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Breaking down the (subpar) O's offense

5/20/2011

When talking about American League East offenses, there are four teams that hit well enough to win many nights ... and then there are the Baltimore Orioles. Buck Showalter's bunch enters the weekend ranked 22nd in baseball in runs scored, and there are myriad reasons why. The new veteran infield has been a bust, with Derrek Lee and Mark Reynolds struggling and J.J. Hardy missing a month following an oblique injury. Brian Roberts seems to be a shell of his former self; Nick Markakis might never get his power stroke back; and Vladimir Guerrero, while hitting .303, is on pace for 62 RBIs and is already being discussed as late-July trade bait.

That said, I'm interested in seeing how this offense performs over the next few weeks, because there's some new blood in town and a few roles might be changing, and that can be a good thing. Here are a few questions surrounding the Orioles offense:

Who replaces Lee?: The team's first baseman just hit the DL -- it's about all he has hit this season -- because of a left oblique strain, and the early word is Luke Scott will move to his spot. Scott is playing through a torn labrum in his right shoulder, and it's showing; while he leads the team with six home runs, a .227 batting average excites no one. Expect Jake Fox to get some starts at first base against left-handed pitchers, but I think we know by now Fox won't emerge as a consistent power threat, despite his terrific spring training.

Frankly, I'd like to see what 24-year-old Brandon Snyder, the team's first-round pick in 2005, could do on a regular basis, but there are no indications Showalter will play him regularly. Snyder hasn't looked special in the minors, but if the team is going to finish in last place, it might as well see what it has from within rather than using past-his-prime Lee. I mean, the Orioles probably can't even trade him anymore.

Does Roberts have anything left?: The second baseman hit the 7-day DL this week because of concussion symptoms, but his problems go deeper than that: He's hitting .221. It's worth wondering if we'll ever see this former top-5 second baseman return to offensive greatness again. His stolen bases dropped from 50 in 2007 to 40 the next year to 30 in 2009, and he's currently on pace for 23 this year. He can still help fantasy owners, but he's no longer elite, or even durable (back problems), and at 33 he's not likely to get better. I'd keep him in ESPN leagues and hope for a 10-homer, 25-steal season with a .260 batting average at this point. Roberts' play in early June will really define his fantasy value.

Robert Andino led off and played second base Thursday, and it's tough to get excited about him even in AL-only or deep-mixed leagues. Andino should play often over the next week, and he did hit 13 home runs and steal 16 bases at Triple-A Norfolk in 2010, but with 29 walks versus 110 strikeouts that same season, all signs point to big league pitchers carving him up.

Who wants some Pie?: With Scott likely moving to first base, Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold will, in theory, get to prove themselves again. Each one is running out of time. Pie has the potential to reach double digits in home runs and stolen bases, but a poor walk rate and injuries have held him back. I'd like to trust Reimold, a surprise fantasy asset in 2009, but he hasn't been able to stay healthy or hit for average or power since. Look for him to get called up from Norfolk on Friday, but expect Pie to get more at-bats. And no, there's really nothing on the farm that is close to helping this outfield at the big league level.

So is there anyone in this offense to like?: Adam Jones is the lone Orioles hitter owned in 100 percent of leagues, but four others are at 85 percent or more. Jones is not the star player we thought he'd be at one time, but he's hitting .292 and is on pace for 19 home runs and 19 stolen bases, which is eminently ownable. Often fantasy owners complain about what a player isn't doing, but Jones is doing just fine.

I still like Matt Wieters as a top-10 catcher, and I think he should be owned in all formats. One of these years he'll be a star, but with a pace for 15 home runs and 85 RBIs, again, it's tough to complain. Guerrero hits for average with enough pop to matter, and when he gets traded in late July, he could pick up his pace a bit. He's ownable, even at designated hitter. Markakis is living off past numbers; he's overrated. But he's still worth owning even in a 10-team league. I don't think he'll hit .249 for long. Finally, I won't go anywhere near Reynolds at third base; a fantasy team can never deal with a .186 batting average, especially when it's not a fluke and the player isn't hitting a ton of home runs.

I would take a look at Hardy in deep leagues, however. He's hitless in his past 14 at-bats, but he went 10-for-24 with two home runs and seven RBIs his first week off the DL, and he's a legit 20-homer option at shortstop. Those are rare.

Ultimately, fantasy owners shouldn't expect a ton from Orioles hitters, but keep Jones, Roberts, Wieters and Guerrero owned in all formats. Markakis, Scott and Hardy are in the next tier, borderline options for shallow leagues, and I'd just forget about Lee, Reynolds, Fox and the left field platoon.