The 2008 baseball season ended (mercifully) for the Baltimore Orioles eight days ago. As has often been the case for the O's of the 2000s, the team fought hard and surprised a lot of people in the first half, maintaining a record of 42-39 at the midpoint of their schedule. The rest of the slate also went according to script, as injuries and fatigue exposed a saddening lack of depth in pitching and the club sputtered to the finish in excess of 90 losses. The Birds could have used the Erik Bedard who set a team record with his 221 strikeouts in 2007, but he mustered only 72 K's in 81 innings this year, reverting to his injury-prone form. Believe it or not, that's good news for Baltimore.
For the first time in several years, the O's - and general manager Andy MacPhail in particular - had the good sense to sell high on a player. It's unfortunate that Bedard's hip and shoulder problems sidelined him, but these things happen in baseball, and Oriole fans know it better than anyone. But even if the inscrutable lefty from Canada had showed up in Seattle and matched or exceeded his career-best performance of last year, the guys in orange and black would have made out like bandits in their 5-for-1 swap:
-George Sherrill, a 29-year-old specialty reliever and ex-independent leaguer, became a cult hero with as the new closer, creating a fashion sensation with his flat-billed cap. He was the team's solitary All-Star, and saved the American League with three shutout innings in the Midsummer Classic. Though he was injured for much of the second half, he should contribute to the bullpen in 2009, even if he returns to a lefty specialist role. And he was almost an afterthought in the deal.
-Center fielder Adam Jones more than held his own in his first full major league campaign, hitting .270 with 37 extra-base hits and improving on defense as the season progressed. He and Nick Markakis give the Orioles two-thirds of an outfield that is primed to be one of baseball's best for quite a few years yet.
-20-year-old pitcher Chris Tillman shined at AA Bowie, going 11-4 with a 3.18 ERA and 154 strikeouts in 135 and two-thirds innings for the Eastern League Champion Baysox. Baseball scouts are suggesting that a few years' hindsight may show that Bedard for Tillman straight-up would have been a steal for the O's.
-6'9" reliever Kam Mickolio had an up-and-down year, scuffling at Bowie before excelling at AAA Norfolk and finally struggling in a September callup to the bigs. Still, he's fairly young (24) and allowed one run in his final six-and-one-third innings, spanning six appearances.
-Another 20-year-old pitcher named Tony Butler was fair-to-middlin' (3-4, 4.42 ERA) at A-level Delmarva before an elbow injury shut him down. But hey, to expect immediate dividends from all five men would have been greedy.
As someone who still bristles at the mention of Glenn Davis, it's refreshing to see my guys on the right side of a trade that looks so promising. Meanwhile, the Mariners were one of the few teams that finished below the Orioles in the win column, a big fall for a club that won 88 games in 2007. The general manager who surrendered two top prospects, an All-Star reliever, and two additional pitchers for a banged-up southpaw with a snarky attitude didn't last the season.
I don't mean to gloat, but I thought that I should remind myself (and the Birdbrains who read me) that there's still reason for optimism in Charm City.