Commentary

Baltimore Orioles fantasy team preview

Updated: March 20, 2008, 4:56 PM ET
By Will Harris | ESPN.com

The Orioles have traded Miguel Tejada and Erik Bedard already this offseason, and the fire sale could continue well into 2008 for this rebuilding franchise. Second baseman Brian Roberts' name has been tossed around the most in trade rumors, but before the year is out, veterans such as outfielder Jay Payton, first baseman Kevin Millar, third baseman Melvin Mora and designated hitter Aubrey Huff also could be moved as the Orioles seek to get younger and cheaper. Entering spring training, the club's offense is fairly settled. Roberts, Mora, Huff, Millar, catcher Ramon Hernandez and outfielder Nick Markakis all return to anchor the lineup, though only Markakis is an untradable part of the club's future core. Adam Jones and Luke Scott, acquired from Seattle and Houston, respectively, will man the outfield alongside Markakis. Luis Hernandez's defense likely will earn him the starting nod at shortstop over Freddie Bynum, who figures to be the team's key utility infielder. Payton and Tike Redman will serve as outfield reserves, and cornerman Scott Moore adds a touch of pop off the bench.

What's Changed?

Key Additions
Adam Jones, OF
Luke Scott, OF
George Sherrill, RP
Troy Patton, SP
Matt Albers, SP

Key Losses
Erik Bedard, SP
Miguel Tejada, SS
Corey Patterson

Although the offense is stable, if seemingly uninspiring, the pitching staff is a mess. The Bedard trade leaves the team without a reliable starter. Perennial fantasy tease Daniel Cabrera will join Jeremy Guthrie, Adam Loewen and Garrett Olson in the rotation, and former Astros Troy Patton and Matt Albers vie for the fifth spot. Veteran Steve Trachsel will get a look in the spring, as well, along with youngsters Hayden Penn and Radhames Liz.

The bullpen is also in flux after being hit hard by injuries. The team's two most experienced closer candidates, Chris Ray and Danys Baez, are sidelined for the year with elbow surgeries. Jamie Walker and Chad Bradford filled the ninth-inning role for parts of last season, but new acquisition George Sherrill is the team's best reliever and the front-runner for saves entering 2008. The 30-year-old left-hander has posted a career ERA and WHIP of 3.65 and 1.21 in four seasons with the Mariners and has held right-handed batters to a slugging percentage of .352 while dominating lefties.

Ballpark: Officially titled Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the downtown facility was completed in 1992. The park's immediate impact on ticket sales spawned the movement of "retro" ballparks in the past 15 years, influencing more than a dozen newer parks with modern amenities but an "old-time" feel. Apart from increasing home runs by right-handed batters by 20 percent above average, Camden Yards has played neutrally in recent years.

The Offense

2007 Team Stats
OBP+SLG (OPS): .746 (18th)
Runs Scored: 756 (16th)
Home Runs: 142 (23rd)
Attempted Steals: 186 (4th)

Camden Yards Factor:
Runs: 1.109 (6th) | HRs: 1.228 (3rd)

Probable Lineup
Name
Pos
Proj. Rd*
Brian Roberts
2B
4
Melvin Mora
3B
NR
Nick Markakis
RF
4
Aubrey Huff
DH
NR
Luke Scott
LF
NR
Ramon Hernandez
C
18
Kevin Millar
1B
NR
Adam Jones
CF
NR
Luis Hernandez
SS
NR
*Projected round a player will be drafted in an ESPN standard 10-team league.

Top sleeper: Luke Scott's power is legitimate, and it's only getting better, as his second-half slugging percentage of .550 attests. His growing batting eye and .280 career minor league batting average portend improvement from last year's .255 mark. There's 30-homer potential here, so don't let him go cheaply.

Intriguing spring battle: The most hotly contested job on the team is the fifth starter's role. Troy Patton probably has the inside track, but none of the candidates is rosterable, even in very deep leagues. Patton's strikeout rate was atrocious in the high minors, and Matt Albers -- who has more major league experience -- has terrible command. Steve Trachsel, meanwhile, walked 76 batters last year and struck out only 56. Radhames Liz has an electric arm but horrendous control, and Hayden Penn was absolutely hammered in the Arizona Fall League. Although the back end of the rotation is the team's biggest question mark heading into the season, fantasy owners should steer clear of all candidates, even though there are sure to be one or two who tempt with their spring performance simply because of the small sample size.

Trainer's room: Apart from Chris Ray and Danys Baez, no Orioles are expected to begin the season with major injury issues. Adam Loewen, however, underwent surgery in June for elbow problems the team claims caused his awful 2007 walk rate. The talented 23-year-old has perhaps the best skills of any Orioles starter, but although he's expected to be ready for Opening Day, it might be best to take a wait-and-see approach with his elbow before relying on him in the short term.

Future closer: Should George Sherrill falter, Jamie Walker probably would be the short-term solution. It is Jim Hoey, however, who has the best shot at locking down the "closer of the future" tag. Hoey hasn't fared well in his brief 34-inning major league career, but the 25-year-old right-hander has nasty stuff and solid control. He has displayed a premier strikeout rate in the minors and an ability to keep the ball in the park. He should flourish with a little more experience and likely will be Sherrill's main set-up man before midseason.

The Rotation

2007 Starters Stats
Record: 45-58 (22nd)
ERA: 4.86 (21st) | WHIP: 1.47 (23rd)
Batting Average Against: .264 (7th)
Home Runs Allowed: 109 (10th)
Team Fielding Percentage: .987 (2nd)

Camden Yards Factor:
Runs: 1.109 (6th) / HRs: 1.228 (3rd)

Projected Rotation
Name
Proj. Rd*
No. 1
Jeremy Guthrie
NR
No. 2
Daniel Cabrera
NR
No. 3
Adam Loewen
NR
No. 4
Garrett Olson
NR
No. 5
Troy Patton
NR
No. 6
Matt Albers
NR
*Projected round a player will be drafted in an ESPN standard 10-team league.

Backup to watch: Melvin Mora's statistical indicators show serious decline. At 36, he is no longer a part of the club's long-term plans. Top prospect Bill Rowell is still a couple of years away, so an injury, trade or prolonged slump involving Mora would cause the team to turn to backup cornerman Scott Moore as the short-term answer at third base. The 2002 first-rounder probably never will make enough contact to settle in as a big league regular for any length of time, but he has solid pop in his bat and could be a cheap power source this year if he comes into more playing time than expected.

Prospect to watch for 2008: Outfielders Nick Markakis, Luke Scott and Adam Jones are all talented young players Orioles management hopes will play a key role in the organization's future. However, if an injury or trade does open playing time in the outfield (or at designated hitter), 24-year-old Nolan Reimold appears ready to answer the call. The right-handed slugger hits for both average and power, and he will take a walk. Reimold should debut this September, but if an opportunity arises earlier, he could be a valuable midseason acquisition. The Orioles' fire sale likely will continue throughout the year; monitor Reimold's progress as well as the trade rumors and pounce on him if he's recalled.

The Bullpen

2007 Relievers Stats
Record: 24-35 (28th)
Saves/Opps: 30/55 (29th)
ERA: 5.71 (29th) | WHIP: 1.61 (29th)
Batting Average Against: .275 (27th)
Strikeouts per 9 innings: 6.54 (29th)

Projected Bullpen
Name
Proj. Rd*
Closer
George Sherrill
NR
Setup**
Jamie Walker
NR
Setup
Chad Bradford
NR
Setup
Jim Hoey
NR
*Projected round a player will be drafted in an ESPN standard 10-team league.
**Closer-in-waiting

Prospect to watch for the future: The fifth overall selection in the 2007 draft, Georgia Tech product Matt Wieters is expected to move quickly through the minors. Ramon Hernandez's heir at catcher, Wieters is a polished switch-hitter with outstanding plate discipline and sound receiving skills who should hit for power and average immediately. He could take over behind the plate as soon as 2010.

Fearless prediction: Baltimore is clearly a rebuilding franchise, and the trades of Miguel Tejada and Erik Bedard indicate that the club is not afraid to make drastic moves. The pitching staff is obviously a big liability, but the 2008 offense will be better than most observers think. It's true that most of the hitters are either unproven youths or veterans who don't excite fantasy owners. However, just because a quick scan of the lineup reveals few players with much established roto value, the potential of this lineup should not be underestimated. Nick Markakis, Brian Roberts and Ramon Hernandez are indeed the only hitters who project as clearly draft-worthy in shallow leagues. However, Luke Scott and Adam Jones have top-notch talent and could break out this year, and Aubrey Huff, Kevin Millar and Hernandez are hitters who -- despite subpar 2007 numbers and ages on the downside of 30 -- still have the skills to have very productive seasons. Don't hesitate to draft Baltimore hitters just because the team figures to stink. This offense is capable of putting up a lot of runs, and it will have to stay on the throttle for a full nine innings to keep pace with the opposition's daily battering of the weak pitching staff.

Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writing Association award winner across all three of those sports. You can e-mail him here.