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O’s signings make sense

26 February 2014 By Justin Thau, Columnist No Comments

Baseball season is fast approaching and Orioles fans finally have a couple reasons to start getting excited for it. Within the last week, the Orioles have signed Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year, $50 million deal and Nelson Cruz to a steal of a one-year deal at $8 million.

These two signings have served as welcome reprieve from an otherwise depressing offseason in which the biggest moves the Orioles had made pre-Jimenez were essentially the losses of 50-save closer Jim Johnson (and his supposed replacement Grant Balfour), beloved outfielder Nate McLouth, and traitor healthy second baseman Brian Roberts.

Both Jimenez and Cruz are in their 30s now, yet they are coming off of fairly impressive 2013 campaigns.

Jimenez won 13 games and posted a 3.30 ERA and 1.33 WHIP last season, all of which being his best marks since his All-Star 2010 season in which he won 19 games for the Rockies and posted a 2.88 ERA. Additionally, Jimenez had career bests with 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings and 2.43 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Finally, Jimenez had the second-lowest ERA of all MLB pitchers during the second half of last season. Only Clayton Kershaw had a lower second half ERA – and he won the NL Cy Young.

Meanwhile, Cruz turned in a powerhouse if not controversial 2013 season. In only 109 games Cruz hit 27 homeruns and had 76 RBI. His .266 batting average and .833 OPS were both indicative of stabilized averages from over the last few seasons, showing no sign of regression. Perhaps the most positive sign for Cruz’s game moving forward is the fact that all 27 of his 2013 homeruns were at least 363 feet deep. To put that in perspective, Oriole Park and Camden Yards has left field and right field distances of 333 feet and 318 feet, respectively, and 17 of Cruz’s 27 homeruns were deeper than Oriole Park’s deepest measurement of 410 feet.

They fill critical needs for the Orioles, too. Jimenez has a chance to become the ace for a starting rotation that hasn’t really had one since the days of Mike Mussina. Cruz is the designated hitter that the Orioles have needed since they started being competitive a couple years ago and can also play the corner outfield effectively to give other guys rest.

So the $58 million investment in Jimenez and Cruz seems to be a smart, necessary one for Baltimore baseball. However, many questions remain as spring training gets underway.

What if Jimenez gets hit hard at Camden Yards, a hitter’s ballpark, by AL East teams with killer lineups? What if Cruz isn’t the same hitter after getting suspended for PED usage last year? What if even the addition of Jimenez can’t sufficiently upgrade a starting rotation of mainly middle-of-the-rotation pitchers? What if not having an established closer makes these acquisitions null and void? What if all of this just isn’t enough to compete with another season featuring a stacked AL East?

These questions will find answers in the coming months. For now, it’s certainly more encouraging to imagine the possibilities Jimenez and Cruz provide for an Orioles squad that’s primed for another year of playoff contention. Still, the tension is palpable in Baltimore. We finally have a baseball team of which to be proud, a team that – if several key ingredients break its way – could pose a threat in the playoffs. The fans feel it. The players feel it. Manager Buck Showalter feels it. Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette feels it, which is perhaps why these deals came to fruition this past week. Maybe even the legendarily loathed owner Peter Angelos feels it. Orioles fans can only hope so. The time to contend is now.

To Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz – I hope you’re ready for large doses of John Denver and Will Ferrell. Otherwise, be prepared to be booed by the fans of a city that really knows how to boo. Just ask NFL referees about us.

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