Baltimore Orioles 2004 Preview
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KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: RP -
KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: 3B -
MANAGER: Lee Mazzilli
The Lee Mazzilli era is about to begin for the Baltimore
Team officials felt that players were walking all over Hargrove. That is not likely to happen under the no-nonsense Mazzilli, who beat out
Mazzilli, who club vice president Mike Flanagan and executive VP Jim Beattie hope can bring some of that Yankee magic with him, excelled as manager of the
Flanagan and Beattie did not stop with the hiring of Maz though, as the team became heavily involved in the free agent market. Owner Peter Angelos has never been shy about spending, but the team has been handcuffed in recent years with bad contracts, such as the mammoth deal to the retired
With Belle's and Scott Erickson's money now off the books, the
Baltimore was also big players in the
Since Cal Ripken Jr. retired in 2001 the
Joining Tejada in the infield will be another big offseason acquisition in Palmeiro, who belted 182 of his 528 career home runs in his first stint in Baltimore from 1994-1998. The 18-year veteran, who will turn 40 in September, still packs a lot of punch at the plate, despite his advancing age. Last year with the Texas
Palmeiro won't be in the field every day and will be spelled from time-to-time by the slick fielding
At the other corner will be
Mora, who can play just about every position in the field, batted .317 with 15 homers and 48 RBI in 96 games last season, but was limited to just 21 contests over the second half of the season due to various injuries.
Hairston was the starter last season and became the prototypical leadoff hitter the team envisioned he could be before going down with a broken foot in May. Roberts then took advantage of the opportunity given to him, hitting .270 with 65 runs scored and led the team with 23 stolen bases.
The sure-handed Hairston, though, is expected to regain his spot as a starter once he returns from the DL. However, if his plate patience reverts to what it was before the start of last year, Roberts is more than able to fill the second base slot.
Lopez joins the
Lopez, who can also play a bit of first base, as well as DH, will be spelled from time to time by
Bigbie finally started to live up to some of the potential the team saw in him back in 1999 when they made him a No. 1 pick. The 26-year-old native of Indiana hit .323 in the second half of the season and finished the campaign batting .303 with nine homers and 31 RBI in 83 games. The hope here is that once Bigbie gains more confidence, he will eventually become a dependable No. 3 hitter. He is also an above-average outfielder with good speed and a strong arm.
Matos, 25, overcame injuries and excelled for Baltimore after getting called up in May. He ended the year hitting .303 with 13 homers and 45 RBI and was one of the team's top defensive players. He, like Bigbie, will develop more power as he matures.
Gibbons rounds out the outfield and has emerged as the cornerstone of this up- and-coming franchise. Last year the 27-year-old sacrificed his power numbers for a higher batting average. He shortened his swing and began driving the ball to the opposite field.
After a 28 HR and .247 average 2002, Gibbons belted 23 homers last season, but raised his average to .277 to go along with his 100 RBI, 31 more than the previous campaign.
Defensively, Gibbons is still a liability in the field and does not always take the best paths to fly balls. However, he does have a strong arm and is just two years removed from being converted from a first baseman.
Segui will likely start the season as the designated hitter, but this spot will likely be filled by a bevy of players including Palmeiro, Lopez,
Segui, whose four-year, $28-million contract expires after this season, was limited to just 67 games last season because of injuries and hit .263 with five homers and 25 RBI. Since joining the
As rock-steady as the outfield may appear, the starting rotation for Baltimore is equally as unsteady.
One bright spot, though, is the return of righthander
Ponson, penciled in as the Opening Day starter, was 14-6 with a 3.77 earned run average in 21 starts before the trade, but struggled in the Bay Area, where he was just 3-6 with a 3.71 ERA.
Ainsworth, considered the jewel in the Ponson deal, spent most of last year on the disabled list with a fracture shoulder blade. However, the 6-foot-3 righty is the real deal and could emerge as the team's No. 2 starter. The 25-year-old hurler, pegged by some to compete for last year's NL Rookie of the Year award, was 5-4 with a 3.82 before the injury with the
Joining Ponson and Ainsworth in the rotation will be the righthanded
Rounding out the rotation will likely be a free agent bust from a year ago -
Another lefty to watch out for will be former prospect
To ease some of the load from Julio's shoulders, the
Baltimore's bench could be a strong point with veterans such as Cordova and possibly