The 2015 World Series has ended, and thus every Major League Baseball team has the sole focus of preparing for next year.

As the Baltimore Orioles year ended some time ago, there have been a number of suggested plans across the net for how the O’s should operate this Winter. BSL’s own Rob Shields put together one such comprehensive plan here. Camden Depot had an interesting series, which you can read here.

The discussion points aren’t new. What should the O’s do with their own to-be Free Agents? For years now the Orioles have had an offense built around power, with mediocre-to-poor on-base skills. A capable bullpen exists. The rotation underwhelms. The defense is strong. With plus power, and limited on-base %’s (combined with below-average team speed), runs are not manufactured.

When I’ve thought about 2016, I’ve been stuck on two basic ideas:

1) Are there realistically plausibly moves which will have the O’s looking like a legitimate World Series contender by Spring Training?

2) If the answer to the question above is, “No,” what does say about how the Orioles should operate this Winter?

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

As we said above, the World Series has just ended, but the O’s have been in off-season mode for some-time. Doesn’t impact what happens between the lines, but I appreciated the Orioles having a year-end press conference with Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter. There was good information disseminated there, and I thought the organization was as transparent as possible on their intentions.

That press conference having that duo together was the biggest story of the off-season so far. The Orioles had to establish what their leadership was going to look like for ’16 prior to anything else. I think this was great news overall. Instead of the uncertainty that would have existed, and spending the last Month interviewing GM prospects… waiting for that to become official… for that guy to bring on their hires etc…   the entire current focus for the organization this past Month has been on going over the roster, the minors, free agency, etc and carving out a plan to move forward.

If step one for this Winter was confirming that there would be no change in the Baseball Operations leadership, what’s step two? For many Orioles fans it will be a successful Winter if the O’s accomplish nothing beyond extending Manny Machado.

Like everyone else, I agree that Machado’s future with the O’s is the most important consideration long-term for the O’s.  However, with Baltimore maintaining several years left of team control – the lack of immediate immediacy means it’s not the first thing you look at in my opinion.

I don’t see how any other question for the off-season can be answered until you have a definitive answer on Chris Davis. The O’s have said several times they want him back. They’ve also made the obvious point that there are limits to everything. MLB Trade Rumors has Davis getting a 6 year $144M deal somewhere. My thought has been that the O’s would make an offer at around 5 years $100M. A substantial offer by any measure, but possibly up to 2 years and $40-$50M short of what he eventually signs for elsewhere.

The O’s strategy with Davis should be coming to a resolution either way during this window after the Series where they can exclusively negotiate with their own free agents.

Make your best offer, and he either takes it or he doesn’t. Realistically he will say no to whatever the best O’s offer is. He’s about to hit the market with open bidding. Unless he’s dying to stay an Oriole, it would not behoove him to say yes without listening to other offers. Of course even more realistically, I think we can assume that Davis (and his Agent Scott Boras) have a good understanding of what teams will be interested, and the basic frameworks of deals he can anticipate being formally offered. I don’t think anyone is afraid of a tampering charge. If Davis wants to go back to Texas, and Houston is interested, I’m just suggesting I bet he and Boras have a ‘general’ idea of what the Astros might offer.

So what’s the incentive for the O’s making their best offer? Again, getting resolution. If it becomes clear to Duquette and Showalter that there is no chance of their best offer being accepted during this 5 day window; they can immediately pivot to the back-up plans you would hope they’ve been working on.

Duquette and Showalter have said that a .500 season such as 2015 should be the low-water mark. That the O’s should finish at-least .500 annually, and that contention in 2016 should be expected. The O’s can contend in 2016 without Davis, but the composition of the team would be far different, and the lack of his production would have to be accounted for. With the goal of 2016 contention, the worst thing that could happen to the O’s this Winter would be spending a protracted amount of time waiting on Davis, ultimately seeing him go elsewhere, and having watched other options go off the board while you were waiting.

Sign Davis in the next few days, or consider him gone.

I’d like to see Crush back in an O’s uniform next year. For my purposes here, I’m going with the idea that won’t be happening.

At-least now four times since August I’ve written that if the O’s lose Davis, the best available bats to replace him in the Baltimore lineup are the OF’s Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, and Alex Gordon. I’ve also written several times that of that group, I think only Upton is obtainable for Baltimore. With MLB Trade Rumors pegging Upton for a 7 year $147M contract, maybe it’s time to rethink that. Of that group, Heyward would be my preference, but I think his history of back issues totally eliminates him. Cespedes seems destined to get a contract the O’s don’t want to reach. With Upton having had four successive seasons of good but not great production (even factoring in the San Diego park effects for his 2015 season); the MLBTR projection seems high to me – but let’s go with the idea that’s a legitimate ballpark number. If the O’s don’t go to that level to resign their own slugger in Davis, they aren’t going to $147M to sign Upton.  At 32 years old Gordon is older than you might think. With back-to-back World Series appearances, and now a ring; is he going to leave Kansas City? I guess you could argue either way. The idea that he now has his ring, so the focus turns to getting as many dollars as possible on what figures to be his last major contract. Or you could argue he’s now Royal Royalty for life. The only way he could become in play for the O’s, is if all other deals he receives are in the 4 year range, and the O’s are coming in with 6 or so at an equal AAV. That’s not happening.

So, let’s play this out further. In this exercise, Davis has signed elsewhere, and none of the other best available FA bats ultimately make sense for Baltimore.

What can the O’s do that at point, to put a team on the field that you think not just could contend, but should?

The logical answer would be for the Orioles to turn their attention to a front-end starter.

The logical retort would be, can you imagine any scenario where the O’s sign David Price, or Zack Greinke this Winter?

I can’t.

How much money are you willing to pour into a Johnny Cueto, or Jordan Zimmermann? The projected contracts I see for either are brutal. They still have quality years ahead of them, but I’m not excited at-all by the prospects of paying either major dollars over 5 or 6 years. If I’m the O’s, those contacts look like extended risks for depreciating returns.

Let’s back-up a second, and address the other existing Free Agents.

I’m glad the O’s are now expected to offer Matt Wieters a Qualifying Offer. It would have been pretty irritating had they decided against that. He will decline, and sign elsewhere. Caleb Joseph will be a fine option as the everyday catcher for the next year or two.

Darren O’Day has been a high-performer every year of his career when he has been healthy. Would love to see the veteran back on a two-year deal, even with the available depth of RH bullpen arms. He’s going to get more than two years from someone. If the scenario I’ve posed above comes to fruition, you could argue that the O’s will have plenty of dollars available, to ‘overspend’ on O’Day if they so choose.  Does it make sense to spend more than you want in years and/or dollars on O’Day as a veteran luxury; if contention seems less likely? Seems to me the better argument is against the O’s working on a deal, but I’ll say that O’s settle on a 3 year $15M deal with the righty, partly with the idea that the O’s will spend some of their available funds somewhere.

A couple of days ago, The Baltimore Sun asked would you give Wei-Yin Chen a 5 year $75M deal? I wouldn’t, and I think Dan Connolly was right to say Chen’s chances at a return are highly unlikely. As with Davis, and Wieters, a Qualifying Offer will be extended.

Now you are in a position where you’ve lost Davis. You haven’t signed a major bat to replace his production. You haven’t signed a front-end starter to improve the rotation, and you’ve lost Chen. Where does that leave you?

It leaves me back with the question I started with. Are there still moves available that would have the O’s looking like a contender?

As a definitive contender? I don’t see it. I think the best case scenario at that point is building a team that has the chance to contend, but not a team you would expect to do so.

If you can’t build a team that should be expected to contend, how should you operate?

The answer in my opinion is that you look to lock-up the existing pieces you want to build around, and you look to augment that group with shorter-term deals with players that have a chance to help you in ’16, without representing a ton of risk going forward.

What players you say? Some thoughts:

I liked Rob’s suggestions of bringing back Steve Pearce for 1 year $4.5M, and signing Colby Rasmus for 1 year $9M.

I’d sign Daniel Murphy for the 4 years $40M suggested by FanGraphs. He’s not the Babe Ruth esque player he looked like in the NLCS, or the goat he appeared in the World Series. He’s an average ish, usable player with a little bit of upside. I’d be using him at DH, with the ability to get playing time at 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. 

I’d sign Austin Jackson for 1 year, $8.5M.  The hope would be he could get back to his 2012 levels (5.4 fWAR), but would be expecting something more like 1.5 to 2.0 fWAR. One year deal carries minimal risk, and he’d increase the athleticism of the roster. 

I’d sign Jeff Samardzija for 4 years $60M.
I’d sign Scott Kazmir for 3 years $36M.
I’d sign Antonio Bastardo for 1 year $4M.

1st – Pearce $4.5M
2nd – Schoop $500K
SS – Hardy $12.5M
3rd – Machado $5.5M
RF – Rasmus $9M
CF – Jones $16.33M
LF – Jackson $8.5M
C – Joseph $500K
DH – Murphy  $10M

Flaherty – $2.2M
Clevenger – $500K
Lough – $1M
Alvarez or Reimold – $500K

Samardzija– $15M
Kazmir – $12M
Tillman – $6M
Jimenez – $13M
Gausman – $500K

Britton – $5.5M
O’Day  – $5M
Bastardo – $4M
Brach – $1.8M
Givens – $500K
Gonzalez – $4M
Wright – $500K
(Bundy/Drake/McFarland/Wilson, etc…- $500K)

Conclusion: That would be a roughly $140M team that I don’t love. That $140M salary would be a roughly $20M jump in year-over-year salary, and take the O’s up to around the 10th most expensive roster overall by 2015 salaries.

I’m also not convinced that those prospective contracts for Murphy, Samardzija, and Kazmir would be enough; but the suggested deals for those guys are all over the map right now. Murphy is an average player who was having a great October. How inflated are his numbers going to be based on a hot week or two? Samardzija will get a Qualifying offer, how will that impact him? Kazmir regressed after he joined the Astros in the 2nd half. How much does that hurt him?

Should the O’s have a payroll in the upper 1/3 of all MLB? Should the payroll go up for a team, that you would not be expecting to definitively contend?

Those are tough questions. My own thinking is probably not.

Going back to Duquette and Showalter’s comments though; they expect to contend in 2016. If you lose Davis, don’t sign one of the premier OF’s, and don’t sign one of the premier SP’s – the options of how you could build a team that could possibly contend are reduced.

The best thing I can say about this team is that it would have a chance, and while the overall salary would increase, none of the deals would be crippling.   

The rotation could be pretty good, especially if Gausman took a leap (and Tillman rebounds to 2012-14 levels). The defense would remain strong. Murphy and Pearce as the regular DH and 1st would make for a pretty versatile roster. Bit more athleticism, and a bit less power. The on-base % of this group would still not be good. Davis has a .330% for his career (.360 in ’15). Rasmus just .313% for his career. Jackson .333%. Murphy .331%.  I do like the bullpen, and like having Gonzalez and Wright as rotation depth; but not counting on either to be starters.

Critiquing my own efforts here, I’d give this a D+. There is a limited bit of upside, and the overall risk is minimal; but ultimately the team salary jumps for a team that would be hoping to contend vs. expecting to do so.

Time to head back to the drawing board.

EDIT: It was reasonably argued on the BSL Board that the team above is closer to $155M vs. $140M. So let’s revise, and arrive at a total team salary closer to 2015 levels (+/- $120M).

First some housekeeping. It was suggested that:
– Murphy will be closer to 4 years $50M.
– Rasmus 2 years $25M
– Kazmir 5 years $75M
– Tillman up to $6.2M
– Britton up to $6.9M
– Gonzalez up to $4.9M
– Machado up to $5.9M

Using those salaries, let’s work on shedding payroll…

A) No Murphy.
B) No Jackson.
C) No O’Day.
D) No Bastardo.

1st – Pearce $4.5M
2nd – Schoop $500k
SS – Hardy $12.5M
3rd – Machado $5.9M
LF – Rasmus $12.5M
CF – Jones $16.33M
RF – Alvarez $500k
C – Joseph $500K
DH – Reimold / Walker / Mancini $500k

Flaherty – $2.2M
Clevenger – $500K
Lough – $1M
Reimold / Walker / Mancini – $500K

Samardzija– $15M
Kazmir – $15M
Tillman – $6.2M
Jimenez – $13M
Gausman – $500K

Britton – $6.9M
Brach – $1.8M
Givens – $500K
Gonzalez – $4.9M
Wright – $500K
McFarland – $500k
(Bundy/Drake//Wilson, etc…- $500K)

 Total Salary = $122.73M

Chris Stoner
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.