O’s Thoughts As The Off-season Begins
Another season for the Baltimore Orioles is in the books, and their off-season has begun. Before we begin to look forward at all of the things which await the O’s this Winter; let’s consider the primary question that remains to be asked about the year that was.
Was the 2013 Season a success?
When this was discussed on the BSL Message Board, my colleague Jeff Long made the extremely valid point that the question itself is very subjective. A matter of eyes of the beholder.
My own opinion is that I find the year hard to categorize as a success. It is not like they failed to meet the expectations I had in the preseason. I projected 85 wins, and that’s where they finished.
The O’s won 93 games last year, and went to the playoffs. The bar was set high. Anything less than that is a step back. Even with anticipated regression. The year can not be categorized as a failure. They again played meaningful games in September. While those games didn’t go how you would have liked, it was exciting to see them remain relevant.
Remaining relevant allowed them to increase their attendance over last year, as did their TV and Radio ratings. Those things can be easily dismissed, but as the 2011 season was ending – the O’s brand was at a low.
The fact that we can be disappointed by the O’s stepping back some this year, is still a plus in the scheme of things. For now at least. This off-season it will be important for the O’s to take the next steps.
There will be some who think larger whole scale changes are needed. I do not. Regardless of where you are on that spectrum, it is apparent that help is needed. The O’s have a core of players who are capable of competing again in ’14, but they are going to need some help to get there.
I was relatively comfortable with the O’s quiet Winter last year. I even supported (still do) the moves the made during this season to augment the team. I would be uncomfortable with a similar Winter this year.
Last year, there was a valid line-of-thought that the O’s played at a very high level in August and September ’12 – and maybe you needed to see how that group played over the 1st half before looking to add. (Plus they internally hoped/expected Bundy and/or Gausman to be taking a spot in the rotation.)
Going into this Winter, it is clear you can upgrade at several locations. Even if you decide you are comfortable with bringing back Roberts at 2nd (with Flaherty and Schoop in reserve), even if you bring back McLouth in LF; you can still upgrade DH, and you can still upgrade the rotation. Or if you go with Betemit / Valencia at DH, then you can look for an improvement over McLouth in LF.
There are multiple ways they can go, but improvement needs to occur.
Here are some topics and questions to ponder as the Winter starts.
Topic 1) Off-season Priorities?
If you were the O’s Front Office, what priorities would you have this Winter? For me:
1A) An extension for Machado. If the reports about Machado being open to an extension are accurate, this would be the largest priority for me to accomplish this Winter. Obviously Machado is not going anywhere soon regardless, but this off-season will represent the best chance to get a somewhat reasonable price for the first 2-3 years of Machado’s FA years. Machado’s recent injury scare should increase his willingness to consider an extension.
1B) Determine the cost of a Davis extension. Is somewhere between 5 yrs $70M and 6 yrs $90M plausible, or is 7 yrs $120M a more realistic potential contract? At $90M and less, I’d want to see the O’s get a deal done. Above that mark, I’d be inclined to let next year play out.
1C) Add another waive of brain power to the Front Office. Some additional Assistants to the GM (not Asst GM or VP of Baseball Ops). Potentially further reinforcements to Scouting and Player Development.
Duquette brought in or promoted people like Brady Anderson (now VP of Baseball OPS), Lee Thomas (Special Asst to EVP), Fred Ferreira (Executive Director, International Recruiting), Roy Poitevint (Executive Director, International Scouting), Gary Rajsich (Scouting Director), Brian Graham (Player Development Director), Sarah Gelles (Baseball Analytics), Rick Peterson (Pitching Development Director), Steve Walter (Economic Advisor)…
I think one of the best things the O’s could do this Winter is bring in some differing outside perspectives. Let other intelligent people come in and take a look.
I’ve pointed it out before, but Atlanta has Wren as their GM, Schuerholz as their President, along with Manno, and Coppolella as their Asst GMs. They also have 10 other guys listed as Special Assistant to the GM – the same position as the O’s Thomas. I assume Anderson’s promotion to VP of Baseball OPS, makes him our ‘Assistant GM’, but I think there is still room for others to join the FO.
I’d like to see a 2nd VP of Baseball OPS hired, and several Special Assistants.
1C1) Billy Owens (A’s Director of Player Personnel, O’s 3rd rd pick ’92)
1C2) Ronnie Richardson (Braves Director of Minor League Operations)
1C3) James Click (Rays Director of Baseball Research and Development)
1C4) Matt Slater ( Cardinals Director of Player Personnel, Special Asst. to GM, worked with O’s 95-98)
1D) As we will discuss further below, I’d love to see the O’s obtain both of Abreu & Tanaka. I don’t expect them to obtain either. I think obtaining one of them should be a priority. You can’t control where Abreu signs, or if you win the posting for Tanaka; you can control how hard you pursue, or how significant the offer is you make.
1E) I think the O’s should be deciding now if they believe they can upgrade on McLouth. If they think they can, they better be ready to make the financial commitment necessary. I’m sure Hunter Pence’s deal got their attention. If Baltimore is not going to be willing to pay the price necessary to upgrade on McLouth, I feel an extension for McLouth should be a priority. If you wound up losing him, and did not replace him with equal production; that would leave a glaring hole. I think it is going to be hard to replace his speed, decent on-base %, and defense. We will discuss this further below.
1F) The options for the last starter in the ’14 rotation are limited. I like the idea of Tanaka as a possible 2/3 starter, which knocks everyone else back a spot. If you are not going to land him, the more plausible scenario is adding a veteran 5th who will bide time until Gausman forces his way onto the staff. Are you going to do better than Feldman? Could you ideally get Feldman back as a swing guy?
Topic 2) Confidence in returning O’s starters?
Tillman ’13: 16-7, 3.71 era, 3.88 xFIP, 206.1 ip, 184 hits, 33 hr’s, 68 bb’s, 179 k’s, .730 OPS against, 38.6% GB%.
Norris ’13: 10-12, 4.18 era, 4.22 xFIP, 176.2 ip, 196 hits, 17 hr’s, 67 bb’s, 147 k’s, .779 OPS against, 40.2% GB%.
Chen ’13: 7-7, 4.07 era, 4.14 xFIP, 137 ip, 142 hits, 17 hr’s, 39 bb’s, 104 k’s, .761 OPS against, 34.4% GB%.
Gonzalez ’13: 11-8, 3.78 era, 4.31 xFIP, 171.1 ip, 157 hits, 24hr’s, 53 bb’s, 120 k’s, .713 OPS against, 38.9% GB%.
From 1-4 who are you most confident in going forward? Do you think any of these starters is likely to see regression next year?
With what Tillman showed this year, and his age; I’m most optimistic about his future. I generally like the group as a whole, and I don’t see a lot of separation between them individually. They lack the no-doubt ACE starter at the top of the rotation, but I do think they are capable of keeping the O’s in most games.
That has plenty of value, especially considering how little the group is making salary wise. The negative aspect of those four, is that collectively the upside is somewhat limited.
Topic 3) The last spot in the ’14 Rotation?
So, if Tillman, Chen, Gonzalez, and Norris are going to be 4/5s of the O’s 2014 rotation, who will be the 5th?
There are Free Agent Starters the O’s could potentially be interested in. Josh Johnson, Lincecum, Lester (if by miracle his option was not picked up), Kuroda, Garza, Colon, Hughes, Vargas.
There are potential trade options. Pitchers like Gallardo, or Porcello. There are pipe dreams about making a larger run at an ACE like Sale.
Internally, the O’s have Gausman, Britton, and E. Rodriguez as options who could receive starts next year.
Rodriguez would clearly need additional time in the Minors and would be more of a 2nd half option.
Britton threw a combined 143.1 ip at AAA and the Majors this year, but the results do not justify having a spot waiting for him in the O’s rotation next Spring. He’s probably a lock to get some starts at some point next year; but he is going to have to work hard this Winter and earn his next opportunity. Britton turns 26 in December.
Gausman starting ’14 as the O’s 5th starter would not be the worst thing, but I think it is unlikely. I think the O’s would prefer to add an external veteran, and give Gausman some additional time in the Minors. Gausman would be the first option when poor performance or injury opens up a spot.
I’m not opposed to Feldman for 2 years, but I would not give him a 3rd. I was extremely impressed by Hammel’s 20 starts for the Birds in 2012, and disappointed in his 2013. If health was a significant impact in Hammel’s lack of ’13 success, I would not be opposed to bringing him back for a year.
Again, we will discuss Tanaka further below, and he would be my #1 choice.
Based on the above:
3A) Do you want a back of the rotation starter added? If so, who do you prefer?
3B) Would you prefer a starter with additional upside? If so, who do you prefer?
3C) What do you expect the O’s to do?
Topic 4) What happened to the offense in the 2nd half?
The Orioles ended the 2013 season 5th overall in runs scored, and 3rd in slugging.
The primary issue with the offense was their limited ability to get on-base (19th overall). When they faced better pitching, they had even less opportunities with RISP, making those chances that much more pronounced.
Some of the slugging might regress next year. If they can improve the obp, they should be a similarly capable offense overall though. Maybe a bit more balanced, and less reliant on the homer.
Topic 5) Is Roberts going to be back?
I’m not going to argue that Roberts played at a ‘high’ level (His OPS in 265 ab’s was .704), but he didn’t look like a player with nothing to offer either. He was productive vs. LHP, and his defense was plently livable. (FanGraphs had his UZR/150 at 5.1.)
His play was good enough (and he was playing enough) that if he wants to continue his career, he will have that opportunity somewhere. If he wants to continue his career, it’s hard for me to imagine him and the O’s not agreeing on a 1 year deal.
I think he comes back, with the opportunity to begin the year as the starter. If he struggles or gets hurt; Flaherty steps in, while they wait for Schoop to force his way onto the roster.
Topic 6) McLouth extension?
We touched on McLouth above.
MASN’s Roch Kubatko recently stated he feels McLouth is gone if it would take 2 yrs $10M to retain him. That surprises me a bit. I feel the O’s aren’t likely to do better than McLouth. I feel they could easily do worse. Kubatko’s comments say to me the O’s either will be spending more than I expect for one of the better available Corner OF’s, or more likely think they can match McLouth’s production for less.
After posting a .777 OPS in his 209 Oriole ab’s during 2012, McLouth had a .729 OPS in 531 ab’s this year. That is 740 ab’s around his career OPS of .752. His UZR/150 was 5.5.
His fWAR was 2.5, Baseball Reference is 1.6, Baseball Prospectus is 2.1.
With that 2.5 fWAR, FanGraphs says his play was been worth $12.6M in ’13.
He made $2M this year.
Have you seen enough to offer him a 2 year deal now? Would you be comfortable at 2 yrs $10M?
If you lost him in FA, I think you could replace him, but a large part of me would like to get him done before FA begins, and not have to worry about addressing LF. With McLouth following-up his August and September 2012 with his ’13 production; he stands to get multiple years from someone.
The O’s are going to be attempting to contend again next year. I don’t see a lot of roster turnover coming. They are not going to go through the larger roster turnover some will want. As is, my restated thesis is that if you are not going to spend what is necessary to improve on production, you might as well get it done.
If the O’s think they can match (or exceed) his production for cheaper, it will be interesting to see how that works out.
Topic 7) Picturing the O’s with Abreu and Tanaka
Still, let’s picture what the ’14 O’s would look like with them signed, and McLouth extended.
Tanaka 6yrs $80M (Inclusive of Posting Fee)
Abreu 5 yrs $55M
McLouth 2 yrs $12M
2nd based is addressed either with Roberts on a 1 yr $2.5M deal, Flaherty, or Schoop at some point during the year.
Scouting Reports on Abreu seem to indicate he is capable of being a .800 OPS DH. Tanaka is being advertised as a 2nd or 3rd league average starter. If those two are added to the existing core, I think that the O’s can make the jump from 85 to 90+ wins and legitimate contention. I would be excited about the roster as a whole.
Some say that Showalter would not want a full-time DH (wanting the flexibility, worrying about inter-league play with a guy that can only DH). The results this year should only help Duquette make the point for the benefits of Abreu.
Topic 8) 2014 Free Agents – Who do you want the O’s to pursue?
We previously discussed available Free Agent Starting pitching. What FA positional players (or relievers) do you want to see the O’s pursue? Who do you particularly want them to avoid?
Prior to his recent extension, I had some interest in Pence as a DH.
Pence’s contract makes me believe that Shin-Soo Choo, and Ellsbury will be way out of the price range from the O’s.
I’m a fan of Cano, but the contract he is going to get is more than the O’s would pay, and the contract he is going to get is more than the O’s should pay (particularly the years) for a 31 year old. He won’t touch the $300M he is seeking from the Yanks, but I would not be interested in Cano for even $100M less.
Kendrys Morales had a nice year. Could be an option at DH. Mike Morse did nothing with the O’s, but apparently was never healthy while in a Baltimore uniform. I could see the O’s bringing him back.
I’m guessing Beltran is not leaving St. Louis.
Rafael Furcal had a mediocre/poor 2012, followed by elbow surgery and missing all of ’13. A 1 year deal to compete for the job at 2nd? Probably not.
Could you get Peralta to leave Detroit, and take over 2nd for the O’s? His fWAR is 3.6, which FanGraphs values at $18M in production this year. Would not be cheap. Probably not likely to leave Detroit.
Kelly Johnson could be a nice move.
The Rays have a $7.5M option on Ben Zobrist. If that is declined, I would love to go after him. His versatility would be a great asset, as would his OBP.
Topic 9) 2014 Payroll?
The O’s (and every other team) should make another $14M or so in National TV revenue beginning in 2014. I think there is a good chance we see the O’s salary increase at-least that much.
Beyond that, the O’s have seen gains in attendance, and with their TV, and Radio ratings. So, more people are coming to the stadium, and the O’s have been able to sell all of their TV and Radio commercials at higher rates. I do believe the O’s continue to have a % of unsold suites though.
It would seem like a logical time to reinvest into the team.
As we mentioned in our recent article on Johnson, if the payroll stays at the $90-$95M level, that will force some larger and harder decisions. If the payroll increases to $110-$115M, the flexibility with the roster increases.
I think the O’s are capable of a higher payroll, and should invest further around this team (meaning this group of players); but if they decide not to, that’s fine.
While I would be disappointed with that decision, if the O’s come out and say we are not going to raise the pay of any significance – that’s the way it is. They can run their business as they deem fit. You don’t need to have a higher salary to compete. It (a non-increased salary) just gives you less margin for error.
If that is how the O’s want to operate, that is fine. Just be willing to make the decisions that go along with that.
Topic 10) Matt & Nick.
Does Wieters play too many innings behind the plate? Do you want to reduce that number? His value overall as a player is tied to his glove – can you even consider giving him an extension into his FA years if you don’t believe he can continue to Catch during those seasons? Thoughts on him giving up switch hitting? (He has a .872 OPS vs. LHP, and a .628 OPS vs. RHP this year.) Why have his splits reversed from earlier in his career?
Did Markakis play hurt this year? Specifically, after his strong May – was an injury suffered? Did have a set-back from his wrist injury last year? Markakis 2012 was his best stretch of play since his magical 2008 season. 2013 was a disaster. Markakis has already acknowledged the need to improve physically this Winter. Can he make the jump back to his career averages next year?
For some teams the Playoffs are just getting started, and the 2013 World Champion has yet to be crowned. For the O’s, there are a lot of days between now and the reporting of Pitchers & Catchers next February. While I wish the O’s were still playing games, I’m excited to see how the off-season unfolds; and what the Orioles Front-Office will accomplish to better position the O’s for next year.