What could go right, what could go wrong?

The Orioles have as much as another $17M they could spend before the season. Based on that, it is fair to anticipate there will be some external additions before the season starts. How that available salary will be allocated is anyone’s guess though.

(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)

Veteran Closer Fernando Rodney? Jonah Keri (Grantland), Tim Brown (Yahoo), Jon Heyman (CBS Sports) and Roch Kubatko (MASN) have each reported in recent days that the O’s have been again speaking with Rodney. Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports), Dan Connolly (The Sun), Brittany Ghiroli (MLB.com) have each reported in the same period that there has been no discussion in weeks, and/or no progress at all. Personally, I could live with a 1 year deal, but feel his salary could be better allocated.

Starting pitchers Ervin Santana, and Ubaldo Jimenez? Either would obviously improve the O’s rotation. Are the Orioles going to be willing to pay the price for either? Should the O’s sign either when they would lose a compensatory pick for doing so? How much did the Matt Garza contract (4 yrs, $52M, no compensatory issues) with Milwaukee impact what Santana and Jimenez will receive somewhere? Connolly reported yesterday that the O’s have had ‘Recent, active conversations’ with both. Bronson Arroyo was also mentioned by Connolly in that tweet.

I continue to think the O’s are likely to add one starter out of the Arroyo, Hammel, Maholm mix. Should AJ Burnett decide he wants to play in 2014, I think he is also in that group. The attraction from the Orioles perspective to Arroyo is not hard to understand. Even with Arroyo turning 37 next Month, you have a pretty good idea of what you are going to get from him. Over 9 consecutive seasons, Arroyo has pitched at-least 199 innings. Those innings would be the sole reason why the O’s would pursue the RHP. It would be signing a guy who could stabilize the back-of-the-rotation by consistently taking the ball every 5th day. The issue is, even though he would provide innings (and that does have value); there is not much reason to think he would be particularly productive in a return to the American League East. Earlier this week, MASN’s Steve Melewski opined that it might be time to give Arroyo a 3 year contract. There should be a mob storming the Warehouse with pitchforks and torches if the O’s give Arroyo a 3 year deal. If you can get him for a year, okay. He should not get 2 years, let alone 3.

Potential DH Kendrys Morales remains a Free Agent, but has compensatory draft issues like Santana, and Jimenez. If the Orioles lost their first 2014 pick with a signing of Santana, or Jimenez; it would be interesting to see if they would be willing to lose their next pick by also adding Morales. Multiple signings from the O’s are hard to even conceptualize at this point.

That $17M left in the O’s available budget, would not necessarily have to be spent on Free Agents. Perhaps there are trade candidates out there which could be identified? What teams are going into 2014 with absolutely no hope of contention? Which of those teams have players on short-term deals (2 years, or expiring contracts) with expensive talent which will not be retained? Out of those players, who could be of particular interest to the Orioles? Once you have identified any of such players, then you can play Armchair GM and pose hypothetical trades. Of course that is made more difficult knowing the limitations of the O’s system. To anyone wondering about the criteria I’ve set above here, my thinking is this. Some of the teams with no chance at 2014 contention, will have pieces under long-term team control. Most of the time, those will be cheaper players those teams want to build around. Or, the other-side would be older players who have had extensions or signed Free Agent contracts those teams now regret. Either way, prying those players away seem implausible for the O’s. If it is a young and cheap, high talent player – the O’s don’t have the system to trade for such players. If it is an older and more expensive player signed to a longer-term contract; the O’s will likely be reluctant to ‘buy’ the hypothetical player. So, while it is possible that the O’s remaining available budget could be allocated through acquisitions via trade; I think it is reasonable to say the potential available fits are limited.

All of this is me admitting that I think there will be changes to the roster we see today, but I don’t know exactly who.

As of today, I think the O’s likely 25 man Opening Day roster looks something like this:

Rotation: Tillman, Chen, Gonzalez, Norris, Gausman  (5 of 5)
Bullpen: Webb, O’Day, Hunter, Matusz, Britton, S. Johnson, (6 of 7, 1 spot available)

Everyday Lineup: (8 of 9, DH TBD)
Markakis RF
Machado 3rd
Jones CF
Davis 1st
Wieters C
Hardy SS
Flaherty 2nd
Lough LF

Bench: Weeks  (1 of 4)

Spots available & other consideration:
A)
Bullpen, 1 spot. Belifore, Aceves, Escalona, Hendriks, Stinson, McFarland, De La Cruz
B) Back-up Catcher, 1 spot. Monell or Clevenger.
C) DH & Back-up OF, 2 spots. Reimold, Pearce, Young, Peguero, Urrutia
D) Rule 5 pick. Almanzar
E) Patton, 25 game suspension

Today Roster Thoughts:
1) Britton in the pen due to being out of options, and Patton’s suspension. McFarland at AAA.
1a) If Britton is in the rotation, Gausman at AAA. Would open up 2nd spot in the pen.
2) S. Johnson probably more likely to be starting at AAA vs. in the pen. I wouldn’t really object to that, but would like to see him in the ML.
3) I see Urrutia at AAA, but Colvin’s potential deal falling through makes him more likely as the LH DH. 1 of 3 out of Reimold / Pearce / Young?
4) I like Monell over Clevenger right now, but either or. MASN’s Melewski has said he would still like to see Joseph get a chance this Spring.
5) Is the 25th spot reserved for Almanzar? Is Peguero and the loser of the RH DH race (Reimold / Pearce / Young) in the mix here?

The O’s ended their 2013 season being a prolific slugging team, with mediocre on-base% skills. A strong defensive team, with a limited pitching staff. Based on the roster which exists today, what could go right? What could go wrong? Win/loss wise, where do you think the roster currently is?

Let’s start with the rotation. With Tillman being fairly consistent over the 2nd half of 2012, and 2013; I don’t think you expect much variation from him over ’14. Can Chen again provide the 190+ innings he did in 2012? That would be a start to things going right. Can Gonzalez, and Norris combine to be league average 3rd and 4th starters? That is slightly optimistic in my opinion, but plausible.  Gonzalez threw 171.1 ip last year. Norris has thrown at least 168.1 ip in three consecutive years. Those two combining for 60 starts, and 340 innings would bring stability to the rotation. If Gausman is in the rotation, asking him to be a league average 5th starter this year is something he is certainly capable of. He also has the upside to potentially be more than that. Britton, Johnson, McFarland provide some internal depth. Britton with the most potential upside. Expecting any of that trio to be more than a spot-starter would be asking a lot though.

Want to craft a nightmare scenario for the O’s in ’14? Imagine losing Tillman to injury for any significant amount of time.

I like the bullpen quartet of Webb, O’Day, Hunter, and Matusz. That is a nice group to begin with. Their success overall will be largely dependent on the rotation in-front of them. If the starters consistently provide innings, the rotation will have a chance to mix-and-match. That mixing-and-matching is imperative with the splits issues of several of those relievers. I think Orioles Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette has assembled a sizable amount of other potential options to fill out the rest of the bullpen. If you are discussing what could go right, and what could go wrong with the bullpen; your opinion is likely to framed by how you view the importance of having an experienced closer. My general opinion is that having an experienced closer is largely overrated, unless you have someone elite. That said, closing out games in Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, and Tropicana Field is not for the faint of heart. If Hunter (or other) of the existing options become ‘the guy’, it does figure to be a bit of an adjustment.

That is a quality everyday lineup, but there are some questions. Is Davis at his his 2012 level? His 2013 level? Somewhere in-between? Is there a rebound at-all from Markakis, and Wieters? Hardy has played in 158, and 159 games the past two years; but many still have trepidation of his ability to stay in the lineup. Lough looks to have a good chance at equaling McLouth’s overall production, and should help make a difference with this defense. However, he had a .311 on-base % last year. As we discussed earlier, and as has been discussed repeatedly; the O’s were mediocre at getting on-base last year. Is Lough getting everyday ab’s going to further hurt the O’s in that capacity? I feel good that out of the Reimold/Pearce/Young trio that the O’s will get solid RH DH production. If Reimold is able to seize (and maintain) the position, the chance for some upside does exist. Will Urrutia be the LH DH? If so, what can you expect from him? I think his upside is as a platoon DH, 4th OF type; but he is not someone I would want to rely on going into a season. Flaherty seems to be in a good position to begin the year as the everyday 2nd baseman. His defense improved in ’13, and he continues to show a bit of pop. He figures to get a couple months of everyday ab’s at the minimum. How productive he is (along with how Weeks performs in his opportunities, and what Jonathan Schoop is doing at AAA), will determine if he lasts the year as the starter. Coming off of his first full season in the Majors (a season where he had 51 doubles), watching Machado’s development will be fun. Machado had a .807 OPS through the All-Star break (.337 on-base%) before slumping (.277 on-base%) after the break. At the minimum I expect him to replicate his overall 2013 numbers. The potential is there for him to fully break-out offensively though.

What about the bench? CSN Baltimore’s Rich DuBroff wrote this week that Weeks is likely to start at AAA, with Casilla grabbing a spot on the bench. I guess that is possible, but that would currently surprise me. The back-up Catcher position bears watching as Spring Training begins. Who is working well with the pitchers? Who has the best chance at providing some offense in their opportunities? Will either earn enough confidence from Manager Buck Showalter to the point that Showalter gives Wieters additional time off? If so, will that additional time off help Wieters be more fresh, and productive offensively?

Overall, when I look at what exists currently and evaluate the things which could go right and wrong; I think the Orioles have the look of a .500 ish level team. I see the upside potential of again winning 85 games. If things were to skew poorly, I could see a win total as low as 75 games.

If the O’s want to enter Spring Training with legitimate contention hopes, I think they need to add 7-9 wins to the roster. That will not be easily done with the Free Agent talent that remains available, and the budget the O’s have limited themselves to.

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About the author


Chris Stoner   

Operations Manager

Chris Stoner founded Baltimore Sports and Life in 2009. He has appeared as a radio guest with 1090 WBAL, 105.7 The Fan, ESPN 1300, FOX 1370, WOYK 1350, WKAV 1400, and WNST 1570. You can reach him via email at Chris.Stoner@baltimoresportsandlife.com.


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