By now, you know who the Orioles' impending free agents are. And thanks to a disappointing, hard-to-watch second half, it's a topic most fans have turned their attention to instead of the nearly impossible task of this team competing for a playoff spot.
Some may be clinging to the idea that the Orioles will spend a huge sum of money this offseason to replace (or keep some of) their free agents. They'll spend, but not as much as many hope. The Orioles are a mid-market team, and they spend like a mid-market team. All fans want their teams to spend more and acquire skilled players who can hit the ball farther and throw the ball harder. And yes, we get it; it's not your money, after all (which is a foolish argument). Fans can't control how much an owner spends, and it's fine to not be OK with that and to want more. But the best hope is for a team to spend wisely; spending more helps, but it does not guarantee success.
As Jon noted a couple months ago, the Orioles do not have the cheap talent in their minor league system to replace those who leave; they barely spend in the international market; and many of their team-controlled players will see their salaries rise the next few years. Popular or not, the Orioles have stuck to a budget, and there's no reason to think they won't do so going forward (no, not even the MASN court decision).
Heading into next season, the O's could be in the market for one or two starting pitchers, one or two corner outfielders, a first baseman, a backup catcher, a designated hitter, and a couple relievers. That's a lot of positions to fill. Do you have faith in Mike Wright or Tyler Wilson? What about Dariel Alvarez, Henry Urrutia, or Christian Walker? Depending on the amount of money Dan Duquette has to work with, he may not have many options other than leaning on some of the team's unproven, low-ceiling minor leaguers. Since his arrival, Duquette has thrived on bringing in an assortment of fringe players and then seeing what Buck Showalter can do with them (I'm sure you're familiar with the chicken salad expression). That strategy exceeded all expectations -- until this season. Most of the team's marginal major leaguers played that way, and even some of the club's functional players struggled from the get-go (Alejandro De Aza, Bud Norris, Steve Pearce).
The Orioles are going to lose multiple, significant pieces, and they must find a way to add talent to a core of Manny Machado, Adam Jones, and Jonathan Schoop. Can they figure out a strategy to do that without exceeding Jones's contract (the largest in O's franchise history) or Ubaldo Jimenez's deal (the most money the team has ever paid a free agent pitcher)? It's possible, but it won't be easy. Even if they hand out a hefty contract, the rest of the spending will be limited.
The Orioles need a rational plan, and they need to execute it flawlessly. They could blow the whole thing up and bring in a bunch of new players, but that's unlikely. It's more realistic that they'll reshuffle the deck by plugging a few holes, making a minor trade or two, and inking one or two notable players. But there isn't one path to success, and the club's unconventional tendencies have played a vital part in their winning ways. Do you trust Duquette to thrive under these different circumstances? A surplus of spare parts won't be enough this time.