Cue the collective sigh of relief from Tigerdom: the dreaded West Coast trip is over. The Detroit Tigers are back home to face the Baltimore Orioles this week after a day off following the road trip.
Chris Booze — yes that’s his real name — of SB Nation’s Baltimore Orioles site Camden Chat, was gracious enough to answer some questions about the Orioles in advance of the series.
BYB: There were rumors that the Tigers were pursuing free agent Chris Davis in this most recent offseason, but the Orioles signed him first. How has that $161 million contract working out?
CC: It seemed like everyone at the time thought the Davis contract was too much, and they probably weren't wrong. Davis has been solid, though. He followed up his dominant 2015 contract year with a worse 2016, but he was still about a three WAR player thanks to his 38 homers and good defense, and he's on pace for a better year so far in 2017. Will he be worth $161 million in the end? Probably not, but there have been much worse contracts handed out before. He's still a good player.
BYB: Starting pitching has long been a struggle for Baltimore. However, Dylan Bundy has been a nice surprise, finally living up to expectations. How has that been received, and more importantly, is it sustainable?
CC: The emergence of Bundy has been huge for the O's. What's even more remarkable is that he seems to have completely reinvented himself as a pitcher. His fastball velocity is down significantly from before his injury, averaging less than 92mph this year. In response, he's been throwing it less than ever and relying more on his three other plus pitches. His 2.26 ERA is probably a little lucky thanks to a high strand rate and a low HR/FB, but his FIP is still only 3.38. Even if he ends up with an ERA in the 3’s somewhere, that would still be a tremendous boost to this team's playoff chances.
BYB: Trey Mancini's surprise performance has been something for Orioles fans to celebrate. However, there isn't a lot of room for him on the roster. How does he fit in long-term?
CC: Because of his success at the plate and the fact that moving to the outfield hasn't been a complete disaster, Mancini isn't going anywhere. Lately, the victim of his increased playing time has been Hyun Soo Kim. After working his way into the lineup last year and finishing with a .382 OBP, it looked like Kim would be playing almost every day in 2016. Instead, his playing time has been almost as sporadic as it was at the beginning of last season when the team was considering releasing him. The O's probably can't keep carrying a five-man bench for much longer and the slow, poor-fielding Kim isn't doing much good on the bench. As much as I like him, it wouldn't surprise me to see him traded in the near future.
BYB: The Orioles’ and Tigers’ front offices seem to be in a similar position this year. Both have a fair amount of high-quality players at their disposal, but are not serious World Series contenders and have little in the farm to back them up or trade at the deadline for better players. Despite a promise of change, Detroit seems to be avoiding a rebuild. What do you see on the horizon for the Orioles?
CC: It all depends on Manny Machado. He's a free agent after 2018, but if the O's can work out an extension with him, that would keep the team in "win now" mode for the next several years. If keeping Machado isn't looking good, there could be a full White Sox-style rebuild in the cards next year. Nobody wants to see that, but it could be the right move.
BYB: Is there a particular Tiger who you are least excited to face?
CC: This might sound stupid, but Jordan Zimmermann is the exact type of struggling pitcher that the Orioles make a habit of allowing to right the ship against them. It seems like the O's always do this. I was at the game when Shelby Miller rode his disaster of a season into Baltimore last September and had his first scoreless start of the year. Zimmermann has been just about as awful as Miller was last year, which is exactly why a have a feeling he'll go out and toss 7 scoreless innings on Thursday. I've never seen another team that can beat up on good pitching and make bad pitchers look like stars the way the Orioles can.
BYB: What is your retrospective opinion on Matt Wieters?
CC: Wieters was one of the best catchers in the league for a three or four year stretch, but he suffered from unreasonable expectations due to his status as an uber-prospect who was supposed to be "Mauer with power". He never turned into a true superstar, which almost automatically made him a disappointment in some fans' eyes. He also went out on a rough note after he accepted the Orioles' qualifying offer for 2016 (which I guarantee was NOT something the team wanted to happen) and then had one of his worst offensive seasons. In reality, the fan base was probably too hard on him. Still, it was the right move to let him go. Welington Castillo is a similar player providing similar production for half the price. Now that he’s returned from injury the catching situation will be just fine.
BYB: If you could change one thing about the Orioles, what would it be?
CC: I would put Kevin Gausman in the rotation instead of whatever fan/impostor has been wearing his uniform this year. Gausman has been atrocious. His K/9 is down, his BB/9 has doubled, and his ERA is currently north of seven. He was spotted a 5-0 lead a few innings into Sunday's game against the Royals and gave it all back in less than an inning.
Gausman's performance is bringing back memories of Brian Matusz, who followed up a promising three WAR season in 2010 by setting a record in 2011 for the worst ERA ever (10.69) for a pitcher with at least ten starts. We kept expecting him to bounce back, and he just kept getting worse. Gausman's situation is starting to feel similar. If the 2016 version of Gausman was in this rotation, the Orioles' chances of staying in the playoff picture would be a hell of a lot better.
Thanks to Chris Booze and Camden Chat for talking with us here at Bless You Boys. Be sure to give Chris a follow on Twitter @cbooze1017 and check in with Camden Chat for the latest news and quality analysis on the Baltimore Orioles.