As the slowest offseason in recent memory reaches mid-January, the Baltimore Orioles find themselves amongst six other MLB teams that have yet to spend a dime in free agency, joining the Atlanta Braves, Miami Marlins, Pittsburgh Pirates, Tampa Bay Rays, and Toronto Blue Jays in a club that no fan base wants any parts of.
That lack of spending, combined with a rotation that currently has just two members—Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman—and the likely departure of their All-World third baseman Manny Machado has O’s fans throwing in the towel weeks before pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota. And that’s without mentioning Zach Britton’s torn Achilles that could keep him out until the All-Star break, making the free-agent-to-be all but un-tradeable.
On the one hand, the slow moving offseason for the Orioles can be attributed to the fact the division is already extremely top-heavy. The Yankees have added Giancarlo Stanton to a team that was a game away from the World Series, and the Red Sox return basically the same team that won the division a season ago and are looking to add the likes of slugger J.D. Martinez. Notice that the Rays and Blue Jays have also yet to make any additions, furthering the perception that the division is out of reach.
On the other hand, the Orioles are a year removed from an 89-win season that saw them capture the second AL Wild Card in 2016, and the recipe for success is staring them in the face: take an already solid bullpen and a potent lineup, mix in some decent starting pitching, and enjoy.
Of course, adding three pieces to a rotation that pitched to a franchise-worst 5.70 ERA in 2017 is easier said than done, especially when the team is also in the market for a left-handed hitting corner outfielder, a left-handed reliever (something the team was looking for before Britton’s injury), and a veteran backstop to allow Chance Sisco a little more time to catch his defense up to his bat.
Somebody has got to address this roster, and since the Orioles seem to be dragging their feet, I figure I’ll give it a shot. Might as well be me, right?
Let’s keep in mind that Baltimore’s payroll last season was, according to ESPN, $150,208,782. And each season a team’s payroll goes up for a number of reasons (i.e. free agency, contract extensions, arbitration, a raise in the league minimum, etc.). At the time of this article, the Orioles have a minimum of $119,655,000 in contractual obligations for 2018 (including $2.5M in buyouts for J.J. Hardy and Wade Miley), assuming the 25-man roster stays the same as it is right now, and the seven arbitration eligible players earn their projected salary bumps.
There are five players whom I believe the Orioles should sign prior to Spring Training that will bump the 25-man payroll up to around $159M, providing only a slight increase from 2017 (the Orioles increased their payroll roughly three times my projected 2018 amount from 2016 to 2017).
It has been well documented that the Orioles are unlikely to offer any free agent starting pitcher a four-year contract. We can thank Ubaldo Jimenez and his 5.22 ERA while with the Orioles for that. However, I think that is a huge mistake. It is certainly possible to learn from past mistakes and still offer the same type of deal, provided it is to the right player. Enter Lance Lynn.
Lynn has pitched five full seasons in the Major Leagues, missing the 2016 season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his right elbow. Despite the injury, Lynn bounced back in a big way in 2017, going 11-8 while pitching to a 3.43 ERA over 186.1 IP. In fact, Lynn’s career ERA is 3.38, and in each of his five full seasons, he has recorded at least 29 starts and 175.1 IP, never posting an ERA higher than 3.97.
While MLB Trade Rumors projects Lynn to receive four years at $56M, I’m inclined to believe the Orioles will need to start the bidding at four years, $60M. Still, $15/yr. for a pitcher who will immediately step in as your ace seems like pocket change considering what pitching goes for these days. The Orioles need to pull the trigger on a Lance Lynn signing.
Next we take a look at a familiar face, Chris Tillman. We all know the story with Tillman: he didn’t make his first start of 2017 until May 7 due to shoulder inflammation, and though he got the victory, it would be his only win in a season that saw him pitch to a 7.84 ERA and end up in the bullpen.
Even knowing all of that, I still think it would be a smart move for the Orioles to re-sign Tillman to a one-year, $8M deal. The fact remains that from 2012-2016, Tillman was as consistent a pitcher as there was in the American League. I fully believe that Tillman was healthy last year, but had gotten so used to pitching with different mechanics to overcome his ailing shoulder that he had a difficult time regaining the methods that made him so valuable the previous five seasons. The Orioles would be betting on Tillman returning to form, motivated by the potential of a lengthy and lucrative contract next offseason. It is a bet the Orioles would be wise to place.
With Lynn and Tillman in tow, they can then allow Rule 5 pick Nestor Cortes (7-4, 2.06 ERA at three different levels for the Yankees in 2017) and Miguel Castro (3-3, 3.53 ERA for Baltimore in 2017) to battle it out for the fifth and final rotation spot in Spring Training.
Admittedly, this player was not my original idea, but I heard Chris Dickerson make a case for him signing with the Orioles on MLB Tonight, and the idea made a lot of sense to me. That player is Jonathan Lucroy.
Lucroy was underwhelming to say the least in 2017. After slashing .292/.355/.500 with 24 HR and 81 RBI between the Brewers and Rangers during an All-Star 2016 campaign, Lucroy came back down to earth last year. The eight-year veteran backstop slashed .265/.345/.371 in 2017, and saw his home run total drop to just six. While that slash line is certainly solid for a catcher in today’s game, it is a far cry from what fans have become accustomed to from Lucroy.
The selling point here is that Lucroy is a gritty ballplayer that plays good defense and is not one to be intimidated by the likes of the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. And if you look at last season, his drop-off was similar to that from his All-Star 2014 season to 2015. Which means that a bounce back year in likely for the 31-year-old.
A one-year, $12M deal should get the job done for the Orioles, and it works out well for both sides. A short pact allows Lucroy to rebound in 2018 and re-enter the free agent market next offseason with an opportunity to ink a long-term deal with another team.
For the Orioles, it allows Chance Sisco—despite his left-handed bat—the opportunity to play every day at Norfolk and improve his defense so that when he does get called up to Baltimore again, it’s for good. Also, I am aware than many people believe that Caleb Joseph is more than ready to be the everyday catcher in Baltimore. I am not in that boat.
Left-Handed Hitting OF
The Orioles would be very wise to sign Jon Jay to a deal in Baltimore. Though not flashy or powerful, Jay gives the Orioles a different look than the all-or-nothing lineup presence fans have become familiar with over the past six seasons. His career average is .288 with a .355 OBP, the latter of which would be the highest on the roster by a good margin. Add to that the fact that Jay has hit .290 or better in six of his eight seasons and owns a .288 career mark against left-handed pitching, and the Orioles would be downright foolish to not at least explore the possibility.
A Jay signing would insert him immediately into the leadoff position and slide Tim Beckham into the 9-hole, a slot that I personally think better suits the infielder. Jay can also backup for Adam Jones in centerfield to spell the veteran and keep him fresh during his 11th season in Baltimore.
There were some people (myself included) who clamored for Carlos Gonzalez, and rightfully so given his career accomplishments. But Jay’s defense, ability to play every outfield position, and his ability to stay healthy throughout his career make him, in my opinion, the better and more affordable option for Baltimore. MLB Trade Rumors projected Jay at two years, $14M. That sounds about right to me.
The Orioles were already reportedly in the market for a left-handed reliever to compliment Richard Bleier before Zach Britton ruptured his Achilles in December. The injury only makes the necessity that much more prudent for a ball club that relies so heavily on a strong bullpen. With that in mind, I present to you Kevin Siegrist.
Though coming off a less-than-stellar 2017 season in which he made multiple trips to the disabled list, first because of a cervical spine strain, and then later due to left elbow tendinitis, Siegrist was one of the top relievers in the National League the previous two seasons.
From 2015 to 2016, Siegrist made 148 appearances out of the Cardinals bullpen, including a league-leading 81 in 2015. He pitched to a 2.52 ERA over those two seasons and has a career 10.5 K/9 mark. He also holds lefties to a .229 clip and his overall BAA for his career is just .206. Add to those solid numbers that he is controllable through the 2020 season, and Siegrist would seem to be the perfect fit for the Orioles (think Darren O’Day).
Of course, he would have to pass the ever-grueling Orioles physical, though pitchers with health questions have gotten around that in the past (see Gallardo, Yovani). Due to his poor 2017 season, I would suspect a one-year, $2M incentivized deal could get it done for the Orioles. That, however, is simply an educated guess based on his previous contracts and his injury history. MLB Trade Rumors did not have any projections for the 28-year-old southpaw.
So that’s it folks, the five free agents I would go after if I would were running the Baltimore Orioles. All told, if you add up those five contracts and subtract the five league-minimum players they would likely replace, the Orioles opening day payroll (25-man roster only) would be $158,930,000, only about an $8.7M increase from last season.
Of course, a team’s payroll also incorporates the entire 40-man roster, but the other 15 slots on that roster will not likely add up to a significant number. Still, the payroll will be a bit higher than the numbers reported above.
So what do you think? Do you agree with my choices? Disagree? Or do you agree with some, but not others? Let me know your thoughts and if you have a different opinion on how the club should address the roster, please feel free to share either here or with me on twitter @PaulValleIII.