It took, on average, 97.8 wins over the past 5 years to win the American League East. Wow. Let's be honest with ourselves, the next O's playoff team likely gets in via the wild card. The average win total for the first Wild Card (WC1) over the past 5 years has been a still impressive 94 wins. However, there will now be two wild cards, and the average win total for the second Wild Card (WC2) was just 88.6 wins. Well there's reason for optimism there, as the total number of wins required for the WC2 is more than 5 wins less than WC1.
Who's the competition? The next O's team to make the playoffs is realistically looking 3 or 4 years down the road. Assuming that, the roster will likely look very different than it does today. However, individual players are merely cogs in the system that drafted, developed, traded for and signed them. Looking at the teams as systems, the major competitors in the American League for the O's time frame are likely to be: Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, Blue Jays, Royals, Indians, Tigers, Rangers, Angels and Mariners.
Don't get me wrong here, I wouldn't be surprised (at all) to see the tigers become less competitive in 2014 and have the Twins become a force to be reckoned with. I'm just saying that given what we know, these teams seem to be in a strong position going forward (with emphasis on the O's projected timeline).
Your Baltimore Orioles
The O's offense is actually respectable ranking in the middle of the pack of the AL in wOBA and wRC+. Let's assume Wieters settles in offensively to be slightly better, Machado is everything we expect and the team makes a few moves to fill in holes as they emerge. This puts the team up in the top 5 range in the AL, plenty good to compete with the better offensive teams. Not to mention the O's would likely have at least one impact bat just emerging (Jon Schoop) and maybe more.
Where the O's struggle is pitching. Specifically developing young pitching, and having it stay healthy. Let's assume Matusz has figured it out (which isn't really a safe assumption until games that matter come around). I'm not even going to attempt to project the rotation for 2014 or 2015 right now, but let's assume that it features 3 top pitching prospects in Britton, Matusz and Bundy. These guys will help make up the core of a rotation that, if they all develop as they once were believed to, is pretty darn good. The rotation could feature young guys with a lot of potential like Parker Bridwell. It might not.
Changes to 'Our System'
|Wei-Yin Chen should probably work on his release point...|
Here the O's have made a conscious effort to introduce programs from the top down on both sides of the ball to have continuity across all levels of the system. Rick Peterson and Mike Boulanger have a lot of work ahead of them but I believe that this overhaul has been long overdue. Additionally I would be remiss if I didn't mention Brady Anderson and his emphasis on fitness, and the positive impact it will inevitably have on the players coming up through the system.
I have an opinion on who the O's should draft when it rolls around later this summer. In reality though, it doesn't much matter who they draft if he comes into a broken system that can't properly develop players. I want Bundy, Machado, Schoop and everyone else to succeed. It is through them that the O's will be successful as they will be the hot shot rookies to Matt Wieters' veteran wisdom. We know our weaknesses, and we know which teams are likely to be good. We know what we have in house, and we know where the opportunities are.
It's going to take a lot more than drafting good players to get to 89 wins. It's going to take a serious focus on player development. The top prospects of years past (Adam Loewen, Billy Rowell, Daniel Cabrera) haunt this organization. We can't go back and fix them, so it's about time the O's started making sure that we don't live through the same nightmare twice. I think they're finally starting to get it.