Option 2: Building A Rotation
|Photo — Arturo Pardavila III|
Like Ryan P. (as well as any sane person), I would give Chris Davis and Wei-Yin Chen qualifying offers; I'd also agree with him on Matt Wieters warranting one. However, I'd also extend the QO to Darren O'Day, whose dominance I really can't understate. Since he came to Baltimore in 2012, he's accrued more RA9-WAR than any other American League reliever — a skill that tends to net sizable rewards on the open market. O'Day will likely sign for David Robertson money, or at the very least Andrew Miller money. Faced with $30+ million guaranteed or $16 million, he should decline the QO. Meanwhile, I wouldn't deem Steve Pearce worthy of a QO, although I would try to bring him back (as I explain below).
Before the Orioles look for free-agent solutions for 2016, it will need to think about the years beyond that. Manny Machado, the club's best player who should regularly contend for the MVP, has only three seasons of team control left. While the Orioles have tried to extend him before, they can't focus on anything else until they resolve this. I foresee a six-year, $90 million extension, around the level of Kyle Seager. The Orioles will backload the contract, like many clubs do for players this young, so that Machado will make more by the end but will remain cheap in the short term. For 2016, I'll thus give him a $5 million salary.
Free Agent/Trade Philosophy
I'll begin by noting the set costs for the 2016 Orioles. Between their pre-arbitration players (each of whom will take home $508,000), their arbitration players (whose salaries MLB Trade Rumors has conveniently projected), and their players on contracts (J.J. Hardy, Ubaldo Jimenez, Adam Jones, and Machado), they'll have about $77 million tied up. That gives us $43 million to play around with.
Firstly, I'll let Davis, Chen, Wieters, and O'Day walk. Any contract for Davis would go above $150 million at the very least, which my first base-averse tastes will not tolerate. Chen has a decent shot at $100 million, and he'll approach that level even if he falls short. While bidding on him might not be a bad idea, he'll ultimately sign elsewhere. Caleb Joseph and Steve Clevenger should post average results at least, and at a fraction of Wieters' price. And multi-year, multi-million deals for relievers will always be a no-go for me, especially for a team with a plethora of bullpen options. Together with the Orioles' sparse farm system — which four extra draft picks would help rejuvenate — this makes for an easy decision.
Ryan P. noted that better defense can help a pitching staff improve and planned his free agency accordingly. While I certainly don't disagree with that idea, I strongly dislike the current Oriole pitchers, especially the rotation. Kevin Gausman and Ubaldo Jimenez can certainly hold their own, but their effectiveness pretty much stands alone. Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez regressed horribly in 2015; after topping their peripherals for so many years, they may have just run out of luck. Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson could help the club in the years to come, or they could wash out. And lord only knows what'll happen with Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey. If the Orioles want to return to contention in 2016, they'll need starting pitching.
To address this, I'll start with a controversial trade: Zach Britton to the Red Sox for Wade Miley and a minor leaguer or two. Britton has three years of team control left, and as one of the best relievers in baseball, he'll receive the pay of such a pitcher. MLB Trade Rumors foresees a $6.9 million (nice) salary for 2016, a figure that will likely rise for the years beyond that. With Brad Brach, Mychal Givens, Oliver Drake, Chaz Roe, Jason Garcia, Brian Matusz, and T.J. McFarland, the Orioles have relief options of all calibers — none of whom will carry that hefty a price tag. I wouldn't worry too much about the bullpen suffering in his absence.
On the flipside, the team will get Miley. He's a solid left-handed starter with a career ERA- and FIP- of 99, who gets ground balls and who improved in the later part of 2015 after a rocky beginning. The Red Sox inked him to a three-year extension (with a fourth-year club option) after trading for him last offseason, so the Orioles could have him for a couple extra seasons beyond the next one. $6 million in 2016, for an average-ish starter, sounds like a bargain to me. Losing Britton will hurt, but phasing out one of the aforementioned scrubs will ease that pain.
Then we turn to the free agent market. Among the pitchers whom the Orioles can select, Mike Leake appeals the most to me. His hamstring strain from this August notwithstanding, he's managed to consistently avoid injury, and his age — he'll turn 28 in November — means he stands a greater chance of sustaining that durability. Like Miley, he keeps the ball on the ground, while limiting free passes as well; Leake's 107 career FIP- doesn't entice me, but his 100 ERA- makes a more convincing case.
Contracts for satisfactory pitchers like Leake can vary. I expect him to top out at four years and $50 million — Ubaldo money, in other words. Leake's deal will have a slight backload in it, similar that of Jimenez, such that he'll receive $12 million in 2016 and 2017 and $13 million in 2018 and 2019. Leake has said he wants to stay with San Francisco, but if the Orioles can pry him away, he'll likely reward their efforts.
And, because you can never have too many starting pitchers, I'll take a one-year, $10 million flyer on Ian Kennedy. Although he struggled for 2015 as a whole, he progressed significantly in the year's second half. Like Leake, he strained a hamstring this year, a rare blemish on his generally spotless injury record. His fly ball tendencies may not play well in Camden Yards, but he showed as a Diamondback that he can succeed in stadiums that favor hitters. Kennedy has the potential to pitch at an above-average level; for me, that potential outweighs the risk that he'll fall back again.
So Jimenez, Gausman, Miley, Leake, Kennedy, and a cast of thousands should make for an acceptable rotation. Now we turn to the offensive side of things. With the remaining $15 million in our treasure chest, I'll bring in two position players, starting with someone Ryan P. recommended: Denard Span. His solid defense — which will help those hurlers turn balls in play into outs — will combine with solid offense to make him a solid overall player. The hip ailment that sidelined him for much of 2015 concerns me, but it also means he'll come cheaper than he would otherwise. At, say, three years and $36 million ($12 million of which will go toward 2016), he should produce enough value to help the team.
Because I'll have a few bucks left over, I'll re-up Pearce for $3 million. He hit much better in the second half of 2015, and overall his struggles seemed kind of flukish (a topic that I'll write more about in the weeks to come). With Jones in center, Span in right, and a combination of Nolan Reimold and David Lough in left, Pearce will see the majority of his time at first base, where he's displayed an outstanding glove in limited action. If he can come remotely close to his 2014 form again, he'll make this contract a bargain.
Now that I've made all of these moves, we have a regular with respectable hitters and fielders, to accompany a decent and deep rotation and a bullpen with some upside. It'll cost the Orioles a full $120 million — a slight upgrade from their 2015 spending — but another prosperous season, and possibly a playoff run, would reward any expenditure.
- Manny Machado: $90 million / six years ($5 million 2016)
- Wade Miley: $14.8 million / two year ($6 million 2016)
- Mike Leake: $50 million / four years ($12 million 2016)
- Ian Kennedy: $10 million / one year ($10 million 2016)
- Denard Span: $36 million / three years ($12 million 2016)
- Steve Pearce: $3 million / one year ($3 million 2016)
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