Orioles – Expectations For This Winter
The Baltimore Orioles enter the 2017 off-season coming off of their worst season since 2011. They finished in the basement of the AL East and ended the year going 6-22 in their last 28 games. We saw some good performances from guys like Dylan Bundy, Jonathan Schoop and Trey Mancini. We saw down performances from key players such as Manny Machado (well, poor by his normal lofty standards), Kevin Gausman, Zach Britton, Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo and Chris Tillman. All in all, while the Orioles found themselves in the race in late August, they never were a team that had the look of a true contender.
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This off-season is going to be a very interesting one to watch. The reality is that the team coming back really isn’t that bad. There are a lot of good players on this team and guys that have been elite, which is what you need at this level. In many ways, the team is pretty much set for next year. You have the entire IF back (including catcher, with or without Castillo), you have your OF back, your DH, 2/5 of your rotation, a few bench spots and most of your pen. The reality is, this team is looking at having 17-21 players from 2017 on the 2018 team. There aren’t many spots to be taken up. We also have a pretty good idea of where the payroll will be heading into the off-season. We know we have guaranteed contracts and buyouts that total just over 57 million. We also know that with arbitration eligible guys, that they will take up another 55-60 million (give or take). You also have around 6 pre arbitration eligible guys that will take up 4ish million. What it all boils down to is that you have about 120 million committed to the 2018 payroll, barring any trades with the players you can currently project to be on the OD roster.
The payroll in 2017, entering the season, was roughly 165 million dollars. If you go with that number, that leaves the Orioles with roughly 45 million dollars to spend this off-season. What we don’t know is if Peter Angelos is willing to spend less than that or more than that. We do know that he has been willing to raise payroll the last few years and we also know that the Orioles are in win mode in 2018. How that adds up to player acquisitions remains to be seen.
There is no secret that the Orioles will be targeting starting pitching this off-season. The Orioles had the worst starters ERA in the league in 2017 and saying that the ERA was bad would be an understatement. The only two starters that you can pencil in are Gausman and Bundy. The Orioles have toyed with the idea of Miguel Castro as a starter but I don’t think that will happen. Perhaps he can and will be your 6th or 7th starter and that’s fine. The question is where will you get the pitching? Pitchers looking to revive their careers don’t come to OPACY. Angelos has never been one to want to spend big money on Free Agent pitchers (something I generally agree with) and the Ubaldo Jimenez contract isn’t likely to change his opinion on that. So, where do you go?
Well first of all, there will be guys who will sign here if you pay the most money. The Orioles found that with a guy like Gallardo but, of course, that was a poor contract from Day 1. The best name on the market that makes sense for the Orioles and what they like to do is Alex Cobb. There are already rumors that the Orioles will be interested in him. Cobb was a guy that was thought of very highly and then he had TJ surgery. He came back to pitch at the end of last year and the results weren’t good. However, he had a solid 2017 season. He threw almost 180 innings, had a sub 3.7 ERA and showed his normal excellent walk rate. However, he did see a drop in the K rate and his HR rate did rise. He threw strikes at above a league average rate but he did a poor job of missing bats. That is a profile that worries me. However, it was his first full season back from TJ surgery and they say the second season is usually when you are at your strongest. My interest is there on him but I really don’t have a grasp on what his market is going to be. The likelihood, considering it’s a weak Free Agent pitching market, is that he will go for more than I would be willing to pay him. I think I would struggle to go any higher than 3/45 or so for him(which probably wouldn’t get him). Can’t see guaranteeing the 4th year at all. Some fans have mentioned a reunion with Arrieta. He had a very strong second half and that, combined with his recent success, probably nets him a contract I wouldn’t come close to. Overall, since the AS break of last year, Arrieta has been good but not great. He has been a good #2 with some peripherals trending in the wrong direction. Combine that and what kind of money he is likely to get, as well as some of his “mental” issues and I don’t see him as a good candidate. Duquette has already said a lefty starter is essential. If we go with the idea that they are going to get a Southpaw, why not Jaime Garcia? Since being traded, he has been pretty mediocre but overall, he had a decent year. He has had some injury issues in the recent past but he has thrown 320+ innings the last 2 seasons. He gets a lot of groundballs, usually has a good walk rate, a good HR rate and gets his share of Ks. His str% isn’t that good this year but he is missing bats. Because of his mediocre second half and recent injury issues (which of course could keep him off the PA radar), he shouldn’t be too costly. He should provide the Orioles with a 170+ innings of 4ish ERA baseball. If you can get that for 2-3 years at 8-12 million a year, that wouldn’t be too bad.
The next thing to do would be to look at the trade market. The Orioles farm system had a good year and the talk is that they could vault into the top 15 in terms of system rankings this off-season. That may allow them to make some trades, since the perception and reality of the system is stronger now than it was this time last year. You do have to wonder who they would be willing to deal though. The guys that will be the most sought after will be Hays, Sisco, Scott and Mountcastle. Hays and Sisco aren’t going anywhere IMO and Scott is likely off limits too. Mountcastle would likely have the most chance of being traded since his position is still unknown. But he also may be their Machado insurance in case Manny signs elsewhere or they trade him in July. You also have Brad Brach who could potentially get you a ML ready starter. The Orioles toyed with the idea of trading Brach last offseason and perhaps they will look into that again this year?
A team to watch is the Dodgers. They have a lot of starting pitching. While you won’t get any of their elite young talent, you could trade for some of the vets making good money. Of course, do you even want to? Kazmir didn’t pitch this year and only went 135 innings last year. Brandon McCarthy could be a very good target but, like Kazmir, he has fought a lot of injuries. Is that the guy you want? Will PA approve that? Will he pass one of the physicals? Those are things we have to consider here. Alex Wood, who I wanted the Os to go after last year, isn’t likely to be nearly as obtainable as he appeared to be last year. However, with the O’s need for a lefty starter (at least in their minds), he may be someone on their radar. I suggested a deal built around Brach last year and maybe that would be possible this year as well. It may be even easier if you are willing to take McCarthy or Kazmir off of their hands. Another team that could be a trade partner is Kansas City. They have Hammel and Ian Kennedy that could be available. With Hammel, the contract is relatively reasonable, so if you could get him for very little, it may be a worthwhile gamble. With Kennedy, that may be a trade to look into if they pay some of his contract and take Trumbo back. Either way, the Orioles are very likely going to have to look in the trade market for obtain at least 1 starter. These are a few examples of that. Ideally, they are able to add at least 1 cost controlled starter to have for the long term. The Orioles do have some pitching coming up in the next few years (assuming health and development, which are big assumptions to make) but they do need some talent and depth for 2018 if they are going to truly go for it. They have some decent money to spend on these guys as well.
Other than pitching, I suspect the Orioles will want to sign one more OF bat. I think they are ready to hand a spot to Hays but my guess is that they would like to at least platoon him for a while, let his feet get wet(ter) and gain more experience. Fellow BSL contributor, Seth Bondroff, had a good idea of the team adding Carlos Gonzalez. He has been on the O’s radar in the past but the Orioles refused to deal Gausman for him. He is coming off of a rough year and will likely be looking at a 1-year deal to improve his market. Recent examples of Cruz and Trumbo will tell you that coming here to improve your market, as a hitter, has worked. This seems like an easy match if Gonzalez is willing to come here. This is the perfect Duquette target. His defense isn’t great but he can DH some and you can spell him in the late innings. The Orioles could also look to bring back Seth Smith. Smith did a solid job in his role this year and is the type of guy that you like having on the team. I suspect the Orioles will have a budget of 5-10 million to spend on a hitter. The offense is pretty much set, so you don’t have to go out and add a lot here. I certainly would prefer to be able to do more with the offense but it just won’t happen with the way the team is set up, the aspirations of the team in 2018 and the contracts some of the players have. We are going to have to hope for bounce back seasons from Machado, Davis, and Trumbo and that Mancini and Schoop don’t fall back too much. Add in another bat and the offense has a chance to be right where it has been….league average or so with an upside of being better than that.
I would also expect the team to add some of the lottery ticket players Duquette has enjoyed signing, along with a Rule 5 guy or two. They will want to fill out the bench and the bottom of the pen with cheap guys, which is a good strategy to have. End of the day, we will see a very similar team to what we have seen the last six years and hope that the 2018 version of that team looks more like 2012-2016 than 2017.