The Orioles’ Offseason in Perspective
Dan Duquette has shown a fairly unparalleled competency at adding players via free agency who are able to provide production at a relatively low cost. Recent examples include Nate McLouth and Miguel Gonzalez, and any number of players from this year’s free agent crop can add their name to that list. An excerpt from Richard Justice’s feature on Duquette sums it up well:
If you don’t know one other thing about Duquette’s genius, this story about Gonzalez and Ferreira says it all. In two-plus years on the job, Duquette and his baseball people have done an amazing job of finding talent in all sorts of places.
If others didn’t see value in certain guys, well, that was their problem. Outfielder Nate McLouth‘s career was jump-started in Baltimore in 2012 after he’d been released by the Pirates. In return, he helped the Orioles make the playoffs for the first time in 15 years.
Steve Pearce, Lew Ford, Randy Wolf and a bunch of others who were either released or very, very available also helped the Orioles that year. They used 52 players in all, including 12 starting pitchers. Manager Buck Showalter started 11 different players in left, five at second base and six at third. – Richard Justice, MLB.com
This offseason though, was a bit different. The O’s made bigger splashes in guys like Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz. They even surrendered multiple draft picks to improve the team and push it closer to contention. Jimenez was the big acquisition signing a 4 year, $50 million deal to anchor the O’s rotation.
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(February 21, 2014 – Source: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)
The willingness to sign someone like Jimenez shows that Duquette isn’t “dumpster-diving Dan” as some people have mockingly referred to him. No, he’s simply a guy who leaves no stone un-turned when it comes to finding potential value in the market.
It’s important though, to put Duquette’s more splashy offseason into perspective. MLBTradeRumors broke down the offseason for each team, identifying how much they spent and where they fall compared to other organizations. Doing so helps put the offseason into perspective, especially since so many dominoes have fallen since it kicked off after the World Series several months ago.
The team whose offseason the Orioles’ most closely resembled is actually the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Orioles signed 7 players for a total of 13 years and $70 million. That comes out to an average of $5.36 million per year, a very reasonable sum.
The Dodgers by comparison signed 9 players for 18 years and $105 million, an average of $5.83 million in AAV. Basically the difference between the two teams is Alex Guerrero (4/$32MM) and Paul Maholm (1/~$3MM).
Below is a chart from MLBTradeRumors showing every team’s offseason and how they compare to one another. This visual makes it easy to see how the Orioles compare to other teams in MLB.
Click to Enlarge
Some highlights from the chart include the Yankees with the highest AAV, and most money spent. The Mariners were a close second in AAV (solely because of Robinson Cano) but their overall spending paled in comparison to the Yankees. The Dodgers and Orioles are the two lowest orange dots (representing AAV) among the top 14 teams. In fact, the Orioles and Dodgers are the only teams in the top 10 spenders that spent less than $6MM per year their signees. While the Orioles spent big and managed to reel in Jimenez and Cruz, they still found time to sign a few cheaper players with upside and value potential.
This methodology led to a lot of criticism of the front office throughout much of the offseason, but in reality it’s a good strategy for a team like the Orioles. The O’s don’t have a payroll like the Yankees, so less dollars need to go just as far in order to seriously compete. While Jimenez will help the rotation and push this team into playoff contention, signings like Ryan Webb or Suk-Min Yoon are the type of upside plays that keep mid-market teams like Baltimore in the running.
The Dodgers have been lauded for their willingness to spend whatever it takes to get to the playoffs. Yet this offseason they didn’t spend hundreds of millions on established stars. They generally spent wisely, and made a few higher risk splashes in the hopes of augmenting an already established roster. The O’s, in much the same boat, made many of the same plays as the Dodgers this offseason.
It’s been a while since the O’s made a big splash in free agency, and those moves were big for the club. However, those moves won’t necessarily be the ones that optimize the roster. Jimenez and Cruz are big additions and they will undoubtedly make the team better. Webb, Yoon, and the others additions by Duquette could have a big and more valuable impact than the bigger names. The Orioles made big moves this offseason, but the smaller ones shouldn’t get lost in the shuffle either.