Baltimore Orioles

2019 MLB preview and predictions: How the White Sox stack up against the Baltimore Orioles

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USA TODAY

2019 MLB preview and predictions: How the White Sox stack up against the Baltimore Orioles

As the 2019 season nears and the White Sox get ready to take on the rest of the American League, we're taking a team-by-team look at all 14 of their opponents.

What is it people always say? "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."

Well, if we're going by that logic, this is going to be a mighty short synopsis of the 2019 Baltimore Orioles. There's pretty much nothing nice to say about the Birds.

You'd like to think that there's nowhere to go but up after last year's 115-loss season (see, White Sox fans, someone had it worse than you), but a quick perusal of this roster and maybe that's not exactly the case. Where is this team going to find any wins? Especially considering they play in one of baseball's toughest divisions, one that includes a pair of uber teams in the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, who both won at least 100 games in 2018. You want to know how they did that? They played the Orioles 19 times apiece and went a combined 28-10. Throw in the potentially playoff-bound Tampa Bay Rays, and that's a lot of projected losses before the O's even get out of their division.

And so here comes everyone's favorite word: "rebuild." The Orioles, though, seemingly have a much longer way to go than the White Sox, still in the thick of their rebuilding project on the South Side.

Manny Machado was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers last summer. Adam Jones is now an Arizona Diamondback. The only remaining vestige of the supposed "glory days" (three playoff appearances over a five-year stretch, with a 6-8 record in those postseason games) is Chris Davis, who had a jaw-droppingly bad year in 2018, with a .168/.243/.296 slash line and 192 strikeouts in just 128 games. He'll make $92 million over the next four seasons. Yikes.

Despite that sub-.170 batting average, Davis is still projected to be a middle-of-the-order hitter for the Orioles this season, perhaps as good an example as any of what the lineup around him looks like. See if you can find the O's league-mandated All Star in this bunch: Cedric Mullins, Jonathan Villar, Trey Mancini, Renato Nunez, Anthony Santander, Austin Hays, Chance Sisco and Richie Martin — who at 24 years old is probably not the "La Vida Loca" guy. Probably.

Yes, it was just a year ago when the O's seemed to capitalize on the slow-moving market and sign Alex Cobb to a four-year, $57 million deal. But then Cobb put up a nearly 5.00 ERA and allowed a career-high 24 home runs. Dylan Bundy and Andrew Cashner — two former can't-miss prospects — had ERAs well north of 5.00 in 2018. Cashner ranked in the top 10 in the American League with his 65 walks.

As you might imagine, none of this is any good for the Orioles, who are so all in on rebuilding at this point that their lone offseason acquisitions were Alcides Escobar (who owns a .281 on-base percentage in three seasons since his Kansas City Royals won the World Series), Nate Karns (a pitcher) and a pair of Rule 5 guys.

They've got a few guys in the farm system, three of them ranked in the top 100 prospects in the game, but their arrival dates aren't exactly looming. Yusniel Diaz is their highest rated prospect, the highest rated player in the Machado trade last July, and he's coming off a .392 on-base percentage in 2018.

Brighter days ahead? There would have to be for this team. But as other fan bases going through rebuilding projects know, these things take time. Those brighter days won't be coming in 2019. But at least Marylanders can gorge themselves on crabs and nice summer days at the beach.

2018 record: 47-115, fifth place in AL East

Offseason additions: Alcides Escobar, Nate Karns, Richie Martin, Drew Jackson

Offseason departures: Adam Jones, Tim Beckham, Caleb Joseph

X-factor: Mychal Givens is the Orioles' closer, and he was fine last season. He had a 10.2 K/9 in the first half. He had a 3.49 ERA in the second half. Remember, these are the Orioles and the silver linings are difficult to come by.

Projected lineup:

1. Cedric Mullins, CF
2. Jonathan Villar, 2B
3. Trey Mancini, LF
4. Chris Davis, 1B
5. Renato Nunez, 3B
6. Anthony Santander, DH
7. Austin Hays, RF
8. Chance Sisco, C
9. Richie Martin, SS

Projected rotation:

1. Dylan Bundy
2. Alex Cobb
3. Andrew Cashner
4. David Hess
5. Mike Wright Jr.

Prediction: Fifth place in AL East

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Cubs pitcher Brad Brach adds more fuel to baseball's free-agency conspiracy theory

Cubs pitcher Brad Brach adds more fuel to baseball's free-agency conspiracy theory

MESA, Ariz. — Brad Brach wouldn't go so far as to use the word "collusion," but he had some very interesting comments about the current state of Major League Baseball's free agency process.

The veteran reliever signed a one-year deal with the Cubs last month with an option for a second season. It was his first foray into free agency and his experience was a microcosm of what's wrong with the system right now from the players' perspective.

"It was stressful and it kinda dragged on forever," Brach said Friday morning at Cubs camp. "You hear about interest in the first week and then you don't get offers until late December, January and you're just kinda wondering what's going on. Teams say they like you, but they're not making you any offers. Then you finally get offers and 6 or 7 teams are giving you the same offer.

"It's just a weird process and nobody really knows what's going on right now. Obviously I would've liked the experience to have been a little better. I'm just glad to be here now and glad it's over with for at least this year and hope to pitch well enough to be here again next year."

Brach may not be a household name to casual baseball fans, but he was one of the top bullpen arms available on the open market after the 2018 season. MLB Trade Rumors ranked him No. 41 on their list of the Top 50 free agents, ahead of former Cubs relievers Jesse Chavez and Justin Wilson, among others.

The 32-year-old has been a reliable big-league reliever for the last 7 seasons, sporting a 3.05 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 9.4 K/9 over 415 appearances in that span while racking up 33 saves and 85 holds. He made the All-Star team in 2016 and finished with a 2.05 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 79 innings with the Orioles that season.

He struggled to begin last year (4.85 ERA) with the last-place Orioles, but was rejuvenated by a midseason trade to the contending Braves (1.52 ERA) and headed into free agency with some momentum.

Relievers are in high demand on the open market right now with so much importance on the bullpen (especially in October), but Brach only got a reported $4.35 million and one year guaranteed from the Cubs. Meanwhile, a host of other relievers with quality big-league resumes are forced to take minor-league deals as MLB teams continue their free agency freeze-out.

"I really don't know [what to make of the state of free agency]," Brach said. "We talked to certain teams and they told us, 'We have an algorithm and here's where you fall in that scale.' It's just kinda weird that all offers are the same that come around the same time and everybody tells you there's an algorithm, but you figure teams have different ones, but I don't know.

"It's definitely a weird process and you can't figure it out. Luckily, the guys in the bullpen have been the ones that haven't been hurt as bad. I think if you're at the top of the class, it's fine, but if you're somewhere in the middle, you're gonna get hurt and that's where they're kinda taking advantage of us."

It wasn't like Brach was throwing a pity party or anything when he met with Chicago media for the first time Friday morning. He seemed genuinely pumped up to be a part of the Cubs bullpen and was hooked from the first sentence out of Joe Maddon's mouth during a team meeting the other day, talking about how the goal is to play — and win — the final game of the season.

The 2018 Orioles put together one of the most miserable seasons in recent MLB history (115 losses) and Brach felt the effects as a reliever typically used to working in high-leverage situations.

He made a minor mechanical adjustment but for the most part, he believes the reason he was better with the Braves down the stretch was simply jumping more than 40 games in the standings — going from a last-place rebuilding team to a young squad ticketed for the playoffs.

"It gives you a little kick in the butt and gets you back into winning baseball, which — especially in the bullpen — you want to be a part of," Brach said. "When you're losing so many games, it ends up turning into kind of a spring training where, 'You haven't pitched in 3 or 4 days and we need you to get some work.'

"I just never really excel in those roles. Coming here, knowing that you're expecting to win from Day 1, it's exciting and I'm looking forward to it."

Brach doesn't know what his exact role will be in the Cubs bullpen, but he said he's ready to handle whatever — from filling in for injured closer Brandon Morrow to setting up for teammates like Pedro Strop or Steve Cishek or even pitching in the middle innings if needed.

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Orioles reportedly will hire Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde as manager

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USA TODAY

Orioles reportedly will hire Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde as manager

The Cubs have already seen plenty of changes to the coaching staff this offseason and one more is coming.

According to reports, the Orioles are going to name Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde as the team's next manager.

Hyde has been with the Cubs since the 2014 season when he joined as bench coach. He was the Cubs' first base coach from 2015-2017 before moving back to bench coach in 2018. He had been mentioned regarding managing vacancies throughout the offseason and it sounds like the Orioles will be the one to make the move.

Hyde's departure comes after hitting coach Chili Davis was fired and pitching coach Jim Hickey left the team.

 

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