The Orioles' Helpful Contributing PlayersPosted on October 18, 2013 by Paul Folkemer
We're back for Part III of our series ranking the Orioles' most irreplaceable players from 2013 (check out Part I and Part II if you haven't already). So far we've looked at 31 players from the 2013 roster, and … well … we haven't found any irreplaceable players. But as we move up the rankings board, now we're getting to the good stuff -- the players who were helpful contributors for the Orioles in 2013 and will be no easy task to replace.
THE STRUGGLING VETERAN
NICK MARKAKIS: OK, I lied -- we have one more disappointing player we need to cover before we get to the good ones. For Markakis, 2013 was a nightmarish season. The Birds' right fielder sunk to a career-low 10 home runs and .356 slugging percentage, doing more harm than good to an offense in which he was expected to be a productive middle-of-the-order bat. Despite his season-long struggles, Markakis remained in the lineup nearly every day, starting all but four games. Markakis's woeful 2013 production could easily be improved upon in 2014, perhaps by Markakis himself. All indications are that he'll continue to keep his everyday job next year, for better or for worse.
All right, now that Markakis is out of the way, we can focus on the final 20 Orioles, all of whom provided positive value in Wins Above Replacement in 2013, according to both Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.
THE BULLPEN LEFTIES
BRIAN MATUSZ: The Orioles were something of an anomaly among major league teams in that they had three left-handed relievers on the Opening Day roster. Even more unusual, all three of those lefties remained on the active roster for the entire season. Matusz was the most effective of the trio during his first full year as a reliever, pitching to a 3.53 ERA during 65 games and racking up 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings, the highest rate of any O's reliever. But Matusz struggled against right-handed batters, allowing a .747 OPS to righties compared with .502 for lefties.
T.J. MCFARLAND: It remains to be seen whether McFarland will justify the Orioles' patience in him. The Birds took a gamble by keeping McFarland, a Rule 5 pick, on the roster all season when they were in playoff contention. For much of the year, it seemed as if McFarland's sporadic appearances weren't worth devoting a roster spot to him, but by September, he got into the action a little more frequently and in higher-pressure situations. He finished with a 4.22 ERA and led O's relievers with 74.2 innings pitched, not too shabby for a rookie. The O's now have the option of sending McFarland to the minors in 2014, but he'll compete for a bullpen spot regardless.
TROY PATTON: Patton, who was a reliable bullpen asset in 2012, seemed to disappear into the background in 2013. Manager Buck Showalter seemed to lose faith in Patton when he struggled early during the season, and Patton pitched less often than the Birds' other core relievers. His ERA wasn't bad -- 3.70 -- and he had slight positive value, but with Patton eligible for arbitration this winter and his role unclear, he could be on the trading block.
HELP FROM THE BENCH
RYAN FLAHERTY: Flaherty got a chance to claim the Orioles' starting second base job early during the season, but bombed. After his first 26 starts, Flaherty's offensive futility -- a .133 average and .461 OPS -- earned him a ticket to Triple-A Norfolk. Flaherty later returned to the Birds and ended up as a positive contributor thanks to his excellent defense at second and his late-season offensive production off the bench. He might be in the second base mix again in 2014, but perhaps he's the kind of player who hits better in a bench role and gets overexposed as a starter.
STEVE PEARCE: When I started writing this series, I expected that Pearce would end up as one of the forgettable players mentioned in the first two parts. But actually, his final 2013 stats were better than I thought; Pearce contributed a .782 OPS as a left fielder/designated hitter and hit the ball well in September after the second of his two stints on the disabled list. Wrist soreness torpedoed much of Pearce's season, but if he's healthy in 2014, the Orioles could bring him to spring training with a chance to win a spot on the bench.
DANNY VALENCIA: Pearce is no match for Valencia when it comes to lefty-mashing designated hitters. Valencia's emergence during the second half filled the gaping DH hole that had plagued the Orioles all season. Valencia finished the year with an .888 OPS -- fueled by an impressive .553 slugging percentage -- and went on such a tear that he even made a handful of starts against right-handers. But Valencia's dramatic splits -- a 1.031 OPS against lefties and .672 versus righties -- illustrate the fact that he should be part of a platoon. That may well be his role in 2014.
THE OFFSEASON DECISIONS
SCOTT FELDMAN: The Orioles will have a lot of decisions to make about their impending free agents and arbitration-eligible players, with Feldman a player of particular interest. Feldman gave the Orioles exactly what they hoped he would when they acquired him July 2, becoming a reliable innings-eating mid-rotation starter. Feldman went 5-6 with a 4.27 ERA and threw the Orioles' only nine-inning complete game of the 2013 season. The O's could re-sign Feldman, a Showalter favorite, but only if the price is right.
JIM JOHNSON: To say that Johnson's 2013 season was frustrating would be an understatement. Rarely has a single player caused such consternation, hand-wringing and throwing of objects at the TV screen by Orioles fans. But while some irate radio-show callers and message-board posters wanted to run Johnson out of town for his nine blown saves, he was still a net positive for the team, ranking at 1.5 WAR on Baseball Reference and 0.9 on FanGraphs. It doesn't make Johnson's blowups any easier to swallow. Still, it wouldn't be quite as easy to replace Johnson as it may appear at first glance. Perhaps for that reason, the O's have announced they're planning to tender a contract to the arbitration-eligible Johnson, even though he could receive a raise to about $8 million.
NATE MCLOUTH: The Orioles' speedy left fielder is a free agent for the second year in a row. After the 2012 season, McLouth shopped around for a multi-year contract, but returned to the Birds on a one-year deal. This time, McLouth might be successful in landing a multi-year pact from a team, thanks to his 30 stolen bases and quality defense in left. The O's likely aren't willing to bid more than one year for McLouth, which could leave them scrambling for a replacement if he signs elsewhere.
BRIAN ROBERTS: Perhaps the Orioles' biggest decision of the offseason revolves around Roberts, who has spent his entire 13-year career with the team. Roberts was something of a success story in 2013; even though he missed nearly three months with a torn hamstring, he was able to stay in the everyday lineup after he returned June 30. Roberts' defense at second base was subpar, but he held his own offensively and finished with a .704 OPS. The O's must decide whether they're willing to bring the 36-year-old Roberts back for one more go-round, or whether they're ready to hand the reins to a younger player with more upside.
All in all, the Orioles face some tough offseason decisions with a number of the players listed here. Although none of them would be considered strongly irreplaceable, each one (except maybe Markakis) played a role in the Orioles' winning season in 2013. Certainly a few of these guys could be lower-tier contributors on a postseason contender.
The final part of this series will take a look at the most important core of the team: the 10 most irreplaceable Orioles of 2013.
Keith Mills says Paul Baker, who died Oct. 12 at age 78, was the guru of Baltimore basketball and a friend to people who loved the game.