Last week MASN’s Steve Melewski asked, “Dollars and sense: What is the right payroll for the Orioles?” My answer to that question is that the Orioles need to spend $115M on payroll in 2014, or being willing to make larger changes. (Other O’s fans discussed Steve’s question here.)
(You can discuss this article on the BSL Board here.)
The Orioles won 85 games in ’13, and that is what they currently project to be around in ’14. There is a good core of existing players who needs external talent to be added to the roster, for true contention to occur.
With the hole in LF, the on-base % issues, and the need for improved Starting Pitching; I’d love to see the O’s sign Shin-Soo Choo, and Masahiro Tanaka and call it a day. You add Choo (or Ellsbury) and Tanaka to the existing group, and you are a 90+ win team going into ’14. That said, I have no illusions of the O’s giving Choo $125M, or paying a $75M posting fee, and $60M contract for Tanaka.
There is other talent which can be added, but that talent will not be free either.
BSL Orioles Analyst Jeff Long recently made a strong argument for Scott Kazmir. With Kazmir’s injury history, there is certainly an abundance of risk there, but that is a signing I can get behind. The crowd-sourcing on FanGraphs had estimated a 2 year $17M contract for Kazmir going into the off-season. According to fWAR, Kazmir’s 2013 production was worth just under $13M. Ideally, I would prefer not to give Kazmir a 2 year deal. However, if you want to improve, you have to roll the dice sometime. Taking the chance on good talent, is worth the gamble to me. I would not be opposed to going up to 2 yrs $26M for Kazmir.
I think if you signed Kazmir, you would ideally want to pair him with another FA starter. Another pitcher who currently interests me is Bartolo Colon. While Colon is ancient in baseball terms (he turned 40 last May), that age could work to the benefit of the O’s if they pursued him. You won’t see teams lining up to give Colon 3+ years. At his age, he is going to receive a 1 or 2 year deal. He’s coming off a very effective 190 inning season with the Athletics. I’d be excited about adding Colon on a 1 year $12M deal, and not totally opposed to a 2 year $20M deal. My general feeling is that if by 2015 age caught up to Colon as a starter, he could be converted to Closer, and you could get some value out of him there.
Kazmir is a gamble due to his injury history, Colon’s a gamble at his age. Both signings could easily go bad. If things worked out though, the two of them together would be a nice upgrade talent wise to the O’s rotation, giving them some additional depth to the staff as a whole as well.
(If the O’s do nothing else, I’d like to see either Hammel or Feldman return. I’d prefer Hammel for 1 year, vs. Feldman for 2. I would not give Feldman the 3 years he is seeking.)
With the rotation upgraded, what about LF? With neither Choo, or Ellsbury figuring to patrol LF for the Birds next year, any signing for LF will be about making the best out of what is available. David Murphy and Chris Young were alternatives to resigning McLouth – but both have signed elsewhere. Murphy a 2 year $12M dollar deal with Cleveland, and Young signed a 1 year $7.25M dollar deal with the New York Mets.
To me, the current choice is bringing back McLouth on a 2 year $12M dollar deal, or going with Urrutia. To me, McLouth would ideally be the choice. I think Urrutia is better than he showed in his limited Major League time last year. I think he has a chance to help a roster as a platoon DH, and a 4th OF. I like the idea of him providing depth at AAA. I hate the idea of handing him LF to begin 2014 if the goal of the Orioles organization is actually trying to win the World Series. You don’t have to be a scout to see that Urrutia struggled badly with off-speed offerings at the Major League level last year. He needs some additional experience at AAA. McLouth has limitations (particularly arm-strength, and hitting LHP), but he hits RHP, gets on-base at a good clip, has some speed, and covers good ground coming-in on the ball. You could do worse than McLouth over the next 2 years.
At DH, I’d like to see the O’s sign Carlos Beltran. The primary negative with signing Beltran, is that the O’s would lose a draft pick. Losing that pick is certainly not ideal for the Orioles with their lack of organizational depth. Like Colon, Beltran is an ‘elder statesman’ in the game – turning 37 next April. There have been some whispers this Winter that Beltran still wants to play the OF. My interest in Beltran would be as the O’s DH, who maybe gets 30 games in the OF. The Yankees have let it be known they are interested, but the Yankees are also interested in Ellsbury, and Choo. They don’t figure to sign 2 of the 3. Beyond the Yankees, Boston, Texas, Seattle, and Kansas City have also expressed interest in Beltran. From a pure baseball stand-point, you would want Beltran on a 2 year deal. With that level of interest, you likely need to offer 3. If the majority of his playing time is at DH, maybe you can keep his older legs healthy. I’ve seen some O’s fans suggest that Beltran should only be pursued if he is a guy to push you over the top. I generally agree with that point-of-view. I guess my spin on that would be, if you are not making larger changes to the existing roster, you are looking for the talent necessary to push the existing core over the top. Choo would be the ideal fit in that regard, but Beltran would be a difference maker to add to the middle of the line-up.
(To digress for a second, in a hypothetical world where the O’s did sign Beltran to the 3 year $40-$45M deal it would likely take to obtain him as their DH; I would again wonder why the O’s were not involved with Jose Abreu – the 26 year old Cuban DH who signed the 6 year $68M deal with the White Sox, and will not cost Chicago a compensatory draft pick.)
Getting back to this hypothetical, the signings I’ve suggested here for Kazmir, Colon, McLouth, and Beltran would push the O’s salary into the $135M range. I don’t think anyone anywhere has any illusions of the O’s getting to that salary level. However, with the increase in National TV revenue, it should absolutely be plausible to believe the Orioles could go to $115M. Trades of Johnson, and Matusz would get the O’s closer to that $115M range.
If the Orioles 2014 Payroll is going to be flat – staying at somewhere $95 to $100M; then you have to be the much more creative. Tampa Bay and Oakland have shown that with strong Scouting and Player Development, that you can be a successful franchise with minimal salary.
If the O’s want to drop their spending to $70M annually, I would find that frustrating with the their estimated revenues (Bloomberg MLB Team Valuations), but I could live with it; if they operated in the manner which could allow that to be successful. Meaning, find takers for Johnson, Hardy, Wieters, etc… reduce the salary, add younger cost-controlled MLB ready talent to the organization, and go from there. Invest further as an organization into Scouting and Player Development.
I could get behind that. I can not get behind straddling the fence. If the O’s are not going to trade Hardy, and Wieters (not to mention Johnson); the only goal for ’14 should be winning. I think these signings outlined above would give the O’s an opportunity for that. Each of those deals carry risk, but I think the risk overall is mitigated due to the minimal durations of the contracts.
The only way for the O’s to augment around the existing core of talent, is to spend more. If you are not going to spend more, and you are not going to trade what you have; you are just treading water as an organization. That should not be acceptable to anyone.