In the AL East this offseason, much of the focus has been centered on three teams. The World Champion Red Sox re-signed Mike Napoli, signed A.J. Pierzynski, and retooled their bullpen in an attempt to repeat. The Rays, who were rumored to be trading David Price, appear to be keeping him as the ace of their staff for at least one more year. And, of course the Yankees have a new look outfield, they have dealt with the A-Rod suspension, and they had the highly publicized Tanaka deal.
With all of these moves the Baltimore Orioles seemed to be moving off the radar as competitors. The team had only seen subtractions, and had not made a significant upgrade.
That was until the first week of spring training, when the team made two impact signings that should have a great effect on the AL East race this season.
At times in his career, Ubaldo Jimenez has been one of the most dominant pitchers in the league. During an all-star 2010 season, Jimenez had a record of 15-1 before the break. Later, he fizzled down the stretch to finish with a 19-8 record overall. Even with a tough second half, he ended the season with 2.88 ERA which helped him finish third in the Cy Young voting.
The following three season for Jimenez, his numbers got much worse. He hit his low point in 2012 when he not only had a 5.40 ERA, but also lead the American League in losses. During this season he was not only hit hard, but he saw his worst strikeout-per nine innings ratio, and his largest walk per-nine inning ratio. His wildness and lack of command also put him first in the league in wild pitches.
But last season, Jimenez showed he was back in a big way. He went 13-9 with his lowest ERA since his fantastic 2010 season. He struck out over a batter per inning, and saw his walk ratio greatly decrease. This greatly improved command allowed him to give up only 67 runs during the entire season.
By signing a four year 50 million dollar contract with Baltimore, he becomes the centerpiece of a young and promising rotation. He immediately becomes the ace of the Orioles staff and should benefit from the excellent Baltimore defense that will play behind him. This stability at the top will help up-and-coming pitchers like, Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman be eased into the rotation.
The Reclamation Project
The second big move that the Orioles made at the start of spring was signing Nelson Cruz. Throughout his career, Cruz has been a high-risk, high-reward player. His high strikeout rate hurt his early chances for playing time, but his power was able to help find a spot in the Rangers lineup. He has hit 20 plus homeruns in each of the past five seasons. A career .268 hitter, the two-time all-star hit .318 in 2010.
The major question surrounding Cruz was how much of his play was done cleanly. Cruz is coming off of a PED suspension, which caused him to miss the final 50 games of the season and greatly hampered the Rangers playoff chances. Cruz stated that the reason for the usage was to recover from a serious illness.
If Cruz was telling the truth, the Orioles will be able to add a powerful bat in the heart of the order to combo with the slugging Chris Davis and the speedy Adam Jones. Cruz will move to left field joining a solid trio of Nick Markakis and Adam Jones.
The other teams in the East had reloaded and appeared to be leaving the Orioles in the dust. The additions of Jimenez and Cruz help the Orioles to have an ace for a young staff and a make their strong lineup even more forceful. With these moves the Orioles are not being left behind, but instead flying closer to an October flight.
Statistics Provided by Baseball Reference