Option 1: Seeking a Cornerstone
Photo - Arturo Pardavila III
Before free agency comes the qualifying offers (QO). Assuming the QO this year is about $16.4 million, I would offer them to Chris Davis, Wei-Yin Chen, and Matt Wieters, each of them can be effectively argued as above average or better non-relievers. If history is any guide, none will accept because no one has ever accepted one. (Wieters may think long and hard about it, though.) Steve Pearce and Darren O’Day worth the offer far less than $16.4 million and the goal here is not to earn the honor of being the first team to have their QO accepted.
Free Agent Philosophy
The Orioles have several mediocre starting pitchers already under contract to provide respectable pitching. Although defense is becoming more appreciated each year, defense appears to be undervalue in relation to pitching. With that in mind, a focus on defense will help make the current motley rotation by turning the large number of balls in play into outs and to prevent walks from turning into runs scored. With the infield defense locked down for the next few years, and with Adam Jones still patrolling center field, the focus should be on the outfield corners and that focus should be on better defensive help than was seen in 2015.
The top priority should be securing Jason Heyward to play right field. Heyward’s young, an above-average hitter and a great defender. Having him on base will boost the offense, and having his glove means the team can use untested rookies and scrap-heap free agents on the mound instead of springing for elite pitchers. Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, et al. may actually pitch better knowing their ground balls will be scooped up and their fly balls will be pulled down in the outfield. Plus, Heyward can spell Jones in center field when the latter needs a turn at DH and perhaps replace him there altogether during the 2017-2018.
Whatever the offer to Heyward, I don’t think it can be higher at a higher annual salary than what Adam Jones is making ($16.3 million in 2016), at least not until 2018. Logic aside, it would not look right to snub the face of the franchise that way when he’s still producing on a daily basis. Fortunately, teams do not value defense in the same way they do offense, so we can get away with a lower offer to Heyward than some projections might indicate. I would offer him $157 million over 10 years, an average annual value of $15.7 million. This is potentially less annual money than what other teams would give him, so I’m hoping the 10-year deal length will sweeten the offer.
Now the team needs an everyday left fielder. Let’s offer Denard Span for $40 million over three years, or $13.3 million/year. He is coming off an injury-plagued 2015 so may have to take a bit less money than he’d otherwise have gotten. He is another center fielder in disguise, an above-average hitter with a history of a good glove.
The last free agent move will be to re-sign Matt Wieters for $36 million over three years or $12 million/year. He should be amenable to such an offer with his last full season (2013) being so bad and after missing so much time in 2014 and 2015. He knows the organization and, in particular, the pitching staff that he’ll have to work with every day. He’s not a superstar, but he’s a known quantity and that’s good enough for me. The short-ish length is a hedge against further injuries/ineffectiveness.
Let Wei-Yin Chen walk. We’ll replace his southpaw innings with T.J. McFarland, a serviceable long relief pitcher with a high groundball rate that fits a Machado/Hardy/Schoop defense. He’ll do even better with Heyward and Span running down the occasional fly ball he allows.
Let Chris Davis walk, too. We’ll 'replace' him with Christian Walker, who’s hit well at AA Bowie and AAA Norfolk. We’ll let O’Day and Pearce walk as well. Mychal Givens will slot in as the setup guy.
Finally, let’s pay Manny Machado. He’s entering his first year of arbitration on the heels of a legitimately improved offensive season. $7 million should do the trick. I am projecting 20% raises in arbitration for all the other players on the staff and for pre-arb players to make the same as they did the year before.
If we make these moves we come in around $114 million for the 2016 season, short of the $120 million budget. I would use the remaining $6 million to sign some backups like Paul Janish to spell Hardy when he gets injured, another reliever to add to the bullpen, and maybe to bring back Nolan Reimold for $1.5 million or so. Summary of major moves:
- Jason Heyward: $157 million / 10 years
- Denard Span: $40 million / 3 years
- Matt Wieters: $36 million / 3 years
- Manny Machado: $7 million / 1 year
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