Camden Chat's Mark Brown was kind enough to reach out and ask us a few questions about the Mariners. Our answers can be found here. His answers can be found below these very words so don't stop reading this otherwise you'll never get to the good part:
Q: The great Bedarageddon of 2008 is considered one of the more lopsided trades in recent memory. Even if the only thing the Orioles had snagged in that deal was Chris Tillman it's likely that Baltimore wins that trade. Yet you ALSO got Adam Jones. It seems that he has become a true fixture in Baltimore. Can you speak to how good he has become and how central he is to the identity of the team in the eyes of the fanbase? We mainly ask because we love pain.
A: There's no doubt that Jones is the face of the Orioles franchise at present. Not only has he consistently been a great player in this current era of Orioles success, he's also made Baltimore his home even in the off-season and he just seems like he cares so much about this city. We saw that recently when the city was dealing with the riots and the aftermath and Jones offered a thoughtful reflection on his own time growing up in an inner city with problems. Jones is there for the lighter moments, too. When the neighboring Ravens were charging through the postseason to a Super Bowl title a couple of years ago, Jones was with them at every stop along the way.
For him as a baseball player, I can't say enough good things about what he's meant to the team. I don't think it is a coincidence that Jones' breakout season came the same year that the Orioles themselves broke out of the streak of consecutive losing seasons. In 2012, he topped 30 home runs for the first time in his career and 16 of his 32 home runs happened in games that were tied. He wasn't a star when he got here. He's grown into our star and he's brought some swagger back to the team.
One of my favorite Jones quotes came last year when the O's were about to face Masahiro Tanaka for the first time and a reporter asked him what he thought about facing Tanaka. Jones replied, "Why don't you ask Tanaka about having to face me?" He blows bubbles, hits homers, and is generally awesome.
Q: Chris Davis has to be one of the more enigmatic players this side of Josh Hamilton. His fWAR from 2013-2014 dropped by over 6! This year seems to be more 2014 than 2013 thus far. What is the outlook for Davis and his future with the team?
A: A supposed reason for Davis' struggles last year, offered by Davis himself as the spring training season got underway, is that the oblique injury that briefly had him on the disabled list at the end of April and beginning of May 2014 never fully healed and caused him problems for the rest of the season. I don't know how much that's true; his high point for the season was an .892 OPS on May 23, about two weeks after he returned from the DL, so it doesn't quite line up.
I think that his performance so far in 2015 shows us that, whatever was going on, it wasn't all his oblique. He's currently sitting on a .226/.290/.468 batting line and he has struck out 54 times in 138 plate appearances. He essentially either hits a home run or looks completely lost at the plate. The O's hired a new hitting coach over the offseason, who had worked with Davis when he was still in the Texas minor leagues. That has yet to have the desired effect on Davis yet.
As for his future with the team, being as Davis is a Scott Boras client, I've always figured he doesn't have much of one. He's a pending free agent and the big question is whether he'll perform well enough to be worth extending the qualifying offer, so that the O's could collect a draft pick when he signs elsewhere. Power is expensive in baseball right now, even enigmatic power. I don't know what would have to happen for me to want to see him back after this year, although his departure will leave a big power void on the team that will be tough to replace.
Q: Longtime Mariner fans remember Buck Showalter way back as a Yankee manager in the mid-90's. Since that time he has become widely thought of has one of baseball's most respected field managers. Is there a style of play you would ascribe to Showalter? What about him seems to engender so much admiration and respect among the media and his players?
A: I have to admit that I don't pay enough attention to other teams to tell you with certainty what Showalter does that is different for everybody else. One thing that's often offered as to part of how he turned things around in Baltimore is that he was able to bring accountability back to the clubhouse - whatever that means. It is hard to argue with the results he's had while he was here. Mental mistakes are far less frequent, though this year has been a disappointment in that regard so far.
My personal theory is that Showalter's time at ESPN helped him learn from some of his failures where he wore out his welcome in previous stops and he became some kind of Zen master manager. It was either that or work with John Kruk for the rest of his life, and that's a pretty easy call, really. He always praises his players publicly and you just kind of get the sense that he's their #1 advocate. Though there's all the talk about accountability, he also keeps things loose, too, and he has had a ping-pong table and cornhole boards set up in the O's clubhouse.
One thing that contributes to him seeming to be a champion of the players is the way he manages his bullpen. Showalter hates what he calls "dry humping" - warming up a reliever without using him. If a reliever warms up twice he's counted as pitching in the game even if he never enters. I think little stuff like that has helped the O's enjoy some of the bullpen success they've had in the last few years.
Q: From a distance the saga of Matt Wieters appears exceedingly frustrating for Orioles fans. What is the status of his injury? Do you see him returning to Baltimore after 2015?
A: Last we heard, the Orioles have hopes that Wieters will make his return on June 4, which just so happens to be the day he's eligible to return from the 60-day disabled list. That is following Tommy John surgery that he had last June. The Orioles have seemed to be overly optimistic in their pronouncements of Wieters' health all along; originally there was some hope that he'd be back with the team on Opening Day or shortly thereafter. He's been catching games in extended spring training and could get sent out on a rehab assignment this week. I'll believe it when I see it.
Wieters, like Davis, is a Boras client, so I don't see him returning to the team after he's a free agent, which is coming up after this year. For a couple of years now I have been thinking that Wieters' free agent contract, whatever it is, will probably end up looking like a bad one and I'd like to have some other team make that mistake. In Wieters' absence, Caleb Joseph has performed well enough to make a number of O's fans, myself included, feel like the team would be better off going with him for near the MLB minimum than opening the checkbook for Wieters, who will be 30+ for all of his next contract.
Q: From a broader perspective this current era of Orioles baseball stands as the franchise's most success since those dynamite teams of the mid to late 90's. However 2015 appears to be on track to be a bit of a step back from that success, although certainly not a lost cause given the wide open nature of the AL East. Given that many of the teams core talents are firmly in the latter portion of their primes what do well versed fans view as the Orioles path to continued success for the next 2-5 years?
A: The Orioles have 11 pending free agents after this season. That's a prospect to dread, on one hand, because they have had such success with the current group of players. On the other hand, it also means a whole lot of payroll will be freed up as late-arbitration players who the O's couldn't just give up on but haven't really lived up to those expenses will be off the books. That includes things like Davis making $12 million, Bud Norris making nearly $9 million, and Wieters making about $8 million. In all, they'll be clearing nearly $60 million in payroll, so while there will be holes to fill, there will be money to fill it too.
I get nervous pondering that future, though you should probably know that my Camden Chat compatriots jokingly call me Eeyore because I'm quick to be sad about the Orioles. There aren't any real position player prospects in the high minors. It feels like a lot of hopes are pinned on having a mostly home-grown rotation in the near future, filled with names like Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, and Hunter Harvey, with the likes of Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, and others stepping into bullpen roles.
The last time the Orioles were supposed to be saved by a young rotation, which at that time was the quartet of Brian Matusz, Tillman, Jake Arrieta, and Zach Britton, they weren't saved. The team has yet to unleash Gausman in the rotation for some reason, jerking him from the bullpen to the minors and back. Bundy is on a long road back from Tommy John surgery two years ago. They have him making short starts in Double-A and he isn't dazzling even there. Harvey just saw Dr. James Andrews this week and got the platelet rich plasma injection and six week shutdown that feels like the precursor to an inevitable elbow surgery.
So, you know, looking to the future makes me a bit nervous, but then again that's because I watched 14 straight losing seasons and even two playoff appearances in three years hasn't gotten me over the fear of loving again.
Many thanks to Mark for his time and good luck to his Orioles beginning Friday.