Come on.  Who else were you expecting for us to pick to finish last in the American League East?  Once a proud franchise, the Baltimore Orioles have fallen on hard times producing fourteen consecutive losing seasons dating back to 1998.  While most Oriole fans solely blame their much maligned owner for their team’s place in baseball’s pecking order (and who can honestly blame them), Peter Angelos is only partially at fault.  An inept front office, poor scouting, and an almost non-existent international presence have cost the Orioles dearly.

Former Red Sox General Manager Dan Duquette signed on as the latest executive hoping to restore glory to the Peter Angelos led Oriole franchise.  Faced with competing with two financial titans (Yankees and Red Sox), and two smart and savvy upstart franchises (Rays and Blue Jays), he faces a Herculean challenge; especially since he needs a complete top-to-bottom rebuild.  I wish Mr. Duquette all of the luck in the world.  He’s a smart man that gets a bad rap from the Boston crowd.  Unfortunately, unless he catches lightning in a bottle like the 2003 Royals, it’s going to be another 3-5 years before they get above the .500 mark again–and that’s if everything goes to plan.

Catcher:  Matt Wieters (2011 stats – .262/.328/.450); Taylor Teagarden (2011 stats – .235/.278/.294)

In last season’s “Know Thy Enemy” preview of the Orioles, I declared, “Perhaps, I’m foolish, but I believe in Matt Wieters.”  As it turns out, I wasn’t so foolish after all.  After a slow start at the plate, Wieters busted out in a big way in August and September posting a .275/.354/.556 line with 12 home runs and 12 doubles.  Add that production to his tremendous defense behind the plate, and you have a perennial 3-5 win player that the Orioles can build around.  Taylor Teagarden, on the other hand, is a mediocre, replacement level back-up catcher who probably wouldn’t make most team’s 25-man rosters.

First Base:  Chris Davis (2011 stats – .266/.305/.402); Nick Johnson (2011 stats – No stats)

If hitting for tremendous power was the only asset a player needed to be successful, Davis would be a massive superstar.  Unfortunately, it’s not.  Davis’s mediocre defense, inability to draw walks, and astronomically high strikeout rate makes him a long shot to ever be more than a fringe major leaguer.  Still, the Orioles plan to have him as their starting first baseman.  The oft-injured Johnson comes to the Orioles to serve as Davis’s backup.  Due to his ability to draw walks, he’s definitely serviceable.  That is, if he can stay healthy, which is pretty unlikely.

Second Base:  Brian Roberts (2011 stats – .221/.273/.331); Robert Andino (2011 stats – .263/.327/.344)

As recently as 2009, Roberts was one of baseball’s best second basemen.  Then, injuries took their toll, and he’s been limited to only 98 games over the past two seasons.  If he can stay healthy, he’s good for 60-70 extra base hits, 80 walks, and solid defense.  If not, they’ll be stuck with Robert Andino starting in his place.  I hate Robert Andino, and I hope he has a terrible season.  Honestly, that’s as fair as I can be at this point.

Third Base:  Mark Reynolds (2011 stats – .221/.323/.484);

Do you remember what I said about Davis?  Reynolds is a pretty reasonable facsimile at third base.  A three true outcomes guy, he’ll mash a ton of home runs, while flirting with (or surpassing) 200 strikeouts each season.  His defensive abilities are “eyes bleeding” brutal, so a move to first base would probably serve him well.

Shortstop:  J.J. Hardy (2011 stats – .269/.310/.491)

After two down seasons, Hardy bounced back in a big way last season, hitting 30 home runs and displaying Fielding Bible award quality defense.  Going into his age-29 season, he should still be able to provide similar value in the upcoming season.  I’m a little concerned about his walk rate as it dropped to 5.5%, a career low.  If he can raise it back up to his 2008/2009 levels, he’ll be significantly more valuable to the Orioles in 2012.

Left Field:  Nolan Reimold (2011 stats – .247/.328/.453); Endy Chavez (2011 stats – .301/.323/.426)

Nolan Reimold is ill-equipped to be the Orioles starting left fielder, but that seems to be a problem for the Orioles at several positions.  Chavez provides a solid late-inning defensive replacement at all three outfield positions.

Center Field:  Adam Jones (2011 stats – .280/.319/.466)

A lot was expected out of Jones after he was obtained as the center piece in the Erik Bedard trade.  In some respects, he’s delivered.  In others, not so much.  He’s developed the power and ability to hit for average, but his defensive skills and on-base abilities leave little to be desired.  As he enters his age-26 season, he still has a lot to prove.  Due to his potential, he probably serves best as trade bait as some teams may be willing to overpay for his potential.

Right Field:  Nick Markakis (2011 stats – .284/.351/.406)

Do you remember when Markakis was on the verge of stardom?  I do, and I’m wondering what happened to that player.  Still, he’s only 28, so he has the ability to turn it around.  He certainly has the skill set (the ability to draw walks, extra base power, above average arm), but a lot will need to go right for him to rediscover that kind of production.  If he can somehow raise his HR/FB and walk rates rate back to the 10-12% range, it would go a long way toward restoring the shine to his tarnished star.  Projection: 2-3 fWAR

Designated Hitter:  Wilson Betemit (2011 stats – .285/.343/.452)

Betemit’s hardly the ideal DH candidate, but he has a few useful skills (ability to draw walks, power) that make him a potentially solid starter.  More importantly, it keeps him off of the field where he can be a tremendous liability.  He’s never received more than 412 PAs in a single season, so it’ll be interesting to see what he can do if he’s given regular playing time.  At best, he’s a 2 win player.

Starting Pitcher 1:  Jake Arrieta (2011 season: 10-8, 5.02, 1.46)

He showed some improvement in 2011 improving his ground ball and strikeout rates.  Unfortunately, his walk and home run rates declined; thus negating any gains he might have made.  Luckily, his 15% HR/FB rate is something that should regress in the upcoming season, but even if his strikeout and walk rate peripherals remained identical; his FIP would still end up being around 4.50.  Even more of a concern is that his season ended after pitching only 119-1/3 innings in 22 starts due to an elbow injury that required season-ending surgery.  I still think he’s best used as a back-of-the-rotation starter, but the Orioles will need him to be a lot more.  If Arrieta ends up being the Orioles best pitcher this season, they’re in for a world of hurt.

Starting Pitcher 2:  Tommy Hunter (2011 season:  4-4, 4.68, 1.36)

Tommy Hunter is just another in a long line of unimpressive Oriole starting pitchers.  He has a five-pitch arsenal with decent velocity, but none of his offerings are of the swing and miss variety.  At this point, he allows too many home runs, strikes out too few, and allows far too much contact to be anything more than a back of the rotation pitcher.  If he can figure out a way to induce more ground balls (50%+) by using his cutter and sinker a little more, he could be able to improve his future outlook a bit.

Starting Pitcher 3:  Jason Hammel (2011 season:  7-13, 4.76, 1.43)

If I was going to pick on pitcher out of this group that I like more than anyone else, it’s Hammel.  Why?  Because he’s the only pitcher in the rotation the Orioles can count on to pitch at least 170 innings.  Unfortunately, Hammel’s peripherals all dipped in the wrong direction last season.  He saw his strikeout rate plummeted from 18% to 13%; ground ball rate dropped from 47% to 43%; and walk rate increased from 6% to 9%.  While those numbers are clearly a bad sign, he was a solid 3.70 FIP pitcher over the previous two seasons.  As such, I feel he could bounce back slightly in 2012 to become the Orioles most reliable starting pitcher.

Starting Pitcher 4:  Wei-Yin Chen (2011 season:  No stats; pitched in Japan)

I’ll admit it.  I don’t know a whole lot about Chen, but Daniel Moroz of the excellent Camden Crazies did an excellent breakdown of Chen back in January.  While we shouldn’t expect too much out of Chen, he should at least be serviceable.  His 3.00 ERA and 9/2 K/BB ratio in 15 innings this spring have been promising, but his fly ball heavy GB/FB ratio are a bit of a concern.

Starting Pitcher 5:  Brian Matusz (2011 season:  1-9, 10.69, 2.11)

Brian Matusz’s 2011 season was nothing short of a disaster.  While some could say that he was the victim of poor luck (as evidenced by his .382 BABIP and 20% HR/FB rate), much of his problems were due to bad mechanics, poor location, and a significant decline in his velocity.  Now, the real question is, “Can he rebound?”  Luckily, there’s some precedent for pitchers rebounding after seasons as brutal as the one he just went through.  Roy Halladay and Clay Buchholz good examples.  If he comes back, he’ll need to regain his velocity, strikeout more batters, and induce more ground balls.  He’s looked good so far this spring.  Hopefully, that success translates to the regular season.

Relief Pitching:  Jim Johnson (2011 stats – 2.67, 1.11, 92) , Kevin Gregg (2011 stats – 4.37, 1.63, 60), Matt Lindstrom (2011 stats – 3.00, 1.22, 54), Brad Bergessen (2011 stats – 5.70, 1.50, 101), Jason Berken (2011 stats – 5.36, 1.79, 47), Darren O’Day (2011 stats – 5.40, 1.32, 17), Alfredo Simon (2011 stats – 4.90, 1.45, 116)

The Orioles bullpen is in slightly better shape with Gregg out of the closer role, but Johnson’s hardly a lock down guy either.  Johnson has a solid K/BB ratio, but his strikeout rate is far too low for someone with his velocity and stuff.  Given the rate, he induces whiffs, the strikeouts should return.  Setting him up are Gregg and Lindstrom, both former closers.  They should be serviceable, but they’ll probably be used in higher leverage roles than they probably should be.  The remainder of the bullpen is full of replacement level pitchers.  I wouldn’t expect a whole lot out of any of them.