 4-15 with an ERA just more than 6.00 and 212 walks in 265 innings. Not even going to Detroit should shake someone up like that. The Orioles sent Willis to the minor leagues this week, and he’s someone to root for. But don’t count on it helping.
What he said: New Orioles GM Dan Duquette: “It’s time to be competitive.We are making good progress.” What he meant: “The Orioles have gone from 98 losses in 2009 to 96 in 2010 to 93 in 2011. That’s commendable, but we’re going to try to pick up the pace.”
Outlook: The Orioles continue to add to a list of dubious achievements only the Pirates would recognize. They lost 93 games in 2011, which made it 14 straight losing seasons, six straight 90-loss seasons, and four straight last-place finishes.
It’s not for lack of trying. Since Pat Gillick (GM) and Davey Johnson (manager), helped the Orioles build an AL East champion in 1997, the Orioles have had six general managers and seven managers. There’s nothing like sticking to a plan.
Dan Duquette is the sixth GM, and his selection is likely to be brilliant, short-lived, or both (we know what answer you’d get if you asked Duquette). He hasn’t had a major-league job since the Red Sox fired him in 2002.
His tenure in Boston wasn’t popular — he angered fans and stars alike by allowing Roger Clemens and Mo Vaughn to leave as free agents, decisions that no doubt are better received with the advantage of distance. And Duquette made acquisitions — signing Pedro Martinez, Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez as free agents, trading Heathcliff Slocumb for Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe — that laid the groundwork for 2004’s World Series triumph.
And yet, “Most of the media hated him because he made dealing with Bill Belichick seem like sitting down with Oprah,” wrote Ron Borges for the Boston Herald. “The fans hated him . . . and the new ownership hated anything the paying customers hated so he was relieved in March 2002 of the only duties he ever really wanted – running his boyhood team.”
We’re not sure what it says about Duquette — the Expos’ GM before the Red Sox’s — or MLB that it’s taken nine years for him to get another job, and one of the toughest to boot. He’s undaunted, if unrealistic. “If we can get some stable starting pitching, we should be capable of that (surpassing .500),” Duquette said during spring training. Well, yes. Of course, instability is an Oriole trait.
The Orioles’ young pitching has been a letdown: Jake Arrieta (5.05 ERA), Brian Matusz (1-9, 10.69) and Chris Tillman (5.52) would have gotten the smartest men in baseball fired, and Zach Britton, the one success story, starts the season on the DL.
The Orioles have gone to a supplier other than their farm system, signing Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada from the Japanese leagues. Let’s a hope a summer playing for the Orioles doesn’t hamper international relations.
The position players are in familiar places, which means second baseman Brian Roberts is back on the DL. The unfortunate Roberts has played just 98 games over the last two seasons; he’ll be replaced by Robert Andino, which should keep Red Sox fans wincing.
The Orioles take on the role of hoping Chris Davis’ power overwhelms his strikeouts, but Davis is 26 and has just six homers and 103 strikeouts in his last 319 at-bats. With Mark Reynolds, averaging 208.5 strikeouts per year over the last four, at third base, that’s a lot of Ks for one infield.
The Orioles have as much chance of finishing .500 as Duquette has of being named most popular, but give him time. It took 14 years to build this mess, it’ll take a couple more to undo it.
Team song: Randy Newman: Baltimore