It is the offseason in MLB, a time that agents love and general managers and owners hate, because over a billion dollars will be spent by the start of Spring Training by teams, each trying to win a championship. As for the Orioles, like it or not, Dan Duquette is firmly set as the Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations, so the organization should have an offseason with the only drama surrounding player transactions (Chris Davis), instead of in the front office.
The Orioles have five remaining free agents this offseason heading in to the week before the Winter Meetings after Matt Wieters surprisingly accepted his qualifying offer. I think we all know the names of those players pretty well: Steve Pearce, Darren O’Day, Gerardo Parra, Wei-Yin Chen and of course, Davis. Although there’s a chance they might not be able to re-sign anyone, five free agents means that five contracts are no longer on the books, so the Orioles are in an advantageous position of having a lot of payroll room in spite of the holes that they have to fill.
Unlike last offseason however, this is the offseason to make some splashes in the free agent market with several players fitting the Orioles’ needs available including their own free agents. The trade market also can’t be ruled out as an option so the Orioles should take advantage of it as well.
I’ll take a look at both as I present my plan for how I would re-tool the Orioles and I will also take a look at the salary impact of each move on the club for 2016.
1. Acquire two corner outfielders
“What about Chris Davis?” you might ask. Well his agent is Scott Boras so fans should forget about a deal for Davis until late December or January after Boras has shopped every offer around twice and made up multiple offers including one from the “mystery team.” Any ultimatum or deadline will just be met with silence until Boras has all the offers in hand that he can give to Davis for him to consider and make a decision. The Orioles should concentrate on filling their other needs until then and the outfield is a huge need.
The two outfielders I would have the Orioles pursue would be ones that I recommended last offseason:
The Orioles, to their credit, at least explored a deal for Ethier last offseason, but they couldn’t get one done. Unfortunately for the Orioles, Ethier would have been a perfect fit to replace Nick Markakis last season, and he thrived with the Dodgers after they weren’t able to trade him, and gave him regular playing time against right handed pitching while the Orioles struggled to get production all season from their corner outfielders.
With this proposal, I’m not asking the Dodgers to eat much money, and all you have to do is look at the contracts MLBTradeRumors is predicting for similar outfielders to see why. Even with two years and $35.5 million guaranteed, Ethier is a bargain compared to the $20-million-dollar-plus contracts that are predicted for outfielders like Justin Upton, Jason Heyward and Alex Gordon and only a few million more than somebody like Dexter Fowler or Denard Span, to whom the Orioles would have to make longer commitments in order to sign.
The Dodgers also need pitching, and Ubaldo has two years and $26.5 million left on his deal, something that the Dodgers would likely pay to obtain a similar starter in free agency.
With the $17.5 million vesting option for Ethier, I’d ask the Dodgers to kick in that $9 million difference which they should be willing to do.
Yes this trade would create a hole in the rotation, but I’d rather be paying an outfielder like Ethier to produce than to have the potential of a mediocre pitcher like Jimenez for the next few years taking up that payroll. With Ethier, the Orioles would also get solid value, even if he still can’t hit left handed pitching because of how well he does against right handed pitching (.385 wOBA, .900 OPS in 2015.) The Orioles should be able to find a low cost platoon partner for him against lefties and may already have one with Nolan Reimold (.791 OPS, .342 wOBA vs. LHP in 2015) or maybe even Dariel Alvarez.
This trade would be one of the first moves I would make just because of the timing – a trade could get done before or at the Winter Meetings and be a nice kickoff to the Orioles’ offseason.
2016 Salary Impact: $0.0 million
Sign Nori Aoki to a two-year/$10 million deal
The Orioles are fortunate to have Aoki back out on the market after failing to aggressively pursue him last offseason. For whatever reason, the Orioles didn’t see a need for his on-base ability and his advanced plate approach. Or perhaps they were scared off by his adventurous play in the outfield, which did not show up in the defensive metrics last season as it did in 2014.
Aoki was a good fit for the Orioles then, and still is now as he had his 4th consecutive season with a wOBA above .325 and O-Swing% below 30%, and they should put him near the top of their shopping list this offseason.
2016 Salary Impact: $5.0 million
These two moves could fill the Orioles outfield needs quite cheaply in terms of additional payroll and save money for the starting rotation, where they have the most need for an upgrade.
So with that said, the next moves are pretty obvious:
2. Acquire three starting pitchers
No, not “sign Chris Davis” – Boras is still trying to find that “mystery team.”
Three starting pitchers may seem excessive when the Orioles have Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Miguel Gonzalez, Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright out there, but in reality, only Tillman has proven he can pitch 200 innings. Gausman could also get there if the Orioles just slot him in the rotation and leave him alone, but he’s still unproven until he does.
This is the perfect time for the Orioles to buy starting pitching as there is plenty of it out there on the free agent market and I’m not just talking about David Price, Zach Greinke, and Johnny Cueto. I won’t talk about those players either because the Orioles aren’t paying $20-million-plus a season for a starting pitcher. So with those names off the board, let’s see what the Orioles could actually get to improve their much maligned rotation.
Sign Scott Kazmir to a two-year/$26 million contract with a vesting option of $14 million for 2018 based on IP in 2016-2017.
Kazmir seems like the perfect addition to the Orioles as he won’t cost $20 million per season, he can pitch close to 200 innings and provide 15-20 quality starts (QS). The struggles he had at the end of last season will push his value down a bit, but it will be right into the Orioles’ wheelhouse. He also won’t cost a draft pick, which is very important considering the lack of top end talent in the Orioles’ system right now.
2016 Salary Impact: $12 million
Sign Doug Fister to a one-year/$9 million contract with $3 million in incentives for IP and games started and a $12 million mutual option for 2017.
Fister is a player that could use a “pillow contract” to re-establish his value after injury wrecked his 2015 season. He hasn’t pitched 200 innings since 2013 when he pitched for the Tigers, but in 2014 he did have 18 QS out of the 25 starts he made. The Orioles also have an excellent defense around the infield, so a groundball pitcher like Fister, in spite of the unfriendly dimensions of Camden Yards, could have a solid season. Signing Fister will also not cause the Orioles to lose a draft pick. The mutual option would likely be declined if Fister performs well.
2016 Salary Impact: $9-12 million
Sign Justin Masterson to a one-year/$2.5 million deal with $5 million in incentives for IP and games started.
Masterson is another pitcher who needs to re-establish his value, but unlike Fister he hasn’t had much success in a while and is coming off arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder. Bud Norris took a similar deal with the Braves after his dismal season, so this is a contract I’d expect Masterson to get. When healthy, Masterson is another groundball machine like Fister and he’s an innings eater.
2016 Salary Impact: $2.5 – 7.5 million
Kazmir, Masterson and Fister are a solid trio when healthy and effective, and adding Tillman and Gausman to the mix, and you’ve got a pretty strong rotation, if not one of the best in the AL East. There’s a bit of a gamble on some injury recovery projects, but there are no long term consequences (including loss of draft picks) and plenty of remaining flexibility for 2017 and beyond.
With the rotation taken care of, it’s time to address some salary savings to re-allocate resources:
3. Non-tender Matusz, Janish and Lough
If the Orioles want to ultimately sign Davis and make other additions to the payroll, they have to make some payroll room via non-tenders of arbitration eligible players. The theme of me wanting the Orioles to follow the plan I had last offseason continues with the non-tender of Brian Matusz, easily their most expensive, expendable player. Matusz is projected to earn $3.4 million in arbitration according to MLBTradeRumors and is coming off shoulder surgery. He may throw left-handed, but the Orioles could likely use another lefty like Chris Jones to fill his role while saving the money for elsewhere in the roster, like Davis.
The Orioles already have capable bench players on the roster in Flaherty, Reimold and Hoes so Janish ($600K) and Lough ($800K) aren’t needed expenditures for what they provide.
2016 Salary Impact: -$4.8 million
4. Trade for/sign Pedro Alvarez – 1 year deal
Pedro Alvarez is Plan B for first base, as his power (.205 career ISO) is well known along with his terrible defense, but lesser known are his on-base ability (.333 wOBA in 2015) and his patience (3.90 P/PA in 2015). The Pirates are looking to trade Alvarez, and the Orioles are said to be a perfect fit, but with his expected arbitration cost of around $8 million, my guess is that Alvarez will be non-tendered and signed to a lesser deal ($5 million) by another team. The Orioles should use Alvarez as a DH and mainly against RHP, so while he’s a Plan B for Davis’ contributions to the lineup, they will still have to fill the first base void elsewhere if Davis signs with another team. I would have them use Wieters there personally, although Buck Showalter will likely never do that.
2016 Salary Impact: $5 million
Considering the Orioles still really could use a first baseman here’s the move everybody is waiting for:
5. Sign Davis to a six-year/$150 million contract with $10 million deferred ($2 million/year for 2022-2026)
The Orioles will have to wait around a bit for Davis, like all teams pursuing a high-profile Boras client, but in the end they should make sure they get their man. With the concern about him aging at his position, especially looking at long-term contracts given to Mark Teixeira and Albert Pujols, a six-year deal should be long enough, and deferring some of the money gives Boras and Davis their $25 million per season target overall with a lesser impact on payroll for the next six years. Davis is the heart of the Orioles’ lineup, and really it’s the best fit for both the team and the player. Sure he can play the outfield, and he could play in any ballpark and still hit balls into the stands, but Camden Yards is where he should play out the heart of his career.
The contract may seem terrible in three years, but even players like Carl Crawford were able to be traded, so it’s not immovable by any means, and it’s a necessary price to pay to appease fans for what wasn’t done last offseason to find suitable replacements for Nelson Cruz and Markakis – two fan favorites.
The bottom line is that Davis needs to end up an Oriole so I make it happen.
2016 Salary Impact: $23.3 million
2016 Total Salary Impact of Additions/Subtractions: $52.0 – 60.0 million
2016 Total Payroll: $140-148 million
There’s no payroll room to bring back Chen, O’Day or Steve Pearce, and the Orioles should let Gerardo Parra walk anyway. The Orioles’ rotation shouldn’t miss Chen with the upgrades I proposed and the bullpen should be able to absorb the loss of O’Day with Givens stepping up and Gonzalez being sent to the bullpen as well. As for Steve Pearce, just like Nate McLouth, there’s a time when you have to cut the cord with a journeyman fan favorite, and the Orioles just don’t have the resources in 2016 to spend another three to four million on a part-time player.
There is also no extension for Manny Machado, because as much as people are clamoring for one, 2015 was his first full season as a MLB player. His injuries in 2013 and 2014 give me pause to commit over $200 million to one player as those contracts can be an albatross if the player suddenly stops performing or becomes injury prone. I want to see if he can deliver another healthy and productive season before committing to him as a franchise player. Also, if the Orioles completely crash and burn next season and their minors still look barren, a trade of Machado, while unthinkable, could replenish the minor league system with a load of talent and he would deliver a much larger return without a huge contract as a potential risk, unlike Davis for instance.
I would make some more minor league depth signings as the Orioles can always use some former MLB players that are looking to try to make an impact in MLB again. Under Duquette, the Orioles have used minor league contracts to give them that needed depth when injuries or poor performance from major league regulars have occurred, and with good success.
With all the of the roster moves, here’s what the 2016 Orioles look like:
Lineup vs. RHP:
Bench vs. RHP
OF Reimold, IF/OF Flaherty, OF Hoes, C Joseph
OF Ethier, IF/OF Flaherty, OF Hoes, DH Alvarez
Aoki and Ethier/Reimold will get on base ahead of the 3-4-5 combo of Machado, Davis and Jones to provide the consistent missing run support, while Kazmir, Tillman and Fister, if healthy and productive should provide close to 600 IP and 60 QS. The bullpen loses nothing and is strengthened by the out-of-options Dylan Bundy and Miguel Gonzalez, who will only have to maintain his stamina for just one-two innings instead of six. Chris Jones will replace Matusz as the non-closing left handed pitcher. Newly acquired Vance Worley will be the long reliever and likely will get some spot starts during the season as the need arises. As I mentioned before, Mychal Givens will take O’Day’s role as the bridge to Britton, and that duo should be just as successful at closing the door when handed the opportunity.
That’s my plan for the 2016 Orioles. I think it’s realistic and should fix the major weaknesses of the 2015 team including the most nagging weakness – on base ability – as long as players stay healthy. There is also still plenty of flexibility for trades in 2016 if the team does poorly, and enough payroll room to be able to add additional talent in for 2017 and beyond. Peter Angelos will have to commit enough resources to bump up the payroll for 2016, but we know that has to happen for the team to retain Davis, who will take up almost half of that additional payroll.
I also doubt the Orioles will follow this plan exactly, but if they do anything similar, I think they will have a strong contender for the AL East crown, and a great chance to return to the playoffs and perhaps end the World Series championship drought of 32 years. That’s the goal regardless of who the Orioles sign or what plan they follow to get there. If Angelos, Duquette and Showalter are all holding the World Series trophy at the end of it all, it won’t matter where Chris Davis is playing.
It sure would be nice if he was in Baltimore though…