A camel is a horse designed by committee.
|Realizing that 45 MM does not buy a lot.|
At first, it might appear that a club having 40-45 MM in spending money will be able to easily fill positions of players departing as well as shore up existing weaknesses. Then you look at that money again and realize that the cost of a win these days it is about 7 MM, so it would not be unreasonable to think that someone like Colby Rasmus will pull in 15 MM on an annual basis. At this point you may feel like Dawson does over to the right.
Fear not, our writers and select members of our audience have presented several different blueprints. I will not be reviewing them individually, but note that I have read each of them before using that information to chart my own path.
Option 1: Seeking A Cornerstone
Option 2: Building A Rotation
Option 3: Building Major League Depth And A Minor League System
Option 4: Well Rounded And Not Tied Down
Option 5: Purchasing Innings In Bulk
Option 6: Trying To Make Chicken Salad
Options 7a/b/c: Shepherd Seeks A Few Outside Consultants
Before I go much further, I should state my goals: (1) keep below a 120 MM payroll, (2) gain as many draft picks as possible while not losing any because our farm system is largely bereft of talent, and (3) make a meaningful run at the playoffs.
2015 Performance Summary
The starting rotation was a bit of a mess for the Orioles last season. While the bullpen's 3.21 ERA was over a half run better than the league average bullpen (3.77 ERA), the Orioles had only two pitchers who performed better: the erratic Ubaldo Jimenez and the outgoing Wei-Yin Chen.
However, some heart should be taken in that Jimenez' and Gausman's ERAs underperformed slightly their peripherals. Additionally, Tillman underperformed according to his peripherals and his 4.99 ERA will likely be difficult for him to match or do worse. Miguel Gonzalez' season was worse than he normally performs and, unfortunately, the peripherals agree with that. Add in the departure of Bud Norris and the potential improvement of Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright, things do not look so disastrous. Though they certainly look rather mediocre.
GS ERA FIP Wei-Yin Chen 31 3.34 4.16 Ubaldo Jimenez 32 4.11 4.01 AL Average 4.14 Kevin Gausman 17 4.22 4.06 Tyler Wilson 5 4.32 4.05 Miguel Gonzalez 26 4.91 5.01 Chris Tillman 31 4.99 4.45 Mike Wright 9 6.48 6.13 Bud Norris 11 6.79 5.49 693 runs allowed with bullpen
Concern has also been on the offensive side where the club has been accused of foundering due to the departure of Nelson Cruz and the inadequate approach to backfill in for Nick Markakis. While the club was able to mash home runs in 2015 as they did in 2014, fewer runs trotted in comparison to the rest of the league.
Below I have laid out the on base percentage (OBP) and slugging percentage (SLG) that the Orioles allotted for each position. In addition, I used a very simple line up calculator to project the number of runs such a lineup could achieve. Keep in mind, this calculator does not consider park effects.
AL Runs Scored Toronto 891 NYY 764 Texas 751 Boston 748 Houston 729 KC 724 Baltimore 713 Minnesota 696 Oakland 694 Detroit 689 Cleveland 669 LAAA 661 Seattle 656 Tampa 644 Chicago 622
The calculator, by luck or design, was 10 runs off what the Orioles were actually able to accomplish. In terms of a napkin scratch approach, it seems reasonable to use that program moving forward. Anyway, the loss of Jonathan Schoop at second base, the dismal play of J.J. Hardy at shortstop, and the poor solutions in left and at designated hitter put the club in a bad place. Even with those troublesome areas, the club was able to deliver a league average offensive performance.
2015 Positional Performance Po. OBP SLG Catcher .313 .420 First Base .329 .522 Second Base .295 .406 Third Base .359 .502 Shortstop .257 .321 Left Field .287 .353 Center Field .296 .447 Right Field .318 .449 DH .308 .375 Expected Runs 723 Actual Runs 713
With 713 runs scored and 693 allowed, you could say that the team was better, ever so slightly, than their 81-81 record. The silver lining may not be thick, but it was there.
The Final Blueprint For Camden Depot
Having established what was, now we look at the transitions I suggest for 2016. Again, the final approach taken here was informed by writer and audience submissions as well as my own perspective. As some of my tweets suggest, my decision has been influenced by the excellent strategizing expressed by my colleagues.
There is consensus on both Wei-Yin Chen and Chris Davis to offer them Qualifying Offers (QO). The majority overwhelmingly agree to QO Matt Wieters. On this point, I agree. Wieters, with his track record and the scarcity of defensive sufficient catchers with power, should be looking at a three to four year deal in the neighborhood of 12 MM per year. That would be a good enough outlay to refuse a one year contract worth 15.8 MM.
The most interesting perspective presented on QOs was to offer Darren O'Day one. I truly had not considered this. The range of suggested contracts fell between 3/15 to 3/33. If O'Day was sure he would find himself a contract in excess of 30 MM, then a QO makes sense. However, I doubt he gets closer money. He should be setting his sights more in the neighborhood of 3/24. If that is what he and his agent think is likely then if a QO was handed down, you have to accept that contract. The extra two years and eight million total simply are not worth passing on the sure deal.
For those reasons, I would offer QOs to Chen, Davis, and Wieters. With so many holes in the rotation and around the diamond, I would let O'Day walk with an expectation that Mychal Givens can fill O'Day's role and that someone like Mike Wright could spell Tommy Hunter.
Non-Tenders and Releases
The Oriole Chamber has spoken and it appears to be goodbye to Brian Matusz. Matusz is Wieters-light. The expectations on the southpaw were great as he eased his way through the minors. A non-traditional kind of pitcher, Matusz would pitch backwards to his fastball instead of using it to set up his off-speed pitches. His abbreviated 2009 and full season 2010 suggest his style would work in the Majors, but perhaps would not be dominant. In 2011, injury and loss of velocity wound up obliterating his firm hold in the rotation. Great play in the bullpen simply was not enough to buoy the appreciation of Orioles fans even though he, at times, excelled in the relief role.
Last year's ERA of 2.94 looks excellent, but that is a little deceiving in that he benefited from a low BABIP and his batted balls stayed inside the fence more often than expected. He was not credited with the inherited runners he let score (17 of 46, 7% worse than league average (30%)). The only relievers who fared worse than him were Tommy Hunter (39%) and Brad Brach (57%). That said, Hunter is gone and Brach is getting paid next to nothing. With an expected pay raise to 3.4 MM and a non-existent trade market last year when he had a 3.2 MM salary, it likely is time to wish Matusz well and find a more versatile reliever on the junk pile. At the given payroll of 120 MM, a 3.4 MM LOOGY is too much of a luxury.
A more difficult discussion was had with Miguel Gonzalez. The expectation is that he will earn a salary of 4.9 MM next year. Reasons to let him go included the idea that after several years of defying advanced metrics, he has finally performed in line with expectations. In other words, either his luck ran out or what made him a happy deviant is no longer what he is anymore. The Say Yes to Miguel crowd focuses more on how it is highly improbable to find a backend starter with mid-rotation potential for 5 MM on the free agent market as well as pointing toward a pitcher like Mark Buerhle who was a rare soul who routinely outperformed his peripherals. With starting pitching no longer in abundance for the club, a player with past success with Baltimore at 5 MM seems like a cheap proposition.
For me, this is a difficult decision. I lean in the direction of trading for cost cutting or non-tendering Gonzalez. For me, this has nothing to do with his poor performance last year, but due to the injury at the end of the year that closed out his season. I simply doubt that his shoulder is strong enough to be a worthwhile pitcher. That said, the market has an equal number of highly questionable acquisitions with respect to injury. In the end, the writers here are here for a reason and I will let their majority opinion overrule my gut: Miguel Gonzalez stays.
The rest of the discussion rolls around fringe elements that I will not go in depth with here. Paragraphs about Paul Janish and Nolan Reimold seem like they would be overdone. One approach that was unique was a reader submission suggesting to non-tender or trade Chris Tillman and his 6+ MM salary. There probably is something to say about pulling in that extra 14.5 MM by dumping Tillman, Matusz, and Gonzalez. With a health Dylan Bundy, a better showing from Mike Wright, and/or a reasonable belief that Zach Britton could start, that could give the Orioles an extra solid player for the foundation. As it is, I think it makes the rotation too thin, too delicate.
Base Level Production
Before getting into the signings portion, I think it is apt to note where we stand with baseline projections. I have regressed offensive production by position with ten percent of the at bats at each position coming from a replacement level player. On top of that, for first base, corner outfield positions, and designated hitter I assumed all at bats would provide replacement level quality. For the purpose of this exercise I defined replacement level as a 10% reduction in league average OBP and SLG.
For pitchers, I projected 30 starts each for Jimenez (4.12), Gausman (4.08), Tillman (4.47), and Gonzalez (4.54). The remaining 42 starts, I projected a performance of a 5.00 ERA.
Now focus on that, 78-84 is the projected baseline. Not the floor, but the 50th percentile. That is probably much better of a starting point than you might have realized. It shows that there is still life in this squad. From here, my goal is to develop a top three offense, so I am looking for another 75 runs of offense as well as looking for another starting pitcher to help push down that runs allowed number.
2016 Base Performance Po. OBP SLG Catcher .305 .408 First Base .297 .400 Second Base .302 .464 Third Base .344 .491 Shortstop .269 .328 Left Field .282 .369 Center Field .302 .468 Right Field .293 .390 DH .298 .396 Expected Runs 675 Difference from 2015 48 Allowed Runs w/out Chen 703 Projected Record 78 84
After all of that, I figure the dedicated payroll is about 77 MM, which leaves me with 42 MM to spend. With 42 MM, the club can literally sign anyone on the market, but they have several holes to fill. I also do not want to mortgage the future of the franchise, so I am focusing on players without draft pick compensation tied to them. That means my focus is on players who cannot be given Qualifying Offers and those unlikely to be handed those offers. Below I touch on the major players in the previously posted blueprint series.
As much as I have enjoyed Chris Davis playing for the Orioles in odd years, it is difficult to forget about his even years. They all are part of the Chris Davis package and should inform us going forward. I think it is fair to say that Davis is looking to settle for something in the neighborhood of 6 years and 132 MM. At 30 years old next year, his performance concerns me during the 33-35 years of the contract. While I assume his power potential will slowly trail off, his contact rate is a much greater issue. He appears on the precipice of being a home run only black hole with just a few ticks lost on his bat speed. That he experienced a similar issue in 2014 while having similar bat speed adds more weariness in offering a major deal to hit. What it comes down to is how unique of a player Davis is. There are not too many who blossom this late and manage to do so much damage with a baseball while rarely actually touching it in a productive way. I have to pass.
Replacing First Base and maybe some other positions
Suggestions on what to do varied. Davis could be re-signed, but, as I have mentioned, I will not champion that idea. Christian Walker and Trey Mancini can enter the Thunderdome, but I would prefer them to season a bit more in the minors and be a backup plan down the road in 2016 if things fall apart. Mike Napoli could be signed, but I figure that any reasonable contract offer would be inked with either the Rangers or Red Sox. If either of those teams refuse to offer him a deal North of 5 MM, then I would be hesitant to consider it.
Instead, I will focus on two players for the first base position. The first is right-handed Steve Pearce. Yes, Pearce has injury concerns and appears to be a fluky hitter, but he can be a plus hitter and is able to play somewhat respectable several positions. He is a poor man's Ben Zobrist. If he excels, then he can soak up plate appearances at first base, left field, or designated hitter. If not, then he is a decent bat off the bench. In the model of Ty Wigginton, Nate McLouth, and Rajai Davis, Pearce can probably earn a two year deal and the price point will be about five or six million. My aim would be to offer him a two year deal for ten million total with a one year team option at ten million accompanied by a two million dollar buyout.
The second player I would target to play first base is right-handed Byung Ho Park. Park has demolished Korea the past two seasons with obscene 50+ home run campaigns along with some unseemly strikeout totals. With the quality of play over there quite disperse, but generally in the HiA/AA range, there are certainly questions with his potential performance. In the states, I foresee him as more of a 20+ homerun bat with second division peripherals. With a 7 MM post and a contract of four years and 20 MM, those should be the right ballpark terms to acquire him. With Kang's success in Pittsburgh, those salary figures might climb, but I doubt it given how much Park's bat will have to carry him versus Kang's ability to play shortstop. Using a little bit of lard, I would back weight this contract to open up a couple bucks for my next signing.
Putting the Hitter Back into the Designated Hitter
The designated hitter role will likely be occupied at times by Park, but not always. Blueprints suggested players such as John Jaso and the aforementioned Mike Napoli. However, my focus will be on trying to reclaim left-handed Matt Joyce. After five solidly average seasons, Joyce fell off a cliff for the Angels. The bet on Joyce would be to offer him the opportunity to reestablish his value with the Orioles. Like Pearce, Joyce is also a player who is capable of somewhat playing the corner outfield positions in addition to designated hitting, but not as well as him. I would offer a one year contract worth five million.
As you can see, one of my desires to acquire a collection of players with reasonable positional flexibility. That enables you to push people around if you have a talent break out in Norfolk or open up possibilities when trying to trade for someone at the deadline to bolster the active roster.
Filling the Holes in the Corner Outfield
As previously discussed, both Pearce and Joyce can provide some time in the outfield if it is needed. However, the club needs a stronger solution out there. Prospects like Dariel Alvarez and Mike Yaztremski provide some level of a safety net, but they are not players that I want to depend on greatly. Two suggestions brought up by multiple blueprints were Denard Span and Colby Rasmus. Both cause me concern because I think they both wind up with Qualifying Offers on their heads, but I do have additional concerns for each.
For Span, his game relies mainly on his ability to get on base and his range in the outfield. His hip injury this past season is an issue for me. A bad hip hurts lateral movement as well as turning to move backward. A bad hip also can greatly reduce whatever power he does possess. Add those together and you get a red flag on a one year deal. However, Span likely has something in the neighborhood of three years and 42 MM on the way. For me, that is too rich for someone who I think will not likely live up to his billing.
For Rasmus, you have a player who was once considered a future superstar who crashed and burned, but whose failure is often expressed in hyperbole. No, Rasmus is not a four or five win player, but he is a two to three win commodity who is capable of playing both center field and the corners. A three year or more deal in excess of 14 MM a year passes the sniff test. Add to that his potentially abrasive attitude and he might not well be someone you would want to hold onto for several seasons while devoting so much money to him.
At this point, a long term deal for Jason Heyward could be quite arguable. He is a 5 to 6 win player and the club could afford to deliver something in the neighborhood of 10 years and 250 MM. However, doing so depends a lot on Heyward maintaining his defensive excellence, which is something for which we are uncertain how that skill ages, as well as hoping that the baseball honey pot grows significantly over the life of that contract. Not only much the club take on the risk of him fulfilling this deal, but also come to terms to note adding any rotation help or retaining the clubs first round pick. That said, giving up a pick for Heyward is far more defensible than giving one up for Span or Rasmus.
But, no, I have chosen to diversify my risk and supply the club with another player who provides positional flexibility: the switch hitting Ben Zobrist. Zobrist may be getting up in years and he did experience a decrease in performance in Oakland and Kansas City (not the friendliest places to hit), but he did provide above average production at the plate and performed well enough in the field. He is a rich man's Steve Pearce. To secure his services, I would target a three year deal worth a total of 51 MM with a one year option at 20 MM or a three million dollar buyout.
With those changes, we should expect to see the club score approximately 756 runs, which would have been third best in the American League in 2015. With the unimproved rotation giving up 703 runs, we have an expected record of 86-76. At this point, we should consider this a playoff contending club and the team still has nine million dollars left to spend.
Improving the Rotation
As we discussed earlier, we should expect an improvement of about 23 runs from the sum of the four remaining parts of the rotation. Most of that improvement will be coming from Tillman and Gonzalez. However, the fifth man in the rotation needs to be bumped to sixth to improve the overall quality of the club. Several suggestions were offered.
A top tier arm like Jeff Samardzija could look nice in the Orioles uniform. His price might be lower than expected due to a poor 2015 campaign that sullied the splendor of his previous two seasons. The arm is valued though, so the White Sox will likely place a Qualifying Offer on him, which is something I have no interest in handing over. The Dodgers southpaw Brian Anderson is another potential fit as an extreme groundball pitcher who may be undervalued due to his interrupted 2013 and 2014 seasons. Regardless, his 2015 is good enough that it would be surprising somewhat if the cash flush Dodgers did not also offer a qualifying offer.
Second Tier arms like Mike Leake and Scott Kazmir likely will want more than the nine or so million we have left at our disposal. Fringe pitchers like Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ should be in the ballpark for what the club has to offer, but both of them seem to be outperforming their abilities. That is a remarkable thing to have in someone like Miguel Gonzalez who is under team control with his salary artificially low due to the labor agreement, but it is a scary thing to seek a multiyear deal that must be paid in full for such a commodity.
That leaves us with broken down players who hope to reestablish their value. The two our writers focused on were Doug Fister and Mat Latos. Fister is dinged due to velocity loss, injury concerns, and the inability to start effectively last season. He is a pitcher who has been considered someone who would quickly fall apart once he lost any velocity. His bullpen work though provides some measure of a safety net if he fails. The expectation is that he would expect something in the one year and 8-12 MM range. Latos, on the other hand, performed horribly last year, but with solid peripherals. On top of his peculiarly horrid play was that he played for three separate teams, including the Dodgers who tossed him aside mid-playoff run in September due to his attitude. He too would likely accept something on similar terms as Fister. For me, either is interesting, but my focus would be on Mat Latos with fingers crossed that his attitude would be less of a concern in a more secure clubhouse overseen by Buck Showalter. The hope would be that he would be closer to his 3.53 FIP than his 4.95 ERA.
If Latos winds up delivering a 3.80 ERA (replacing a 5.00 ERA for 30 starts), then runs allowed would decrease from 703 to 676. Below is the expected performance after all of these signings: UTL Steve Pearce (2/10;1/10 w/2 MM bo), Byung Ho Park (7 MM post; 4/20), Matt Joyce (1/5), Ben Zobrist (3/51; 1/20 w/3 MM bo), and Mat Latos (1/9). Below I have assigned Park as 1B, Pearce as LF, Zobrist as RF, and Joyce as DH. Their numbers are decreased with replacement level production as noted earlier in order to account for generic bench starts.
Again, I would like to emphasize again that this 89-73 record has internal safeguards within the roster. Having multiple players who can play first base, corner outfield positions, and designated hitter provides the opportunity for the club to take advantage of any young prospect who breaks out or a minor league invite player who winds up having a resurgent season. This overlap also enables the club to consider multiple players during the trade deadline as players on the club can be scooted around to account for whatever talent is brought into the mix.
2016 Performance Po. OBP SLG Catcher .305 .408 First Base .310 .440 Second Base .302 .464 Third Base .344 .491 Shortstop .269 .328 Left Field .318 .447 Center Field .302 .468 Right Field .348 .443 DH .325 .405 Expected Runs 756 Allowed Runs 679 Projected Record 89 73
Maybe, (5) I need to find more time relevant pop culture references.