The long cold winter isn’t over, but February is drawing near. Pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota in just about a month and before you know it, the Super Bowl will be a memory and baseball will be at the forefront of everyone’s mind. I’ve been in a nice hibernation this winter, but I figured it was time to wake up for a few minutes and offer some “thoughts” on the Orioles’ offseason so far. In the same style that I do during the season, here’s what I think about what’s gone down thus far.
1. Perhaps the biggest fish for the Orioles that is still out in the sea is Mark Trumbo.
I hope the O’s leave him there.
Never did I think Trumbo would be left on the market this long. After leading MLB with 47 home runs, Trumbo has been looking to cash in like Nelson Cruz did a few years back. While Trumbo’s eventual contract could come down to reasonable levels, I don’t think it’s a gamble the O’s should take. He’s had his best offensive season already. There are other ways the O’s can handle losing his power, especially for the liability he is in the outfield.
I’m also done with the constant argument that Trumbo should be used as a first baseman with Chris Davis moving to right field. Hard pass.
Lastly, I’ve miss-typed “Trumbo” as “Trump” no fewer than three times just writing this passage. It’s been a weird offseason.
2. Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reported last night that the Orioles have been in contact with Jose Bautista’s camp, despite the weird comments made by Dan Duquette earlier this winter about not wanting to sign the slugger because the fans wouldn’t approve.
Firstly, the only response to Morosi’s report is a solid “duh.” That’s not a knock on Morosi or his reporting, but of course the O’s have been in contact, because why wouldn’t they? They should absolutely be kicking the tires on Bautista if the price is right.
Secondly, what fan wouldn’t approve of adding a bat like Bautista, along with his glove? I don’t care what beef he may have with certain players already in the Baltimore clubhouse (cough, Darren O’Day, cough). When (if) the two put on the same jersey, they are on the same team. Those things get pushed aside. If he’s helping the cause, he’s accepted.
I’ve never been a fan of Bautista’s antics, but I can’t pretend like the O’s don’t have their fair share of players who act the same way at times, if not worse. I frankly don’t get why the Orioles weren’t more in on Edwin Encarnacion too, but that ship has sailed.
GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld
3. While the book isn’t totally closed on Matt Wieters returning to the Orioles, it looks like the longest of long shots. I personally still haven’t come to terms with it. Wieters is one of the more unfairly scrutinized players I’ve seen roll through Baltimore. The expectations were always too high. Wieters is easily in the top three of the team’s best catchers of all-time, and a valid argument can be made that he’s the best.
I would’ve loved to see the O’s make more of an effort to bring Wieters back and have him spend his whole career in Baltimore. If there was going to be a player to replace Wieters as catcher, or at least provide a stopgap, I think the Orioles found a good one in Welington Castillo. He’s fully capable with the bat and can fill the role while younger players continue to develop.
4. In addition to Castillo, the only real move the Orioles have made this offseason is the trade for Seth Smith. Some may view it as addition by subtraction by sending Yovani Gallardo out the door. I see it as a bit puzzling in that sense, but I don’t absolutely hate the idea of adding Smith’s bat to the order as a platoon player.
Smith can face all the right-handed pitching he wants either as the designated hitter or even in the outfield from time to time. He’ll provide a nice lefty bat in the order and hopefully some power along with it. The concerning part of this deal for me is losing Gallardo. That’s not because Gallardo is some great pitcher, but that the O’s don’t have a lot of great starting pitching to start with. I get the impression many feel better having five starters for five rotation spots, but I’d prefer the depth.
5. Starting pitching will again be the biggest question mark for this team going into 2017. Believing that Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy take major steps forward is one thing. Believing Chris Tillman can continue to produce at the level he has is another. Believing Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jimenez can be significant back-end rotation arms is simply dangerous.
It always comes down to starting pitching with this team, and this year will be no different. There still aren’t a slew of arms in the minors you would trust either. I can’t put any faith in Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, Logan Verrett or Chris Lee at this point. There’s also the inevitable injury the rotation will be forced to deal with.
It continues to baffle me that the O’s stand pat in the rotation, and this offseason, actually made a subtraction. I understand that the market for starting pitching this winter has been absolutely garbage. There aren’t many guys out there to even go after that would be an improvement. But I can’t imagine why the one-year, $6-million deal Tyson Ross got with the Rangers wasn’t doable for the O’s. Even taking a shot on Derek Holland at a number like the White Sox did or Jeff Locke at half that amount like the Marlins did would have been something.
Again, the free agent class isn’t great, but if you feel confident about the Orioles starting pitching going into 2017, you’re likely in the minority.
GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld
6. I’ve written this in the past and I know others have as well, but I think the window has closed to float Zach Britton in a trade. I would’ve loved to see the O’s try it this offseason, and I know I’m in the minority on that thought. Britton’s value will never be higher, but his contract likely will be. He may have brought in a haul of prospects if dealt this winter, something the O’s could desperately use.
It’s a privilege to watch Britton enter a game in the ninth inning and shut it down for the O’s, and something I’d like to see continue. But the idea of moving a player at his peak value always has to be something teams think about. I think that’s especially the case when that player is a closer. No matter how valuable you think a closer is, he’s really just a pitcher that comes in during the ninth to get three outs. Many players can handle that role.
7. The World Baseball Classic is going to throw a wrench into the preparations for many players this spring. It’s a cool event, sure, but there’s also a lot wrong with it, the most glaring being its timing. While I’m excited to watch nearly any international event (like the Olympics), I’m even more excited that Hyun-Soo Kim won’t be taking part. He’s the one player I really dreaded taking part in the process.
Entering his second big league season, Kim is going to be in a fight for playing time. He entered last spring as the favorite to be the starting left fielder and ended up playing fewer than 100 games. I think it’s clear that Kim has high potential as a hitter, perhaps even a regular on this roster. His struggles in the spring were put under a microscope and that carried into the regular season. Slowly but surely, Kim became a bit of a fan favorite and should be one of the most-watched Birds in Sarasota.
His development and improvement could be one of the keys to the 2017 season for the O’s, so I for one won’t miss him during the WBC.
8. I hear a lot of talk about the “window” for the Orioles. With contracts for Manny Machado, Chris Tillman, Adam Jones and Jonathan Schoop expiring in the coming seasons, many believe the time is now for the O’s to win. While there’s definitely value to trying to get extensions done with certain players, I don’t fully buy the “window” argument.
I think that’s much more the case in other sports where a salary cap is in place. In baseball, you can sign anyone at any dollar amount because money is basically no object. The biggest issue the Orioles face in the coming seasons is a lack of young talent to infuse into the 25-man roster. It’s not an issue of expiring contracts. The right dollar amount can fix any of that.
While this may not be the case with the Orioles due to their history of not handing out big deals, money always talks. Chris Davis got a contract, and I have a feeling the O’s are going to eventually end up extending Tillman as well. The Orioles can continue to extend this “window” I hear everyone talking about, but it’s going to take more than just extending players like Machado. They’ll need more help in every area to continue having a shot at the postseason.
I’m going to be the last one complaining though. For a team that has made it into October in three out of five seasons, I’m excited to see what 2017 brings.