12 October 2015

Blueprint For The 2016 Orioles (Option 4): Well-Rounded And Not Tied Down

If the 2015 season proved anything to me, it's that the Orioles' biggest issues are and always have been on the mound and not at the plate. The 2015 squad, despite losing eventual 44-home-run-hitter Nelson Cruz to the Mariners in free agency, hit 217 home runs and pushed 713 runs across the plate. That's the second-highest home run total in franchise history, behind only the 1996 squad, and more runs than in 2012 or 2014, both playoff seasons.

I'm not equating postseason berth or success with pitching success specifically. A baseball team can win games many different ways. However, the Orioles' pitchers are, at this point, too mediocre to be relied on if the team expects to contend. I would love to focus an offseason plan on adding arms, but this season's free agent market for pitchers is incredibly top-heavy, and I don't expect the Orioles to be players for the available aces. As a result, my offseason plan focuses on mild improvements to multiple positions instead of making a splash at one. Meanwhile, the Orioles can use the opportunity to make a low-risk/high-reward play on free agents looking to prove their worth and give extended innings to young pitchers and let them learn on the job.

Qualifying Offers

But first, the qualifying offers. Extending a QO to Chris Davis and Wei-Yin Chen are no-brainers. They will be denied, and the Orioles will in return receive draft pick compensation for their loss. Matt Wieters is a much tougher nut to crack. 2016 will be Wieters' age-30 season, and a good year could set him up for a longer-term paycheck to close out his productive years as a catcher. He may treat a QO as a high-paying one-year deal to establish value for a good contract in his age 31 to 34 seasons. At the same time, injury concerns and declining catcher productivity with age may be enough of an incentive for Wieters to agree to a longer-term deal for more moderate, but guaranteed, income.

To be worth (in terms of free market price of a win) the $15.8 million deal a QO represents, Wieters would need to be worth 2.25 wins. That's a good goal for Wieters, and attainable given a full season of health, but is also close to what Caleb Joseph offers for a lot less money (he's first arbitration eligible in 2018). I wouldn't offer Wieters the QO despite the boss' insistence because I'd rather use $16 million on an area of weakness than to place a bet on getting a compensatory pick.


Based on MLB Trade Rumor projected arbitration salaries, I suggest non-tendering Brian Matusz. He has not proven himself to be worth $3.4 million in a bullpen role that nearly any minimum-salary left-hander could do. I would also non-tender Paul Janish and Nolan Reimold. The former isn't anything you can't find for league minimum or in the minors, and the latter is too old and too often injured to be considered a possible option off the bench.

I suggest keeping Miguel Gonzalez through arbitration. His projected $4.9M in arbitration is a little steep to stash in the bullpen, but he could be a serviceable spot starter in case of injury, a decent back-end rotation option if he comes back from injury, or

Free Agents

Doug Fister is looking for a change of scenery and hopefully a return to the rotation, and Baltimore is just the place to make that happen. The Nationals reportedly don't think that Fister is worth a QO. After a pretty terrible 2015 in which he played for just $11.4M, perhaps the Orioles can offer a 1-year, $10M "prove it" deal to the now-31-year-old right hander. A dominant pitcher when healthy, Fister lost a lot of time to the DL during his stint with the Nationals. Even if Fister can't hack it in the rotation, the Orioles are adding a great (but expensive) arm to the back of their bullpen and potentially setting themselves up with trade bait at the deadline. This would just force Bundy (who I will touch on later) into the rotation earlier, or force the Orioles to lean on a rotation of internal options.

Mike Napoli will be brought in on a one-year, $5.25M deal. Like Nate said, he can be easily replaced with Christian Walker should he struggle in Baltimore. Even if he's not fit to play first, Napoli can moved to a DH platoon to swat lefties so that his paychecks don't go to complete waste.

Adding Denard Span on the 3-year, $36M proposed by Ryan R. sounds like a great idea. Span brings defense to left field, can play center when Jones is in the lineup as the DH, and can actually hit for a decent average. The hip injury only brings down Span's price, helping the Orioles off the field as much on it.

As Nate noted, Bundy has to be on the Major League roster or be placed on waivers, so he's in the bullpen at the very least.

To fill the hole in right field, bring Gerardo Parra back on a 3-year, $22M deal and look to give him frequent breaks against lefties. When he hits the bench, Steve Pearce will take over on a 1-year, $3M offer. Pearce can also fill in at DH or first if needed as the batters in those roles don't make the cut.

Filling out the bullpen with league-minimum arms shouldn't be too hard. Playing the options ams here allows Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette to see who sticks and maybe squeeze a little extra juice out of a cheap contract via performance or midseason trade.

Summary of Major Moves

  • Doug Fister (SP), 1/$10 million
  • Mike Napoli (1B/DH), 1/$5.25M
  • Denard Span (LF), 3/$36M
  • Gerardo Parra (RF), 3/$22M
  • Steve Pearce (RF/1B/DH), 1/$3M
Total 2016 payroll: $110M

That's enough wiggle room in the $120M max to play with in trades, taking riskier names on the bullpen market, or even getting a long-term deal with Manny Machado.
I like to think that this approach, while not particularly splashy, is a well-rounded and reasonable approach to patching many of the team's holes heading into 2016 while maintaining flexibility for the following years. Some of my contract estimates may be aggressively low, and the $10M wiggle in the budget allows them to go a little higher on someone like Span if necessary. I'd like to see them build in some reserve funds during the offseason to make a run at a player who falls into their lap, like Nelson Cruz did. And if nobody is there, bank it and look to improve at the deadline.


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


Anonymous said...

Give Wieters the QO.
If he accepts it, he can be traded. Worst case scenario is an over pay for a prospect, and you've got 10-12 million plus that prospect instead of nothing.
Duquette has been to the Farm Shstem as Sherman was to Georgia, so every chance to restock must be taken.
Re: Napoli.
Didn't we learn anything from Delmon Young? Nap isn't a defender and ant be counted on to hit at all. It's unlikely he'll do much other than take ABs from better players.

Anonymous said...

Just...no. Replacing Chen with Fister would be a massive downgrade for a rotation that was already below average. Span and Napoli would be marginal upgrades but not nearly enough to replace the loss of Chris Davis. This plan does nothing for me. I would rather blow it up and go with Mancini and Miranda. Is there a door number 5?

Anonymous said...

Where is the plan where we keep Davis? Napoli is a nothing player past his prime. Even Option 1 where we replace Davis with Heyward at the same cost is no good because for all that defense and speed, Buck will never let him run. Why would we want to trade a clean-up hitter for a lead off man? That is not the way Camden Yards is built. Take away Heyward's SBs and you lose for the same price. Can anyone name a team the lost the HR leader in two consecutive years and had a winning season the next? How is Davis different from Pujols? As long as he has his TUE, he could hit 40+ HRs for several years. The difference between a 500 team and a winning team is up and coming pitching and an unsuspecting rookie. 2012 was all about Machado and Miguel (unexpected rookie contribution) and Tillman, Hammel, and Davis (developing youngsters). Next year's winner will have to come from keeping what we have and counting on Walker/Mancini, Gausman, Wilson/Wright/Miranda, and one big name LH SP to replace Chen at a cheaper cost (Anderson? Kazmir?). Underestimating Reimold is a big mistake because he's still very cheap. What does he do best???? Walk! He's the next Scott Hatteburg. He'll be on base when Machado, Jones, and Davis start blasting. He's Markakis at a tenth of the cost. Span would be great as a risk only if he's discounted. Lose Chen and pick up Fister and then what do you do for a LH SP? Anywhere in the system? If you can't get a solid LH SP significantly cheaper than Chen then you have to re-sign Chen. The other true option is blowing up the team and stockpiling prospects and win another day (see Braves, Atlanta). Get the draft choices for Davis, Chen, and Wieters and trade Jones, Britton, and Tillman. Let O'Day and Parra walk. Bust the payroll down to $60M - $70M, lose, and then bump the payroll up to $200M two or three years from now. I'll find another team to root for in the meantime (note: I've been an Orioles fan since 1969).

Unknown said...

Keeping Davis doesn't really allow the team to do much else unless they massively increase the payroll, which none of us see as being likely. I'd be highly skeptical that the TUE was the ONLY reason Davis had a down year in 2014, and I would not be surprised if he has at least one more year (if not more) like 2014 over the course of his next contract, just because of his contact issues. Davis is a good player because he has power and enough of a hit tool to get to it, Pujols is a great player because he has power and (at least had) a great hit tool (not to mention above average base running and fielding tools). It makes a big difference.

I personally don't think Fister is a bad choice as a Chen replacement. He gets ground balls which is an asset in front of Baltimore's infield defense and likely won't be given a QO. The lack of velocity does concern me some, but I think you could do a lot worse than him for the Orioles if you're looking for value in the free agent market.

Matt Perez said...

The Angels had a ten top payroll and went huge in free agency signing two big sluggers. They also have the best young player in the Majors via Trout. But they scored 50 fewer runs than the Orioles this year because Pujols has turned into a good but not great bat and Hamilton has fallen apart.

Now the Angels are pretty much broke with a payroll of $150M and their offense consists of Trout, Pujols, Calhoun and Freese. Freese is a free agent this offseason and the Angels probably won't be able to resign him. As a result, the Angels have to wonder what may have been if they had used their payroll more effectively and are in payroll hell until 2018 when they'll have $61M going to just Pujols and Trout.

The Orioles could go after Davis but he'll take away financial flexibility both now and in the future. If he goes from superstar to just good then it could haunt the Orioles for the next seven years because the Orioles' payroll would be mostly eaten up by Davis, Jones and Machado.

That said, I gave serious thought into going after him anyway. It's a huge risk but going small will just eat up payroll and probably won't work either. If Davis does stay a superstar then a Jones, Machado, Davis and Schoop offense can be effective even if surrounded by junk.

Philip said...

These are interesting proposals but they all seem to ignore something: we don't have the trade assets to add anything significant, and we don't have the money to buy enough free agent quality to make a serious impact.
Napoli would be a terrible choice: he's old and injured and limited even at his best.
I'm unsure what pitchers would be available, affordable and excellent( and if you're not getting excellent, why waste millions?)
But why not wait until the non-tenders happen?
We chose badly when we picked up Wesley Wright last year, but Ryan Webb was a pretty good pickup, and we could likely find some worthwhile players among other teams non-tenders.
Remember, these aren't necessarily bad players, they are just players who weren't deemed to be worth what they'd get in arbitration. Danny Valencia was literally given away by Toronto because they had a surplus. There will be several of those guys being non-tendered.
If we can't get enough quality via trade or free agency to reasonably expect 90 wins, then why waste assets?
Sign guys from the non-tenders.
Get the QO picks from Chen/Davis/Wieters, draft well( something we haven't been doing) don't trade away any picks or slots, and build up the system for '17.
So I guess my own feeling is that Dan destroyed the system, we haven't anything to work with, so we should hunker down and hoard our assets.

Jon Shepherd said...

Nontender candidates are the sort of toss in guys that can fill the margins. Discussing 7th inning arms or heavily flawed infielders likely does not matter for the most part in this series. We will wrote about them at some point this off season, but are unlikely here. This is not to say such players cannot be a help, but it is not exactly something to plan much around. Also...Webb? He cost the team a prospect.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Matt. I knew in my comment that Pujols in STL once had higher value than Davis but he came back pretty strong this year. I actually DO think the TUE was the single biggest issue for Davis - they don't call them PEDs for nothing and I've been around ADHD types and have seen the difference. Plus, even his 2014 numbers were not totally terrible - AVG being the worst. He still had a 300+ OBA and nearly 30HRs and 80 RBIs (it would have been 30, maybe 40, without the suspension - ref Sept this year). Basic tenet - first do no harm. Both Span and Fister are high risks with very little chance of actually being better than Chen and Parra. Parra being a perfect example of buying high. Although, even at the performance level he had, he stabilized the outfield. None of these proposals carry ANY weight without the comparison of one that keeps Davis. I believe that creative contracting (aka backloading) can buy some payroll flexibility and options can shorten the guaranteed terms. Davis is absolutely good for 3-4 more years. The Yankees sure stopped bitching about A-Rod this year.

Matt Perez said...

It's not about whether Pujols is better than Davis. It's that Pujols is still good but the Angels offense isn't. I'd argue that the reason is because they've sunk their payroll into him, Trout and Hamilton and those three by themselves simply aren't good enough to carry the Angels' offense despite a top ten payroll.

Pujols is 20% better than the average hitter and not 80% better as he was in his prime. They need him to be 80% better if they want to win. It just shows how high the bar actually is for these types of players.

If the Orioles did resign Davis then it wouldn't be enough for him to be good. He'd have to be great. Does he have 3-4 more great years left in him?

Philip said...

I thought Webb was non-tendered by the Marlins, and we signed him then. He certainly cost us a pick when we dumped him however, so not only was I mistaken, the transaction was equally bad on both ends

Boss61 said...

The concept is solid but I believe we have more salary maneuvering room by about $7M or $8M per year. Invest it in a better front-line starter than Fister. OK with the rest.

Jon Shepherd said...

Philip, right the cost of a prospect was on the backend, not the front end of Webb.

Boos61, we had to stop somewhere. Payroll is a slippery slope.