The Orioles had a very eventful off-season. They resigned Matt Wieters, Darren O’Day and Chris Davis, traded for Mark Trumbo and added Yovani Gallardo, Mike Carp and Pedro Alvarez. In order to make all of these additions, they had to open up the checkbook as payroll is at $145M according to Cots. It's impossible to argue that the Orioles are trying to build this club on the cheap. But despite all of these additions, the projections sure don’t like the Orioles very much. PECOTA thinks the Orioles are a 74 win team while Fangraphs thinks they’ll win 80 games. Turns out that $145M doesn't go very far in the free agent market. It doesn't seem like they've used their resources efficiently.
Part of the Orioles’ problem is that the projection systems think that the Orioles have weak projected starting pitching and minimal pitching depth. If things go wrong, and Spring Training hasn’t gone well for them so far, then this is going to be a long season for the bullpen. But I’d argue that the Orioles major problem is that they didn’t sign Ian Desmond and David Freese.
Ian Desmond isn’t a particularly good hitter. He did have a poor 2015 in which he only had a wRC+ of 83, but his wRC+ was 128 in 2012, 116 in 2013 and 108 in 2014. It seems reasonable to presume that he’s trending downwards. He’s considered to have above-average range as a shortstop but has a lot of errors per year. Pretty soon, he’ll be unable to play shortstop and he doesn’t have a good enough bat to be a strong outfield option.
Ian Desmond does well when he puts the ball into play as he’s typically in the 70th to 80th percentile. However, nearly half of the pitches he’s put into play have been ground balls since 2013 good for around the 70th or 80th percentile since 2014. He has comparatively good production when making that kind of contact, but I’m worried about what happens to his production when he starts to lose power and speed. Desmond typically has poor BB/K ratios and fails to put enough pitches into play. His plate discipline isn’t going to carry him.
I think that Steamer and ZIPs are a bit low on him, but I think they have the right idea for what one can expect from him going forward. I see him as a league average batter that can play passable defense at a number of positions.
David Freese also isn’t a particularly good hitter. He also reached his peak in 2012, and for the past three years has been slightly above average with the bat. But he does not have significant power nor does he boast above average OBPs. Speed isn’t his biggest virtue as he’s had 1 season where he’s had over 1 stolen base and his defense is questionable. Aside from that, he typically misses significant time each season due to his struggles to remain healthy.
Freese also is primarily a groundball hitter with a 55% ground ball rate since 2013 and typically is in the 90th percentile in putting ground balls into play. As his speed and power begin to degrade, his ability to be successful when putting pitches into play will struggle. One of these days in the next few years, he’s going to be unable to contribute to a club. Until then, one should expect league average production from him and passable if not average defense.
I don’t think these players are very good. Then again, the fact that they received about $11 million combined suggests that front office don’t think much of them either. So, why do I think that the Orioles biggest problem wasn’t signing them?
The Orioles have a very interesting offensive structure at the moment. Players like Schoop, Machado, Jones and Joseph both have decent bats and are able to play premium defensive positions. Wieters will also be a huge help to the offense and defense if his elbow isn’t ruined. Chris Davis is likely to lock down 1B.
Aside from those positions, the Orioles have question marks. JJ Hardy will likely at least be a good defensive option at shortstop if he’s healthy enough to play. If he isn’t, the Orioles will likely need to choose between Machado, Flaherty or Janish at shortstop. Reimold may be able to lock down a corner outfield position if he could stay healthy, but that seems unlikely. Hyun-Soo Kim appears to have below average fielding ability at LF and is having a horrendous Spring Training. Players like Trumbo and P. Alvarez are able to hit, but will be disasters in the field. Players like Avery, Hoes or D. Alvarez would be acceptable in the field, but aren’t the best hitters.
The Orioles have a decent number of offensive pieces but the pieces they do have don’t fit together. It's sort of like a 500 piece puzzle after your toddler has gone to town on it. As far as I can tell, the Orioles likely will have 2 DHs, 2 1B/LF, a catcher, utility man, center fielder, second baseman and third baseman in the projected everyday lineup. If other players than Reimold and Hardy are injured, then the Os will quickly need to resort to hoping to receive production from replacement level players. Not to mention that Trumbo in RF is going to be awfully interesting.
There’s some window dressing that the Orioles can do. Presuming Hardy is injured, they can put Machado at SS and Flaherty at 3B. That would probably be decent defensively; although Flaherty doesn’t have a good enough bat to play regularly. They can put Davis in RF and Trumbo at 1B every once in a while. That’s not ideal, but it would be a slight upgrade.
Adding Ian Desmond and David Freese would have changed that. If JJ Hardy is unable to play as expected, then Ian Desmond would be able to play shortstop. Now it looks like the Orioles can look forward to having Flaherty play there for 100 games this season. When Hardy is healthy, Ian Desmond would be able to play defense in an outfield corner. Likewise, Freese is an acceptable piece to play at 1B, 3B or possibly corner outfield.
With those two players, the Orioles could have had the following offensive players on their roster: Wieters, Davis, Schoop, Hardy, Machado, Kim, Jones, Desmond, Trumbo, P. Alvarez, Joseph, Freese and Reimold. Flaherty could be stashed in the minors (he has options remaining) and used as the utility player when Hardy was on the DL. Alvarez and Freese make excellent depth pieces that can also be used regularly to give stars an occasional day off. Reimold and Kim could compete for a starting spot in the outfield and if both were ineffective could be replaced in the outfield by Trumbo or Freese. Given the Orioles lack of talent in Norfolk, having a few guys like that on the bench would have been nice.
Of course, money is a factor. The Orioles have already spent a lot of money and another roughly $10M would make a huge impact on the budget. In addition, Desmond would have cost the Orioles’ a pick. On the other hand, the Orioles as currently constituted have a lot of questions. Adding those two pieces would have gone a long way to giving the Orioles some well needed depth. As it is, the Orioles have a $145M roster with pieces that don't quite fit together.