Yesterday the Orioles held their annual Fanfest at the Baltimore Convention Center and it was a good time.
First of, the place was packed. When My friend Josh and I arrived a little before 10 AM, to attend the “State of the Orioles” forum for season ticket hoders the line stretched around the convention center’s west building. The most official number from the Baltimore Sun had about 10,000 fans pack the center, and it definitely felt packed in the morning.
The State of the Orioles Forum
I really like these forums but, much like the annual State of the Union Address, nothing Earth-shattering comes out of them. General Manager Andy MacPhail and Manager Buck Showalter each had an initial statement where they praised the work of the team in the off season and pledged to do everything they can to continue the momentum and goodwill built up at the end of last year. The Q+A session bore slightly more interesting fruit; A constant topic of conversation was, of course, Vladimir Guerrero. When questioned MacPhail gave his best non-answer, trying to give a legitimate response while understanding that this is an on-going negotiation and he simply can’t say all he might wish. Reading between the lines a bit there I would say it is a good bet that Vladdy starts the year as an Oriole. Yesterday ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted:
Heard this:O’s settled with their position in the Vlad talks.O’s want him at their price(package $4.5-5 m.).If not, they’ll live with it.
I think the Orioles get this deal done, they don’t need to get the deal done and we can argue what the direct impact of the deal will be on the team but I can’t argue with the concept nor the suspected monies involved.
As always there is a question about Sabermetrics. Now if you don’t know what Sabermetrics are, what are you doing here? Seriously though, Sabermetrics (saber) is basically a new field of advanced statistical analysis for baseball. And every year at Fanfest someone asks the manager how does saber play into your decisions? Now, I am not knocking the saber crowd here but everytime I hear that question get asked to a big league manager, especially if they start throwing out the acronyms, I get this image of Shatner at a Trek convention being asked about this minute detail or flaw in one episode of a show he did 30 years ago. He answers the question politely and to the best of his ability but deep down inside he is thinking: “nerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrd”.
Buck responded well stating that “I want the stat to back up my gut, not my gut made by stats.” Buck doesn’t strike me as a saber guy, and if it works for him so be it. Let’s hope it continues to work for us.
After the opening forum my friends and I milled about the crowd, we decided to forgo the autograph sessions this year; not because of some misplaced frustration over the new policy (I am all about giving money to charity) I just didn’t really feel like waiting around for signatures this year.
The Starter’s Forum was interesting. Jeremy Guthrie once again proved why he is one of the most class gentlemen in the game right now. Dressed neatly, but casually, he answered any and all questions with confidence and respect for whomever asked them. He makes eye-contact, every other word isn’t “umm” or “like” and he knows how to handle delicate situations. When a fan asked about his ongoing contract negotiations Guthrie revealed that his representation approached the Orioles with a long-term deal this winter but they were rebuffed and now they may be heading into an actual arbitration hearing. Guthrie diffused what could have been an awkward situation deftly stating that he was totally fine with the process and understands that this is a business, moreover he is sipmly thankful to be where he is right now.
Guthrie was picked up off the waiver wire from Cleveland five years ago. Since then Guthrie has been nothing less than one of the more solid pitchers in the Orioles rotation. A maddening force to some of the SABR guys because Guthrie seems to outpitch his peripherals every year some would call that luck, I say it is the natural result of the same poise he shows in these interviews and informal Q+A sessions with fans. That poise translates on the field.
Brian Matusz seemed happy and relaxed, as did Brad Bergesen who assured everyone in attendance that his shoulder was 100% and ready to go. Chris Tillman, and his fantastic faux-hawk, and Jake Arrieta rounded out the panel both seems a bit reserved and a little quiet. Perhaps because they know that they are “on the bubble” as they say.
The Orioles starting five have three players locked in: Guthrie, Bergesen, Matusz. The last two spots will be fought over between Arrieta, Tillman, AAA prospect Zach Britton and possibly one other veteran starter (if one is signed, something MacPhail said he would not do just to have a veteran in the staff). With the final two spots being fought over by at least three players it will make for an intriguing spring training.
After the pitchers were done. My friends and I took a break, hopped on the bus and got some lunch over in Fells Point.
Upon returning we caught the Up-and-Comers Forum featuring Britton, LJ Hoes, Josh Bell, Brandon Snyder, Baltimore native Brandon Erbe, Xavier Avery and Tyler Hansen. Sitting directly behind be a middle-aged gentleman quipped: “I have no idea who any of these guys are”. And after I finished rolling my eyes I realized, he did have a point. The Orioles farm system is woefully thin this year. The first wave of top talent has made its way to Baltimore leaving behind a lot of potential and under-the-radar guys but not many sure fire prospects. Baseball America ranked two Orioles MiL’ers in the top 30 (Britton and newly drafter SS Manny Machado) but beyond that the cupboard is kinda bare. Now, Bell and Snyder could easily have bounce back years and completely change some of these assessments. Bell did look like he has lost about 20 pounds, he appeared to be in much better shape than when he arrived in Baltimore this past Summer. That bodes well not only for him, but the team as well. Bell’s size and lackluster defense at third may equal a shift across the diamond before his major league career gets under way. LJ Hoes is another under-the-radar type player who could sneak his way onto the major league roster some day. Hoes spent most of last year in Frederick where he batted .278 with a great .375 OBP. He will likely start the year at Bowie, he is definitely one to watch.
At the end of the day the Orioles allowed yours truly (there is the dapper tweed) and representatives from Camden Chat, Camden Crazies, Baltimore Sports and Life, Baltimore Sports Report and the Loss Column to sit up on the stage and wax philosophical about the Orioles. The experience is always great and this year it was made better by having nearly TWO DOZEN people in the seats! Lack of interest not withstanding the assembled hive-mind seemed pretty down on the Orioles chances. Daniel Moroz of Camden Crazies pretty much feels that the Orioles are most likely a 75 win team and they have an outside chance at 500 but 75 or less is the team in his mind. Stacey Long from Camden Chat and Neal Shaffer of The Loss Column echoed those statements. Myself, Chris Stoner of Baltimore Sports and Life, Pete Kerzel from MASNsports.com and Jeff Pilson from BSR had slightly rosier predictions for the season all within that 78-85 win range.
All in all it was a great day. It has been a long cold week in Baltimore and winter has not released her grip on us yet but fanfest did give us at least a small pit stop on this icey highway. For one day we could come in from the cold and think of spring. And for waht its worth I think this Orioles team will make this a very fun Spring. Be sure to check out all of Anthony’s great pictures as they become available right here on the Post.