A Lower-Market Christmas List for the Orioles
After a disappointing last-place finish in 2017 and with the final years of Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Brad Brach and Zach Britton under team control looming in 2018, the onus is on the Baltimore Orioles to improve, and quick.
And how perfect: it’s the offseason, when many players are just out there floating around to be plucked off the market for the right price.
OK, so we all get it — the Orioles need to improve, and fast. But it isn’t just as easy as signing the top-two pitchers and hitters like it is on MLB the Show. The Orioles aren’t exactly hurting budget-wise — roughly $123 million committed to next year’s roster, as is, after extending to $165-170 over the last two years — but they do have some dollars allocated….less than ideally, we’ll say.
(Chat about this on the BSL boards here!)
They only have $43 million committed to the 2019 payroll. That’s the good news. The bad news? It’s tied up in Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis and Darren O’Day. That’s not the same as having tons tied up in Albert Pujols post-leg amputation, but it’s….not great. At the very least, it checks off virtually none of the boxes of what a team needs for its core.
That’s not totally being genuine though, as there are arbitration-eligible players who’ll obviously factor into the team’s plans, like Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Jonathan Schoop and others — but the Orioles have painted themselves into a weird corner. It’s not one that’s impossible to get out of, but it’ll take creativity.
With that said, we’re prepared to look at each of Baltimore’s shortcomings, and where they can fill them at a reasonable price this offseason. Let’s go:
It’s possible that Tim Beckham, who hit a stellar .306/.348/.523 in 50 post-trade games with the Orioles, is the answer here, but he also makes sense as a super utility guy over the next year with the potential to take over third base if Machado leaves after the season or to stick at short. Beckham has been a perfectly useful player over the last two seasons — about 200 games, in which he’s hit .269/.320/.449, or roughly the J.J. Hardy special — but there’s no guarantee he can keep overcoming iffy K/BB rates to be a useful player. Is it a risky gamble? Probably not, but hedging your bets makes sense in the winter when, of course, there are players available.
Giving up a draft pick to sign Zack Cozart would have to be considered the top of the market, but more likely it makes sense to dig a little deeper. It also wouldn’t hurt to have someone who can move around the infield as utility depth is lacking a bit with the O’s right now. Then, it comes down to what the team is looking for. With competent offensive players across the dirt, maybe a defensive-minded backup like Alcides Escobar is worth looking into. A player O’s fans will be familiar with is Ryan Goins, who was non-tendered by the Toronto Blue Jays. He’s proven to be defensively capable at second base with a little time at short, and would come cheaply as he’s coming off a down year. Cliff Pennington is another all-glove, limited bat guy who is entering his mid-30s and would cost virtually nothing.
If the team wants offense, or at least the potential of offense, then 26-year-old Nick Franklin is worth considering. He hasn’t hit much in his career, but is just a year removed from hitting .270/.328/.443 with the Rays. He can play just about anywhere and won’t cost much at all.
On the young side of things, Alen Hanson is a bit intriguing. He fizzled out with the White Sox last year, but played all over the diamond and has plenty of speed. Marcel projections peg him for a .241/.298/.381 line in 2018, which is passable for a guy with blazing speed as a 25th man on the roster. He’s only heading into his age-25 season, and was recently a well-regarded prospect in the Pirates system, peaking as high as No. 54 on MLB.com’s top-100 prospects in 2013.
Joey Rickard is an ideal fourth outfielder, but simply cannot be trusted to start every day in right field.
If the O’s are not ready to turn RF over to Austin Hays; there are some options who could make sense:
Jarrod Dyson makes a ton of sense for a team that stole an MLB-worst 32 bases last year. In fact, no other team stole fewer than 50. Dyson alone stole 28. He’d provide terrific defense and could even spell Jones in center when needed, and shouldn’t cost a ton.
Nori Aoki is who he is at this point — not a particularly good defender, for instance — but he makes plenty of contact and takes good at-bats. Since he’s going on 36, he’ll come cheaply on a one-year deal and would make for a nice stopgap if higher-end options sign elsewhere.
I thought Austin Jackson made a ton of sense for Baltimore when they signed — but not really — Dexter Fowler a few years back, and he’s coming off a really nice year with Cleveland (.318/.387/.482). Defensively he’s much more of a corner guy at this point, but that works well for the O’s.
Jon Jay would provide the O’s with one thing they don’t really have in-house — an ideal leadoff hitter. Jay walked 8.5 percent of the time last year and hit .296/.374/.375 with the Cubs while splitting time in center with Albert Almora Jr. and others. In a corner he’d be an asset defensively, and he’s heading into his age-33 season, so he shouldn’t require too long of a deal. He only signed a one-year deal with the Cubs, and was coming off the same identical season.
Carlos Gomez would be a really, really fun fit, as he’s bound to be terrific in right field — diminished range but still good and a great arm — and his all-or-nothing approach would fit in quite nicely with this bunch. Anything close to last year (110 wRC+) would be a huge boon.
Carlos Gonzalez as a bounce-back candidate would make a lot of sense. It’s unclear where he’s at as a player, as wRC+ heavily penalizes him (84) for hitting at Coors despite a decent enough .262/.339/.423 slash in 136 games last year. He’s just two years removed from hitting 40 bombs and probably would sign for one year to get back on his feet.
Danny Santana makes a little sense as a 25th man type as well, though it’d have to be very cheaply. He could also fill in as an infielder, too.
We’ve saved the most obvious for last. And while we won’t say the Orioles will be in on one of the big four — Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb and Yu Darvish — there’s bound to be more demand than supply. The reality is the Orioles will have to consider secondary options regardless of what happens on that front, so here’s who we like.
Mike Fiers has been fairly good in recent years, but hit the skids a bit in 2017. And while Camden Yards isn’t the best place for a pitcher with homer issues to regain his mojo, it’s not often a 32-year-old league-average starter will sign for a reasonable rate as a guy who gets enough grounders and plenty of strikeouts.
Tom Koehler was non-tendered by the Blue Jays after seeing his numbers take a nosedive in 2017, but after a rough start with the Marlins (7.92 ERA, 6.91 FIP), the righty looked terrific out of the Blue Jays bullpen. He posted a 2.65 ERA (3.22 FIP) with more strikeouts than innings pitched and an above-average groundball rate. He’s never been great, but he’s a decent back-end starter who has thrown 170-plus innings in three of the last four years.
Jaime Garcia is not a sexy option, but as a back-end guy with grounders who keeps the ball in the park, there’s some appeal here. He’s also younger (31) than he seems despite having pitched in the big leagues since 2008.
With Trevor Cahill, the appeal lies largely in what can be covered up by a good defense. He posted a .326 BABIP last year, and despite inducing tons of grounders (55.6 percent) and getting lots of strikeouts (9.3 K/9) still posted just a 4.93 ERA. He still (somehow) isn’t 30, and will certainly cost almost nothing.
Tyler Chatwood posted much better numbers on the road (3.49 ERA) than at home (6.01), but his peripherals don’t really show anything different. As ESPN’s Keith Law has noted, it makes sense for him to go back to the curveball that made him a well-regarded prospect in the first place. Curveballs don’t play up at Coors Field, but at Camden Yards…..maybe?
Francisco Liriano would be a buy-low candidate, but he has as much upside as any guy heading into his mid-30s has ever had. He still throws hard and has good swing-and-miss stuff; he just needs someone to help rein it in. Could that be the Orioles? As a flyer, one can do worse.
Don’t sleep on bringing back Chris Tillman, either. Sometimes the evil you already know is better than that which is unseen.
The Orioles certainly don’t need to rebuild their bullpen by any stretch of the mind, but scooping up some cheaper, solid arms to fill out the front end would not be a bad idea.
Also, Dan Duquette might argue otherwise (or argue that O’s fans would not want him) but it might make some sense to see if Jose Bautista can bounce back on a cheap one-year deal.