It’s a new year and the Orioles have begun the year that same way they ended it. They continue to look for starting pitching and a big bat. They have made no secret that Chris Davis is their #1 priority and, according to reports, have a deal worth somewhere in the area of 150M dollars over the course of 7 years on the table. And yes, I stress on the table because what does ‘off the table,’ really mean when it’s clear a deal would be reached if Davis called and agreed to those terms today?
The answer from some is that the O’s are willing to spend those dollars elsewhere, and are not waiting on Davis. That remains to be seen.
As of today, Davis isn’t the only big bat on the market. The market has also been slow to develop for Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes and Alex Gordon. Those players have had some noise around their names but overall, its been pretty quiet, at least publicly. The question Orioles fans keep asking is, will the Orioles get one of those 4 players? To me, there is a better question to ask. Can the Orioles get TWO of those players?
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
As we all know, the Orioles farm system is pretty weak at the moment. There are some intriguing guys and some players with good upside potential but all in all, it’s a pretty weak system. Combine that with a very poor free agent class next offseason and this is an off-season to strike and bring in some real talent. This is an off-season that could really set this team up for the next 3-5 years and that will be tough to accomplish anytime soon after that. There is a monster FA class coming up in a few years but many of those players will be extended (hopefully Manny is one of them) and those who aren’t, are probably looking at even bigger contracts than players this year are going to get. The money is pouring into MLB. The National TV money is huge, revenue sharing has been great and local TV and radio contracts are doing well. The contracts are just going to keep getting bigger and bigger. So, should the Orioles be proactive and get these players now and get ahead of the curve? Can they even do it? This is a team that is around 20th in terms of market size in MLB. They can only spend so much on payroll before it starts to become a legit concern in terms of losing money. OTOH, this team did suck us fans dry for years while putting a poor product on the field, so paying us back would certainly be nice. Orioles Majority Owner Peter Angelos is making a lot of money off of this team and the value of the club has gone way up since he bought it.
Getting back to my original question, can the Orioles afford two of these players? And, as a follow up, can they do that while also improving the pitching staff because if you don’t improve that, its not going to matter what bats you bring in. (See Boston 2015)
To figure out the answer to this, we must first look at what contracts the team could trade to try and get some salary relief. The biggest contracts are ones held by Jones, Wieters, Jimenez and Hardy. None of those guys are likely going to be dealt, at least not right now. Then you go to a guy like Britton. While I think the Orioles should deal him, I know that’s not happening and it certainly isn’t happening if you think you can contend and sign a few of these guys. With those 5 players out of the picture, who else could be dealt to save money?
The guy that makes some sense is Chris Tillman. MLBTR projects him to get 6.2M in 2016. Now, I know what you are thinking, If the Orioles need pitching, why are they dealing Tillman? I will answer that later. The next guy is Miguel Gonzalez, who is projected to make 4.9M. Yes, both of these guys are coming off down years but with the price of pitching being what it is and both of them having very good recent success, I have no doubt they hold value. How much value is up in the air but I don’t think the Orioles would be insulted by offers either. Brian Matusz is another guy to trade. He is projected to make 3.4M and with the money teams are paying relievers and his ability to get lefties out, I think that is an easily moved contract. So, that is roughly 15 million saved right there. The Orioles payroll, depending on the exact arbitration raises, is somewhere in the area of 115M. So, if you deal these 3 players, you are down to 100ish million. Last year, the Orioles had a 120M payroll and this off-season, Orioles Executive Vice-President Dan Duquette has talked about adding one major bat, a top of rotation starter and other bullpen and OF help. After saying that, on MLB Radio, he re-signed O’Day and signed Kim to play in the OF. That leaves a top of rotation starter (which he defined as anything from a 1 to a 3 starter) and a big bat. Duquette has also said he is free to up the payroll and to do that and spend the money he is talking about, that would mean he should be able to push the payroll to 150 million, assuming he didn’t speak out of turn and that Angelos is really willing to do what he said.
If we are to believe Duquette and the Orioles really can spend around 150 million, that leaves 50 million dollars to add to the payroll if the 3 pitchers I mentioned are dealt (they would be dealt for prospects and/or cheap ML ready players). To improve the staff and sign 2 of these bats, there would have to be some creativity. First of all, I would deal Brach (saving another 1.2-2M) and prospects (lots of potential combinations here, not to mention perhaps bringing in a third team if LA wanted another ML player) for Alex Wood. The Dodgers have 5 lefties and Maeda and a slew of young AA and AAA starting pitching that they will look to over the next year or so. They are also looking for bullpen help and Brach has been excellent the last few years. Wood is a guy that is potentially expendable and he makes a ton of sense for the Orioles. His salary is low, he is only 25, he has shown good ability at this level and has already shown he can eat innings. The next guy to look at is Mat Latos. I have talked about him a lot this off-season and have felt from Day 1 that he is the best free agent pitching target for the Orioles. I have thought he would sign for 1 year and get between 8-12 million. Let’s just say he signs for 10 million with the chance to make a few more million if he meets certain innings pitched requirements. So now, you have dealt 2 of your projected starters for potential future help and essentially saved the equivalent to the Latos salary and also added Wood to the team. IMO, Wood and Latos are better bets and have higher upside than Gonzalez and Tillman and again, that is before we mention what the O’s would get in return for those players. It also helps alleviate some of the bullpen log jam and gets Wright into the role of the 6th starter. It would hurt to lose Brach but the Orioles have the arms to replace him IMO and it would be worth it to trade him for a good young arm like Wood. Worley would probably have to start in this scenario, which isn’t optimal but I think he’s a better bet than Wright or Wilson.
And I know some of you may be asking, why trade Gonzalez and Tillman and bring in Latos for similar money? Well, there are a few reasons. One reason, as I mentioned, is that I feel we are better off with those 2 pitchers vs Tillman and Gonzalez. Of course, we could still just get Wood and keep those 2 guys, so again, why trade them? Why not just let Latos go elsewhere? Well, for me, I prefer Latos as a high upside guy who can be a legit top of rotation starter and I don’t feel either Tillman or Gonzalez can be that. Also, part of being able to afford 2 big bats is being able to supplement your roster with good young talent. In this scenario, we add in some young, cheap talent for Tillman and Gonzalez. We lost one or two prospects in the Wood trade, so we are able to recoup some of that here.
With the loss of Brach and gaining the 2 new pitchers, that puts the payroll in the 110M area. Now, its time for the big contracts. Can the Orioles get 1 of the outfielders and Davis for 40ish million in 2016? I think they can. My guess is each of these 4 players will get 20-23 million a year in terms of annual salary. However, with most contracts being back loaded, they can get 2 of these guys to sign and keep that payroll at or maybe even a little below 150 million. Yes, it would hurt to lose the draft pick (Unless Cespedes is signed) and not gaining one for Davis but you do bring in the talent in the other trades and you still get a pick for Chen when he signs elsewhere and have a few other earlier picks, so I think you would be bringing in enough talent into the system and the major league roster to be more than happy with losing those picks.
When its all said and done, you end up putting out this team:
Flaherty, Joseph, Reimold, ???(cheap bench guy)
And then you have several guys vying for the other spots in the pen.
That is a team with a lot of upside. There are some potential starting pitching issues for sure BUT the upside there is really good IMO. The BP should be outstanding and the defense would be excellent. We can debate which OFer is best and which OF position is better for them but, for arguments sake, I am just sticking them in RF for the time being.
The offense would obviously be dynamic and the improve in OBP (at least if its Gordon or Upton) would be huge.
Of course, this is all predicated on the Orioles being willing to go to 150 million and these guys not wanting an opt out, which obviously the Orioles don’t want to give. What are the chances both of these things happen? Probably very slim but the Orioles could do this and, at least according to Duquette, are prepared to go close to this level in payroll this off-season. Also, Wieters and Trumbo are likely off the payroll next year. That is 25ish million in savings. Yes, a lot of that money would probably be eaten up by arbitration raises, back loaded contracts increases and things like that but still, the payroll likely wouldn’t have to be higher in 2017. And after 2017, the Orioles lose the contracts of Jimenez and Hardy, which is another 25+M in savings.
The Orioles could also decide to raise ticket prices $2-$5 a ticket. For some, that may be an issue but my guess is, if the Orioles can put a team like this on the field, they will be more than happy to pay the higher ticket prices if that is what it is needed for the Orioles to spend because they would need that extra revenue and it wouldn’t put the Orioles relatively low ticket prices into some high category either. It would put them right around average and that isn’t an unfair expectation if they put this type of team on the field.
Rob has interviewed guests from outlets such as ESPN, Sports Illustrated, NBC Sports, CBS Sports, FOX Sports, Baseball Prospectus, Athlon, Sporting News, MLB Network, Brooks Baseball, Baseball Info Solutions, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Sports on Earth, Grantland, NFL Network, FanGraphs, Football Outsiders, ProFootballFocus, etc. etc. The Baltimore native lives in Perry Hall with his Wife Lindsay, and two young sons. He has appeared as a guest on 105.7 The Fan, Q1370, and WNST 1570. Co-Host of The Warehouse: https://anchor.fm/the-warehouse Co-Host of Sports Tonight: https://anchor.fm/sports-tonight