The front office was very busy in the off-season as it pursued many talented free agents, and came away with a grade B-minus for its efforts.
Power-hitting first baseman Audrey Huff should serve as protection to superstar Miguel Tajada. Huff power-reigned for several years in Tampa, before being traded to Houston in the middle of last season. Jay Payton, who served as the fourth outfielder for the Oakland A’s in ’06, was scheduled to start in left field, though a spring training injury has sidelined the veteran. He is scheduled to return to the line-up this month.
Nick Markakis finished his rookie season very strong, with 16 homeruns and 25 doubles. The first half of the season had many pundits calling for the former first-round draft pick's demotion to the minors. So-called experts are now praising the 23-year-old as the next Ted Williams.
As for the 2007 Baltimore Orioles pitching staff:
The return of southpaw Erik Bedard, who led the team last season with 15 wins and 171 strikeouts, will serve as the team's first legitimate ace since former O’s and current Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina.
Plagued by injuries and demoted to the minors in ‘06, Daniel Cabrera won nine games with a decent earned run average of 4.74, though he did lead the American League in walks (104) and wild pitches (17).
Adam Loewen, the O’s former 2002 number-one pick, finally got his chance to star in the big leagues. The 22-year-old posted a 5.37 earned run average, though he showed great promise while striking out 98 batters in 112 innings in ’06.
Jaret Wright was picked up in a trade with the New York Yankees for reliever Chris Britton during the off-season, where he posted an 11-7 won/lost record. Originally drafted by the Cleveland Indians in 1997, he previously served under O’s pitching coach Leo Mazzone in Atlanta in ’04, during which he won 15 and lost 8, with a 3.28 earned run average.
Steve Trachsel was a late free agent signing when Kris Benson developed arm trouble. Trachsel started 30 games with the New York Mets in ’06 and won 15, though for the National Leagues, his 4.97 earned run average was high.
Revamping the bullpen was the number-one priority for General Manager Mike Flanagan. In 2006, the bullpen witnessed several rookies and veteran re-treads; that translated to being the second worst in the American League.
The additions of free-agents Jamie Walker, Danny Baez, Chad Bradford, Scott Williamson, and waiver wire pick-up Jeremy Guthrie, will complement holdovers Todd Williams and closer Chris Ray. Walker posted a 2.81 earned run average for the American League Pennant Champions Detroit Tigers. His performance in the World Series against the Mets yielded one strikeout against the only batter he faced.
It's a fact: do not hold your breath for a pennant winner, though the team will improve over last season's 70-92 won/lost record by 14 games. The New York Yankees will win the East and the O’s will finish third behind Boston; therefore be prepared to watch the October playoffs at home.
OTHER SPORTS NOTES:
Indoor Football: The Baltimore Blackbirds are the new indoor football team of the American Indoor Football Association. The inaugural game was more than a whipping, as the Reading Express destroyed the Blackbirds 78-6. Former Baltimore Raven Long Snapper Joe Maese is a member of the team as a fullback and linebacker.
Baltimore Ravens: The 2007 National Football League draft will take place on the 28th and 29th of this month. There is no secret that the offensive line will govern draft day central at the Owings Mills complex for the Ravens head brass. Joe Staley, a big 6'5" 302-lb. tackle from Central Michigan, should be the targeted offensive lineman with the 29th pick of the first round, considering linemen Joe Thomas, Ben Grubbs and Justin Blalock are off the board. Also, in the second round, 6'4" 302-lb. guard Andy Alleman from Akron should still be around. Alleman is a good run blocker who should open future holes for running back Willis McGahee.