The point of this column is to come to terms with how at this late date in the off season that the Orioles can be a playoff contender. The short and easy answer for me would be incredible health, the emergence of the starting rotation solution from last season, and an offensive explosion from Matt Wieters and Manny Machado. Perhaps even easier would be to say that this team is already a playoff contender having made it last year with essentially the same squad. The former is kind of a boring article and the latter is something I simply do not believe, so I will be going on the route of a series of moves that would make the team far more competitive.
As I have it now, projected talent levels in the AL East look like this to me:
That is not really an estimation of the final win tallies because of the unbalanced schedule, but it does give a reasonable projection as to the differences in talent levels. From this napkin scratch, I am taking on the assumption that this team needs to improve by five wins worth of talent. Currently, the expected payroll is 86.8 MM and I assume that the team could move the needle up to 100 MM. So, I need to find a relatively realistic way to improve this team by five wins with only 13.2 MM to spend.
EdG Wins Orioles 85 Red Sox 85 Yankees 85.5 Rays 91.5 Blue Jays 90
The three biggest names left in free agency are Adam LaRoche, Michael Bourn, and Kyle Lohse. We used LaRoche as a construct for an argument as to whether his addition would be good for the Orioles. I concluded, nay. LaRoche is a solid average first baseman with a decent flame out probability due to his age. I could not see giving him a three year deal at market rate along with letting go of a draft pick. Michael Bourn is an excellent centerfielder who has defense and speed. I think, for him, those two tools will age well for him. However, I do not think signing him could be easily fit under the payroll limit and Adam Jones is unlikely to be incredibly happy about moving over to left field to accommodate Bourn. Finally, Kyle Lohse is probably a 3-4 WAR improvement over whoever the Orioles slot into the fifth slot of the rotation. However, I think better value can be found in a way that would not clog up the payroll.
I have decided on four moves to make the Orioles a contender: three trades and a free agent signing.
Luke Scott, DHAs a first move, this is not flashy. However, if healed up, Scott has the ability to provide plus performance at a minimal cost. His power still looks strong with an ISO above .200 and knocking out about 15% of his fly balls over the fence. Scott also has the flexibility to stand, if not play in a pinch, at first base and left field. He could potentially be an improvement on Mark Reynolds bat and cost perhaps at most 4 MM on a one year deal. If possible, perhaps a 1 year 3MM deal with an option of 1 year and 8MM or a 1MM buyout. Another alternative here would be someone like Travis Hafner. Acquiring either of these batters, will be a push win-wise due to trades mentioned below.
Jim Johnson, RP and J.J. Hardy, SSThis first move incorporates rumors that Porcello is on the market, the Tigers' desire for a closer and their need for a better infield, and their openness to dealing out one of their top prospects. For the Orioles, they can replace Jim Johnson with Tommy Hunter. Hunter's new found velocity and his ability to do far better coming out of the pen as opposed to the dugout means the Orioles have a very cheap and ready closer in their midst. Pedro Strop might be a decent backup option, assuming his control issues do not magnify. Hardy is difficult to let go as he is a true all star level shortstop. However, Machado makes him replaceable and the team needs to save some cash to fit everyone in who will be coming in on trades.
Rick Porcello, SP and Nick Castellanos, 3B/OF
Rick Porcello has three years of team control left and is thought of as generally underachieving in Detroit. However, if you replace the below average Detroit defense with an above average one, he gives up about a dozen fewer hits which would result in a sub 4.00 ERA. That is worth about 3 WAR and would be a 2 win improvement over what the Orioles could likely fill in at the five slot. Castellanos means nothing to the 2013 Orioles, but gives them something to look at in the future at third base or in left field.
In total, the Orioles will be taking on 4.7 MM in salary with Porcello and getting rid of 13.9 MM by sending out Johnson and Hardy. With Scott's 4 MM, it is a net loss of 5.2 MM or 18.4 MM left under the budget.
Brian Matusz, SP, Zach Britton, SP, and Wilson Betemit, DHThe White Sox are trying to acquiring a left handed hitter and have dangled Gavin Floyd, once again. The White Sox have talked about Floyd a great deal in the past, but have never gone through with trading him. As such, he is now in the last year of his current deal, set to earn 9.5 MM, and is coming off his worst performance as a starter. Chicago's chip has decreased a great deal in value. Still, Floyd looks like a decent bet to be a 3 WAR pitcher who would be 2 wins better than what the Orioles currently have.
Gavin Floyd, SP
Wilson Betemit, assuming he has a healthy wrist, is a plus hitter against right handed pitching. He has nothing to off in the field or against southpaws, but he does provide a very strong and stable platoon bat for a very low price. The White Sox could also play the odds and hope Brian Matusz can start even though Cellular Field is a launching pad. Balancing out that risk though is the groundball pitcher Britton, who also has quite a bit of promise. The truth is, this deal could really go south on the Orioles with both Matusz and Britton doing well and having to pay for Scott or Hafner to replace Betemit.
The Orioles save 2.75 MM here while taking on 9.5 MM in salary. This leaves 11.65 MM left to spend.
Dylan Bundy, SP and Nicky Delmonico, 1B/2BThis is probably the move that leaves a great number of people saying no. A key part of this move would have to be getting Headley to sign a long term deal, but, maybe not. Chase Headley provides above average defense at third base, takes a walk, and somehow hit home runs last year. I don't think a permanent move from Petco would result in him being a 30 home run hitter, but it is not a stretch to think he could be a .350 OBP hitter with 20 long balls annually and a good glove. That would be worth about 4 WAR which would be an improvement of about one win over the Hardy/Machado side of the infield.
Chase Headley, 3B
Bundy simply does not impact the team this season. At most, he would see a late season reintroduction to the team. In the future, he could be worth a great deal to the team, but it remains to be seen if he can (a) fulfill his potential and (b) that the team will be good enough that it will matter whether he fulfills his potential. If 2013 is so important with the shambles of the Red Sox and Yankees, then it might make sense to wave goodbye to the future. Delmonico is a bit more of a lottery ticket. The bat looks very sound, but he currently is without a position. If he has to shift to first, it puts a lot of pressure on his bat.
In this deal, the Orioles take on approximately 8.3 MM in salary, leaving 3.35 MM under the assumed 100 MM cap.
The above moves leave the team with the following lineup:
Nick Markakis, RFWith a bench of Taylor Teagarden, Ryan Flaherty, Nate McLouth, and Danny Valencia.
Manny Machado, SS
Chase Headley, 3B
Adam Jones, CF
Chris Davis, 1B
Matt Wieters, C
Luke Scott, DH
Nolan Reimold, LF
Alexi Casilla, 2B
The rotation would shake out as:
Miguel Gonzalez / Chris Tillman
To me, this looks like a 90 win talent team with Headley marginally improving the lineup and Porcello/Floyd improving the rotation. The remaining 3.35 MM could be put to good use to help shore up the team performance at the trade deadline. The team lost one of the best prospects in the game in Dylan Bundy, but was able to pick up a solid positional prospect in Nick Castellanos. All in all, if Dan Duquette was able to and did the moves above, I'd have little to complain about. However, publicity-wise...it might be a tough sell.