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BSL Orioles Roundtable – March 2017

As Opening Day nears, BSL’s O’s Analysts (Rob Shields, Zach Spedden, and Brandon Warne) come together to give some thoughts.

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

Question 1: The O’s ended their 2016 season reaching the post-season for the 3rd time in 5 years. During the past 5 years, the O’s have more wins than any other American League team. As the ’17 season nears, the profile remains similar. Plus offensive power,  plus bullpen, quality infield defense. Questions in the rotation, and an offense whose power is mitigated by their low on-base percentages.

What is it about the O’s that seems to consistently confound many?

Shields: People don’t believe that a manager makes much difference.  People also still undervalue defense and the Orioles IF defense is very good.  People are starting to put more emphasis on how important an elite pen is but I still think the projection systems haven’t caught up that.  I just think the “experts” need to stop relying on the projection systems when evaluating the Os.  Stop doing that, evaluate the game, give some credence that Buck Showalter knows what he is doing and judge the O’s based off of that.

Spedden: Just as they did in 2016, the Orioles enter this season with question marks about their rotation (will it hold up?), lineup (do they have enough hitters who consistently get on-base?), and outfield defense (is it good enough?). In that sense, it’s easy to understand why the Orioles are consistently underestimated, but I think more careful consideration needs to be given on whether certain players will improve year-to-year. Kevin Gausman took a big step forward last year, and Jonathan Schoop upped his game in some areas. I expect there to be similar developments this year, with Dylan Bundy and Hyun Soo Kim profiling as two players that might surprise people.

Warne: I think it’s that they aren’t exactly sexy. Sure, power is sexy, but so is OBP and a deep starting rotation. I wouldn’t say the Orioles are necessarily gritty, but they aren’t constructed like the new wave of teams. Sure, the bullpen is elite, but they hit guys like Adam Jones near the top of the order. That’s some old-school, 1980s style thinking like when the Twins did that with Dan Gladden when they were in the business of winning World Series’.

Q2: A number of variables have to be determined with a possible extension with Machado.  1) Does he really want to extend with Baltimore? 2) How long a deal does he want? i.e. does he want 10 years at $30M in AAV, or does he want  a shorter deal to allow him to hit FA again before he turns 30? 3) Are opt-outs a must, and are the O’s willing to provide? 4) Is Machado willing to take deferred money?

That said, shouldn’t a general structure of a possible deal be known at this point? If the O’s don’t feel an extension is probable; what was the better course of action – bringing Machado back for ’17 (with the team trying to get back to the playoffs), or having traded him this Winter when a team obtaining him would have still had 2 years of team control?

Shields: For me, Manny should have been dealt or extended this offseason.  Now, they still have time to do each and it may not cost them that much more money tp extend him later vs right now and they still may get a similar deal for him if they decide to trade him later vs right now.  That being said, this should have been the #1 priority for this organization the last two offseasons and their failure to do either is atrocious on their part.  I understand the value of keeping him because you have a contending team and that being a contender should outweigh the idea of trading him.  My issue with that line of thinking is that I believe, if you make the right moves, that you can contend without him.  I would rather contend with him but you can do it without him.  Since you can do it without him and since he has had the knee injuries and since his value could go down with less service time under his belt, I think trading him was the smarter route to take.  If they continue to win, its hard to say they were wrong but making the wild card game and subsequently losing it doesn’t do much for me in terms of sacrificing the long term good of this franchise.

Spedden: I’m still hopeful that the Orioles and Machado will agree to an extension, but in the interim it’s smart to keep him. Clearly, the Orioles would have a tougher time contending  without him, and it’s hard to see them being a factor in 2017—and maybe 2018 for that matter—if he’s not in the picture. The argument can also be made that he hasn’t reached his offensive ceiling. While last year was excellent, there’s still room to improve when it comes to getting on-base. Once he does that, he’ll likely be a leading MVP candidate.

Warne: Personally I would spend this year seeing if he’s receptive to a 10-year deal with an opt-out after five years. I know the Orioles don’t want to give them, but this is the kind of player you bend the rules for. If you can’t keep Manny, what was the point of bringing back Davis? I guess by this point, it should be fairly well-known what it’ll take, and hopefully they’re willing to go there. I see no issue with a 10-year, $300 million deal with an opt out after five years. Will that entice Machado? It’s hard to say.

Q3: There are multiple ways to build a team. You could lock up Machado through his prime, and build around his HOF caliber talent – or you could trade him for the huge haul he would bring (lots of high end talent, under long-term team control) and invest his would be AAV into the roster elsewhere. I’m fine with either of those alternatives. The only outcome I would despise is allowing him to play out the next two seasons, and walking away, regardless of whatever the O’s may collectively achieve as a team during ’17 and ’18.  What are the best and worse scenarios in your opinion?

Shields: Worst case is you are a fringe contender, keep Manny, don’t make the playoffs and lose him for nothing.  Best case is you win a WS with him or because you dealt him and the players you got back were key pieces in a title run, not to mention the players you added with the freed up money because you dealt him.

Spedden: Best-case scenario is that he remains in Baltimore, and the Orioles find a way to build around him. The worst is that he departs via free agency after playing on mediocre Orioles teams in ’17 and ’18. I don’t have a problem with him staying and leaving after ‘18 if it provides a tangible benefit to the Orioles, but if they’re fighting to get to .500 each year, keeping Machado looks far less appealing.

Warne: The worst-case scenario is holding onto him and having him limp through a final season due to a surprise injury. He’s not the kind of player who would have to accept a QO to rebuild value — short of missing the next two seasons altogether, I suspect — so something like this where the Orioles overplay their hand would really hurt. I think the best-case is he signs a 10-year deal, not really with a “hometown discount” per se, but maybe him being more willing to structure it to meet the O’s halfway in their “we don’t do opt-outs” mantra.

Q4: As the O’s are built to win now, do you have any complaints with their off-season? Meaning are there moves you think were available to them, which they needed to accomplish to give their an existing core a better chance?

Shields: I think they had a terrible offseason.  While I like the addition of Smith and some of the under the radar signings like Jed Bradley, they didn’t add to this team and they watched Boston get much better.  The idea of them winning the division seems far fetched, so I think the realistic best case scenario is winning the Wild Card and getting a chance to advance in the 1 game.  Not adding to the obvious needs of the team needs bothers me.  You have a very solid trading chip in Brad Brach to go get an OFer like Puig and the Orioles just didn’t make a move.  The lack of rotation depth bothers me as well, especially since you knew about the Tillman shoulder injury.   The needs were obvious and they failed to address them on a team that is trying to win.

Spedden: I look at this with mixed emotions—yes, I wish they had done more with right field and the rotation, but I also don’t how realistic it was. The free agent market didn’t present a lot of appealing in either area, and they didn’t have the depth to make trades similar to those made for Chris Sale and Adam Eaton. When you look at those factors—not to mention the respective risks the Red Sox and Nationals are taking by trading for Sale and Eaton—it seems like the market was one that presented minimal reward for the Orioles.

Warne: No real complaints. I think someone like Chris Carter or Pedro Alvarez — who is somehow STILL AVAILBLE  (EDIT from BSL, Brandon stated this prior to the O’s resigning Alvarez) — might have been able to do Trumbo’s job more cheaply, but at the same time if the changes in his swing are legitimate, he could still outproduce those guys quite handily over the next three years. With that said, he also didn’t come close to the kinds of figures we were hearing floated early in the offseason. It would have been nice to land someone like Jason Hammel — especially considering what he signed for — but all the pitchers who would have moved the needle were priced prohibitively. There’s no way, for instance, that I see Rich Hill leaving LA for the kind of money he signed for.

Q5: The Orioles philosophy is that the goal is to reach the post-season, and once there it’s a roll of the dice. Understandable with the short-sample sizes which exist in the playoffs, vs. the duration of the 162 game regular season marathon. However, do you think the O’s particular weaknesses (rotation, and on-base %) make them particularly vulnerable against the better competition faced in the post-season?

Shields: We haven’t seen any proof that this is the case.  I think logically you say that a team full of free swingers becomes more vulnerable than a team with patient, better all around hitters when facing better pitching.  We just don’t have any studies done to show that this is correct.  Cleveland showed last year that you can get the minimum from your starters and that your pen can carry you in the playoffs, so in that aspect of things, the Orioles are fine.  People say give me an ace in the playoffs.  I would argue that an elite back end of the pen is more valuable than an ace in the playoffs.  I don’t have any stats to back this up but it seems like the elite relievers tend to have more success than the elite starters do during the playoffs.

Spedden: I’m of the opinion that it’s all in the matchup and the series. Going back to when the Orioles won the 2014 ALDS, they were successful because all the starters had to do was keep the game close order for the Orioles to win, because they had such a significant advantage over the Tigers with the bullpen. Last year, it was one game where the result lent itself to one unlucky outcome or decision. That’s pretty much the nature of the wild card games.

As for this year, it’s a wait and see. The Orioles might make the playoffs and get outmatched by a dominant rotation, or could use their power and bullpen to expose a team’s weaknesses. Not to mention that the playoffs have been unkind to teams that were, in theory, built for the postseason. If this were not the case, the Nationals would probably have a World Series win by now.

Warne: Frankly it probably depends on the construction of the teams they face in the postseason. I mean, it worked for the Royals a few years ago — similar to the O’s, except they had contact and Baltimore has power — but it was also during a time when the AL Central was a bit more on the lean side. But if the O’s can get to the postseason — probably a fairly decent-sized if with the improvement of the Red Sox — there’s no reason they can’t play well into October as they’re constructed, especially with the de-emphasis of SP lately in the playoffs.

Q6: Would you give Britton an extension? If so, what would your offer look like? Is there a better reliever quartet than Britton, O’Day, Brach, and Givens?

Shields: No, I wouldn’t give him an extension.  He should have been traded and I would still consider that at some point in the next 9 months or so.  I think you will be hard pressed to find a better 4 than that, assuming O’Day is back to the O’Day he always has been.  If Givens solves his lefty issues from last year, the O’s may have 4 sub 2.50 ERA relievers that pitch 270ish innings.  That is so valuable.

Spedden: I’ll start by saying that I agreed with the decision to keep Britton for 2017. It was a situation where the Orioles didn’t have to trade him and, while he’s unlikely to match last year’s numbers, his track record suggests that another excellent season is in store. In other words, the value will still be there if the Orioles decide to trade him over the summer or before the 2018 season.

As for an extension, I’m currently not on that board with that commitment. Part of it is that the Orioles have other players that play at more valuable positions and are worthy of extension consideration, and it’s also the fact that Britton is unlikely to improve on his performance over a contract that runs beyond 2018.

For me, the quartet of Britton, Givens, O’Day, and Givens is among the best. I actually believe Givens could be Britton’s heir apparent over the long run, but it’s going to take another season or so of refinement for him to get there.

Warne: Not until I have resolution on the Machado front. I think I’d take the next year and see where I stood with both, who’ll still have plenty of value one year from now. I don’t think there’s a better bullpen quartet than that.

Q7: After 3 lost years (’13-’15), what Bundy achieved last year was significant. There was month-to-month improvement (until he tired), and he stayed healthy. His ability to miss bats increased during the year, and he showed multiple plus pitches. There is no inning restriction for him as ’17 begins. Gausman’s secondaries could still be improved, but his overall ability should not be questioned. There is a legitimate high-ceiling there. Coming off a 30 start, 180 inning campaign in ’16, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he takes a leap. My optimism for the ’17 O’s is primarily tied to this duo. Or worded better, I think the biggest wild card for the O’s is this duo reaching their potential. 

Agree / disagree? Your thoughts on Bundy and Gausman?

Shields: I don’t think both of these guys has to be above average for this team to contend.  However, i do think the highest ceiling for this team exists with both of them being really good.  I expect Bundy to pitch around 150 innings this year if he stays healthy.  I would expect Gausman to give us 200+.  Gausman has to improve on his homer rate from last year but I think he enters this season as more likely to be the guy that posted a 3ish ERA in the second half vs the guy who posted a 4ish ERA in the first half.  I am expecting big things from Gausman this year.  An AS game appearance for him isn’t out of the question.  As for Bundy, I am hoping they take it slow with him for the first 6 weeks and then let him go all out.  His upside is tremendous.  He has 3 excellent pitches and if he can command them, he could be better than Gausman. 

Spedden: If they both take steps forward, the Orioles suddenly go from a team with a suspect rotation to one that has three very capable starters (if Tillman is healthy) that can complement the team’s other strengths. Both players have room to improve, which is what makes them so intriguing. Because Bundy missed so much time before last year, I would handle him with more caution than I would Gausman, but I believe both have a chance to reshape the rotation.

Warne: Agree. If those two can be anything similar to 1-2 starters, it takes a ton of pressure off the rest of the guys — all of whom profile more along the 3-5 lines anyway. If they become anything close to that, they’re right in the thick of things for the AL East crown.

Q8: Boston (even with the David Price questions) goes into the season as the favorite in the East. How do you see the Division?

Shields: I think Boston is the clear favorite.  I think people are writing off Tampa way too quickly.  That team has as much upside as anyone because of the potential of their pitching staff.  NY has a lot of young talent and a great back end of the pen.  I question their starters and the offense overall.  I think they have a relatively low floor but I also think they end up 500 or better.  Toronto is a wild card for me.  What will Morales be?  Can the starters be close to what they were last year?  Will Bautista bounce back?  With very little in the minors, this isn’t a team that will be able to improve all that much if they need to.  I think they are neck and neck with the Os for the second best team in the division.  End of the day, the division, 2-5, is basically a toss up for me and it has been that way for the last several years.  Everyone has good upside and everyone has good downside.  Health and luck will go a long way to determining who wins the division and who makes a legit run at the WC.

Spedden: Boston would be my pick to win the division, though I have some doubts about the Red Sox beyond the concerns with Price. Foremost for me is whether the bullpen will suddenly be weaker than expected if Craig Kimbrel regresses from last year. Beyond that, I think the Orioles and Blue Jays enter the year with similar rosters, while the Yankees are a couple of years away from being a great team, leaving the Rays in last.

Perhaps the biggest intrigue beyond that is the West. The Rangers, Mariners, and Astros all enter the year with legitimate chances of contending, which could complicate the Orioles’ playoff push if they don’t win the division.

Warne: There’s no team that can be immediately written off, but each team has warts. The warts of the Rays (offense, rough 2016) and Yankees (rotation, retooling) are a bit more obvious, but I still wouldn’t dismiss that those teams could be .500 and threaten into September. Everyone wanted to write the Orioles off when they first started contending. Look where they are now.

My guess would be this:

Red Sox – Blue Jays – Orioles – Rays – Yankees

Q9: Where do you rank O’s Manager Buck Showalter, and O’s EVP of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette among their peers? What do you see as their primary strengths and limitations?

Shields: I think Buck is probably a Top 5 manager in baseball. He gets a lot of his players, has their respect, runs the bullpen well and has changed the culture of the franchise. His limitations are that he runs some of the regulars into the ground and he is a little too old school at times for me. I think he needs to be more well rounded when it comes to stats but overall, he is excellent.  Duquette is pretty mediocre IMO.  Now, he has the Angelos factor to deal with and that’s not easy for anyone.  But he makes many moves that Angelos doesn’t likely know or care about that make little sense.  He has no regards for prospects.  He has hurt the depth to acquire bad players.  I know O’s fans like to put him on a pedestal for us winning but the core was here before he got here, so I don’t think he deserves too much credit for that. I will give him props for finding some good, cheap players but I also don’t think that’s as rare a trait as people make it out to be.

 

Spedden: Showalter gets the credit he deserves as one of baseball’s best managers, even when factoring in the heat he took for not using Britton in last year’s wild card game. (It was the wrong decision, but I also saw plenty of bad at-bats by the Orioles leading up to that point.) 

For Duquette, I probably say that his strengths have been in building the bullpen, getting good value out of players like Wei-Yin Chen and Hyun Soo Kim, and finding the right offensive role players at the right time.

His weakness is probably the mixed track record with evaluating starters through trades and free agency. The question of whether he gives up too early on young starters is also a valid one. Jake Arrieta is the most obvious example, but over the long run the decision to include Josh Hader in the Bud Norris trade might come back to haunt the Orioles. Dealing Eduardo Rodriguez to the Red Sox for Andrew Miller might prove to be a mistake, too, but I believe the logic behind that trade was—and still is—completely understandable.

Warne: Even though I didn’t like how he handled Britton in Toronto last year, I still think Buck is one of the top-five managers in the game. He does a fantastic job managing the bullpen and extracting the maximum amount of talent off an imperfect roster. I think Duquette has done some things that weren’t great — the Gallardo deal, the amount paid to Davis when there was no clear other suitors — but ultimately he’s built a team with a consistent image that can win in a difficult division. I’d say he’s in the top half, though maybe not much higher than this.

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Chris Stoner

Chris Stoner founded Baltimore Sports and Life in 2009. He has appeared as a radio guest with 1090 WBAL, 105.7 The Fan, CBS 1300, Q1370, WOYK 1350, WKAV 1400, and WNST 1570. He has also been interviewed by The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Business Journal, and PressBox (TV). As Owner, his responsibilities include serving as the Managing Editor, Publicist, & Sales Director. You can reach him via email at [email protected].

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