It sure has been a while since I last posted. From finishing up my doctorate, moving, starting a new job, and trying to plan a wedding . . . things have been exhausting. As evidenced in the past, baseball writing is the first thing to go. Anyway, I digress.
This past season wound up as a bit of a surprise. The logical critic in me thinks that Orioles performance over the past 50 games was just a matter of development and luck. The fan in me thinks that performance was due to development, Buck, and shear awesomeness. The truth is mist likely somewhere in between and shading more toward the logical perspective. It may indeed be part of Buck's way. Partway through the season, Nick Markakis complained to the media that batters would go up to bat without a plan. It could be that the pitchers were similarly hands off as well. Buck is known to be a manager who does his research and imparts that research on others. He seems to show a different type of teaching and it probably is by example.
That said, the question now is: what are the Orioles capable of next year?
For me, this is important to some extent because next year's draft may be the last one we are assured of a protected 1st round pick. It is an optimistic view, but I could see some free agent acquisitions to make this team mediocre. With a healthy dose of development . . . mediocre might become good. This means to me that it might be a good time to try to target a type A free agent or two. However, I will present two different approaches to the off season. One, will be aggressive with consideration of type A talent. The second will exclude type As from consideration.
All that and a little more after the jump.
Orioles to retain:
C Matt Wieters
2 Brian Roberts (with prayers)
L Felix Pie
C Adam Jones
R Nick Markakis
D Luke Scott
BUC Jake Fox
2 IF Mix and Match (we have several options for positions, but could use more MiF depth)
OF Nolan Reimold
SP Jeremy Guthrie
SP Brian Matusz
SP/SP Jake Arrieta/Brad Bergesen/Chris Tillman/Zach Britton
Pen Mix and Match (I think we have several pieces)
Free Agent Arbitration
Koji Uehara (Type B)
Kevin Millwood (Type B) - only if you positively know he does not wish to be here
Explaining the Openings
1B: The internal options do not seem very comfortable. Luke Scott was OK at first, but looks a little plodding. It would be preferable to keep him at DH. Nolan Reimold will need some time in AAA to figure 1B out. Brandon Snyder is going to have to hit a lot more. As much as we loved Ty Wigginton, he just is not the answer here . . . or probably anywhere as a starter. I'd consider this spot open.
3B: I like Josh Bell. However, he was overmatched at the plate during his 161 plate appearances. His walk rate over a full season would have been less than 10. That is not good. His walk rate deteriorated at AAA and his defense could use a little more work. Regardless, the bat is not there for third and it is not there for first. He needs more time to season and the Orioles have no one else capable of playing the position, so I consider it open.
SS: As you may remember, we called for Izturis to be signed two years ago and allow for some long term planning to replace him. Half of that was done. I had thought his offense could not get worse than last year, but it did. A sub 550 ops is just not going to cut it no matter how great a defensive SS he might be. With age, his offense is unlikely to get much better (though I do expect a rebound). However, his defense might drop like a rock or he may become more susceptible to injuries. I think it is time to move on. I would be willing to consider him as a backup, but I think Robert Andino would be a preferable choice over him.
3rd SP: We certainly have a lot of pitchers vying for the rotation, but I do not see that entirely as a firmed up part of the team. I think Guthrie and Matusz are solid starters. They are both at most 2 slots and perhaps Matusz will become an ace. There are a lot of question marks for the others. I think it makes more sense to go get a solid middle order pitcher and let the other guys fight for two slots with the pen or Norfolk being consolation.
Orioles Payroll over the Next Few Years
The crux here will be the 2013 season. This is a rough estimate including arbitration costs of several players. At this point, some of those may be jettisoned like Pie, Johnson, Albers, or Jones. There is more fluidity in that number than some may think. A more conservative estimate would probably be around 70MM. In all likelihood, it means that an additional 30MM could be picked up and retained three years from now.
Approach A: Aggressive
1B: Adam Dunn (likely type B)
Adam Dunn is probably as valuable as Luke Scott. The difference between them playing at 1B is mostly nil. However of all of the 1B available, he presents himself as the most sure thing. Paul Konerko and Derrek Lee are old and in different stages of decline. Carlos Pena is a much better fielder than Dunn, but is on the age line and last year was a bit of a disappointment. Dunn may be a hard sign as he is sure to see time as a DH, which is something he fears. He may like the Orioles for this because they would have to go back on a promise to him if they move him off first and the Orioles really have no exceptional 1B prospects. I could see a 3/36MM deal here. I would think he will really be worth about 10MM per year, so it would not be a horrible overpay. What is concerning is his body type and whether he will regain his walk rate or retain his contact rate.
3B: Adrian Beltre (like type A)
Beltre had an amazing year. It was MVP quality. It certainly is not his true talent level, but it is uncertain how far off it was from his true talent. Playing in SafeCo deteriorated his hitting ability, but there was some luck involved and age has to be a consideration here. However, there are really no difference makers beyond him. Juan Uribe and Felipe Lopez are interesting, but both have their problems and may have some difficulty transitioning to the AL. I would think Beltre will be holding out for something like 4/48MM. He might be able to squeeze 4/52MM out of someone.
The hope here is that JJ Hardy will be non-tendered and that the O's can get a younger and perhaps more powerful version of Izturis. Else . . . maybe give Robert Andino a shot. There are rarely any good free agent options at SS. If you sign both Dunn and Beltre, it might make sense to package up Josh Bell with one of the starting pitchers and get something of note. Still, SS are hard to find.
SP: Jorge De La Rosa (likely type A)
The choice here comes to De La Rosa and Cliff Lee. Lee has several solid seasons behind him and has established himself as a sturdy, dependable ace pitcher. De La Rosa is a couple years younger, was often an enigma, and has had some weird injury issues. De La Rosa will also cost half of what Lee costs. My perspective here is this . . . pitchers are risky commodities and losing De La Rosa will hurt less at 10-12MM a year than Cliff Lee would with an extra couple years in length and an extra 10MM on the hook. I think De La Rosa can be special as a mid-rotation starter who hums up to a fringe ace when he has his stuff working. I would think he would sign for about 3/33MM.
A top notch backup infielder will be needed as I don't think we can depend on Brian Roberts' back holding up. If somehow a player like Juan Uribe could be convinced to play for the Orioles . . . it might be beneficial. As it is setup, it might be a situation where he plays shortstop until someone goes down and then he is quickly moved to that position to get him away from shortstop.
Approach B: Conservative
1B: Carlos Pena (type B)
Why is Pena a conservative choice over Dunn? Pena is likely to be a one or two year signing at about 50-70% of what Dunn costs per year. Pena also provides better defense, which typically suffers slumps less often. I think Pena was slightly unlucky with his hitting last year and would be willing to increase the offer to two or perhaps even three years. I would certainly shy away from offering him anything more than 8MM a year. He does have a body type that suggests a rapid breakdown is possible. A secondary option would be a player like Derrek Lee. Lee is no longer the homerun threat he once was and his defense is waning into the average range. However, he still sports a good eye, glove, and is capable of 15-20 home runs per year. Where Pena can be a solid 5 hitter, Lee could be a solid 2 or 7 hitter. MacPhail has a history with Lee and Lee was interested in signing with the Orioles several years ago as part of a trade.
3B: Juan Uribe (type B)
Uribe is basically a more athletic version of Ty Wigginton. Uribe could probably be had for about 5MM a year and can "play" SS in addition to his more appropriate positions of 3B and 2B. This flexibility may be key for the Orioles who have issues at SS and may have issues at 2B if Roberts falls to injury again. In such a situation, the team could bring back Josh Bell from Norfolk and give him a second go around. Felipe Lopez or Omar Infante would be other options. Lopez though probably could not pretend to play SS, whereas Infante could. Lopez could probably be had for a couple million with Infante and Uribe pulling in something in the 4-7MM range. Lopez would not require 2 years.
Same as above. Who knows?
SP: A Cheap One Year Arm
I would look toward Brandon Webb or Justin Duchscherer as options. Allow them to compete with the Orioles existing four pack and see who rises. A guy like Webb will want more assurances. A guy like Duchsherer might not. Regardless, under a conservative approach I would see not much reason in breaking the bank short term or long term for anyone.
Best of Both Worlds:
1B Adam Dunn
3B Omar Infante
SS Juan Uribe
This would give the team more offense and more flexibility without sacrificing any draft picks. Infante and Uribe may give the team trade options in the summer or draft picks the following summer.