At 29-30, the Orioles are closing in on a return to .500. Things didn't look so good last week, but the return of Matt Wieters has helped to right the ship (for now, at least).
Are the O's contenders? Buyers or sellers? At four games back in the American League East (with the first-place Yankees coming to town) and two games out of a wild card slot, they're certainly not ready to throw in the towel. But then again, nearly every AL team is in play for a playoff spot. And just about every AL team has serious flaws. It's unclear how good the O's are. But hey, the O's are on a roll. So enjoy it.
The O's had an interesting offseason. For many fans, it was also an unpleasant one. Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller all departed. The Blue Jays wanted Dan Duquette to be their CEO (and they may still want him) but were rebuffed. The Orioles eventually settled on Travis Snider as their main corner outfield acquisition. They made minor moves like signing Everth Cabrera and re-signing Delmon Young. And they tendered contracts to all of their arbitration-eligible players.
So let's focus on a number of the notable moves/decisions the team made (with the reminder that hindsight is 20/20). How do they look right now?
Wei-Yin Chen's $4.75 million option exercised
No-brainer. And no issue.
Darren O'Day's $4.25 million option exercised
Same thing. Easy choice.
Wesley Wright signed for $1.7 million
Wright only threw 1 2/3 innings for the Orioles before injuring his shoulder. He hasn't pitched since April 10. Wright's signing made less sense considering the Orioles both tendered Brian Matusz a contract and also did not trade him (more on that below), but it's hard to be mad at this signing. Wright is due back in a few weeks, most likely. That could present an interesting roster showdown between Wright and Matusz.
Everth Cabrera signed for $2.4 million
The Orioles recently designated Cabrera for assignment, so no, this move did not go according to plan. The rationale at the time was that he was under team control through 2016 and he had an option left, so inking Cabrera made sense. But he surpassed the five-year service time mark early in the season, allowing him to refuse an assignment to the minor leagues. It didn't help that he posted a 31 wRC+ in 105 plate appearances.
Re-signing Delmon Young for $2.25 million
Young has essentially been a replacement-level player, posting a subpar 86 wRC+ but playing much better defense than anticipated (0.8 UZR, +4 DRS). He's also played much more in the outfield than maybe even Buck Showalter planned, thanks in part to the temporary emergence of Jimmy Paredes and also the general blah-ness of his fellow corner outfielders. His deal has been fine.
Acquired Travis Snider from Pirates for Stephen Tarpley and Steven Brault
Snider's 93 wRC+ has underwhelmed, and he was supposed to provide more power (only a .079 ISO this season). He is only making $2.1 million this year, though, and is under team control through next season. His defensive ability in the outfield doesn't look great at times, but he also has a UZR of 3 and a DRS of +6. It's not ideal to have given up much of anything considering how he's played. But this is far from a disastrous move. Overall, he's also been pretty similar to Nick Markakis (Snider: 0.4 fWAR, 1.0 bWAR; Markakis: 1.1 fWAR, 0.8 bWAR) -- without the large contract.
Tendering Brian Matusz for $3.2 million
Overall, Matusz was not good last season. He's followed that up by being pretty terrible so far in 2015. In 18 1/3 innings, his strikeouts are down, his walks are up, and his already low groundball rate is even lower. It was questionable for the O's to tender him a contract at all, and considering he was a possible trade option before the season started, the Orioles really must not have gotten many offers at all (because they shouldn't have been seeking much in return). As a Super Two player, Matusz has a fourth arbitration year remaining. So if he's not traded this season or after, he's a pretty good bet to get non-tendered.
Tendering Tommy Hunter for $4.65 million
Paying Hunter nearly $5 million is not ideal, but it's at least somewhat better than Matusz's contract. He's been more useful than Matusz, though for such a hard thrower he doesn't get that many strikeouts (6.5 K/9). It helps that his walk rate has dropped as well (1 BB/9). It's also smart that the Orioles are using him in lower leverage situations than in years past.
Tendering Steve Pearce for $3.7 million
Pearce has not hit well at all (more on this in a potential future post by another Depot writer), yet he's still offered defensive contributions with his versatile play at first base, second base, and the outfield. Even if he's played poorly, there was nothing wrong with bringing him back after an insanely good 2014.
Tendering Alejandro De Aza for $5 million
De Aza took on the Orioles in arbitration and lost, and things never really got better for him in 2015. Despite playing surprisingly well for the O's after being acquired last season, he posted a 72 wRC+ and quickly fell out of favor. And then he was designated for assignment and then shipped to the Red Sox. In hindsight it was a misguided move, but it's hardly unreasonable to spend $5 million on a decent corner outfielder who's going to receive plenty of work. That is, at least, until he doesn't play well.
Other arbitration cases: Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, Bud Norris, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Zach Britton, Ryan Flaherty
Most of these look fine, except for maybe two: Davis ($12 million) and Norris ($8.8 million). Davis has been up and down, but he does have a 115 wRC+. He's been striking out a ton, but the power has also rebounded enough to make him useful. He certainly hasn't been a disaster like in 2014. But Norris not only has been awful (8.63 ERA, 4.84 FIP in 32 1/3 innings), but he blocked Kevin Gausman from a rotation spot to open the season. Part of Norris's struggles is illness-related, which is unfortunate; at least he seems to be healthy now. But with Gausman, Mike Wright, and Tyler Wilson behind him, the O's should consider dealing Norris if he's able to string a couple of decent starts together (whether they're in a race for a playoff spot or not).
Claimed Ryan Lavarnway from Cubs
Two Rule 5 acquisitions: Logan Verrett and Jason Garcia
Verrett never pitched for the O's and was claimed off waivers by the Rangers before the season. But Garcia did make the O's opening day roster, and predictably the 22-year-old who had never pitched above A-ball was terrible (5.93 ERA, 7.65 FIP in 13 2/3 innings). He's currently on the disabled list with an injured shoulder, and it's unclear if he'll pitch for the Orioles again this season (or beyond). The O's like to utilize the Rule 5 draft to pick up useful players (Ryan Flaherty, T.J. McFarland), but this move hasn't worked.
Other intriguing, low-risk signings: Rey Navarro, Oliver Drake, Chaz Roe, Nolan Reimold
Duquette loves his fringe player signings.
(I think I covered most of the noteworthy signings and moves, though I know I left some things out. Feel free to chime in.)
If you want to get upset with the O's for not re-signing Cruz, that's fine. I disagree with that stance, but sure, they could use his bat this season. Every team could. The decisions to not re-sign Markakis and Miller also frustrated fans, but they also seem like sound choices.
The Snider move, so far, hasn't worked out as planned. The Cabrera signing did not go well. Tendering contracts to all of Norris, Matusz, Hunter, and De Aza definitely doesn't look great, and perhaps the O's could have used that money to shore up the roster in other ways. Nori Aoki, for example, has been a tremendous signing for the Giants. But for the most part, the O's are still competing, and they don't have any truly horrible contracts on the books (unless you count Ubaldo Jimenez, who has two years remaining after this one, but who has looked competent this year).
Maybe the Orioles should have spent more money. It's easy to say that, though it does seem clear that they are working with a maxed out budget. They'll surely have more free-up money to work with this upcoming offseason, and it should be intriguing how they choose to spend -- and if Duquette will still be around to make those judgments. But they're around .500, and with a few breaks and a move here or there, they could reasonably return to the playoffs. But we're a long way from that point.