This is the second post in a series by Camden Depot staff writers exploring what the Orioles should do this offseason to get back to the playoffs in 2017. It should be noted that this exercise does not include trades, though it's unlikely the O's make a major move in that regard. These posts focus on roster construction and free agent decisions. Enjoy!
The one good thing about this offseason for the Orioles is that they don't have a bunch of decisions to make if they don't want to. The 2016 Orioles won 89 games and earned a spot in the American League wild card game, so, for the most part, they can run things back next season. The most crucial question is what to do about impending free agents Matt Wieters and Mark Trumbo. Both are good players, but neither is a superstar. And if both were to walk, the Orioles still have a talented core.
While the O's may not have a bunch of decisions to make, there doesn't appear to be much flexibility in terms of payroll. This past season, the Orioles had a payroll of about $147 million. Before arbitration in 2017, the Orioles have around $95 million to eight players tied up in salary. But factoring in arbitration is when things get dicey.
The Orioles' arbitration-eligible players are estimated to earn about $50 million. The big three of those arbitration players includes Manny Machado, Zach Britton, and Chris Tillman, who could all receive about $11 million apiece. (See MLB Trade Rumors' full list of arbitration salary projections for next season.)
Machado, Britton, and Tillman are no-brainers. They're good players (phenomenal in the cases of Machado and Britton), and you pay them what they're worth. The same goes for Jonathan Schoop, Brad Brach, and Kevin Gausman.
But what about Ryan Flaherty ($1.7M), Vance Worley ($3.3M), T.J. McFarland ($700K), and Caleb Joseph ($1M)? Joseph isn't going anywhere, and he shouldn't. There's no way the Orioles opt to move on from Wieters and Joseph in the same offseason. McFarland is due to make even less than Joseph, but the need for him is not as crucial. Plus, like Flaherty, he's now out of options.
Out of the four questions marks, I'd non-tender Worley and McFarland. McFarland isn't all that good, has struggled to stay healthy, and doesn't fill a position of serious need. The Orioles very well may carry all six starting pitchers -- Tillman, Gausman, Wade Miley, Ubaldo Jimenez, Dylan Bundy, and Yovani Gallardo -- next season, meaning that's one bullpen spot already filled by a swingman type. Plus, the Orioles also have Tyler Wilson, Mike Wright, and Parker Bridwell (among others) who could duke it out for another mop-up, long reliever slot.
If the O's somehow dump one of Jimenez or Gallardo, then it might be worth keeping Worley around. But there are only so many OK pitchers you can keep who don't have options, and there are only so many spots in the bullpen. And I really, really don't want the Orioles to tender him a contract and then ship him off with a competitive balance pick in the spring just to get rid of his moderate salary. That's a poor use of resources, and it should stop happening.
As for Flaherty, the Orioles don't seem to have someone else in their organization capable of a utility player role. Perhaps the O's could bring back Paul Janish and save a little money (maybe around $1 million). I wouldn't be against that, but again, we aren't talking about much. It is nice, too, to have a reliable and versatile glove around. That also describes Janish.
After accounting for players under contract and arbitration raises, the Orioles are already at about $140 million. Now the fun starts, because it's qualifying offer time.
Matt Wieters and Mark Trumbo
Let's just get right to it: Should the Orioles extend both Wieters and Trumbo qualifying offers (which will be $17.2 million next season)? That would be a calculated risk to acquire two extra draft picks, but it might also be something the Orioles simply will not do.
One-year deals are low-risk maneuvers, but potentially tying up more than $34 million next season in those two players would almost certainly lead to the O's doing very little else with the roster. But here's the thing: The Orioles might be cash-strapped anyway, which would be an argument for offering both. If both players were to somehow accept the qualifying offer, that would bump the team payroll to nearly $175 million while still needing at least one or two players to fill out the rest of the roster.
Despite the risk, I'd still offer both. Wilson Ramos's torn ACL catapulted Wieters to the top of the free agent catchers list, and it wouldn't be hard to see a team in search of a moderate upgrade at catcher offering Wieters a deal of at least three years. Wieters isn't great by any means, but he'd be a good enough addition for a handful of teams. If he's willing to sacrifice that money to stick around another year in Baltimore, then so be it. It's not ideal to offer him $17 million for one season. It wasn't ideal to have him back for $15.8 million in 2016. But yet another year gets you one step closer to figuring out if Joseph's awful season was a blip on the radar, and also to Chance Sisco's eventual promotion (whether he sticks at catcher or not).
As for Trumbo, the O's still need his bat. The problem is, unless you tether him to the DH spot or play him at first base (both unlikely), you can't get his bat without his outfield glove. He also seems to hit a bit better when he's actually playing in the field.
Like Wieters, Trumbo should be in the market for a lucrative multiyear deal, so it would be tough to imagine him forgoing that money just because he liked the Orioles' clubhouse and winning culture. Still, it's possible. The qualifying offer is now large enough for players to consider taking it, which was demonstrated last year when Wieters, Colby Rasmus, and Brett Anderson became the first players to accept it.
Both would probably reject it, so you'd have to plan for otherwise. But if the Orioles could manage around it, that large of a payroll would be a one-year thing. Look at the list of free agents the O's could have after the 2017 season (other than Wieters and Trumbo): Ubaldo Jimenez, J.J. Hardy ($2M buyout), Yovani Gallardo ($2M buyout), Chris Tillman, Wade Miley ($500K buyout), and Hyun Soo Kim. Sure, there will be another round of arbitration raises and several roster holes to fill, but that would be even more money coming off the books.
So the first option would be to offer both players and see what happens. Running things back with the same cast of characters might not be ideal, but there are much worse things.
And then the next, more likely option is that Trumbo and Wieters, or at least one of the two, declines the qualifying offer. Not only does that net you an extra draft pick or two, but it frees up money to improve the roster in other ways.
The Orioles' (opening day) payroll will almost certainly surpass $150 million this year, but what you think the team will do in free agency depends on how much higher you think it'll go. Could it approach $160 million? Anything much higher than that seems out of the question.
Let's say $160 million is the max. Perhaps that's unrealistic considering the Orioles went from a team payroll of $108 million in 2014 to $119 million in 2015 to $147 million in 2016. That 2015-2016 jump was quite large, but let's stick with the increasing pattern. Without Trumbo/Wieters, the O's would be at about $140 million. That leaves about $20 million for an outfielder or two, a 1B/DH type, and a second catcher.
The returning group of outfielders includes Adam Jones, Kim, and Joey Rickard. I would not bring back Nolan Reimold or Drew Stubbs. I also would not bring back Steve Pearce, at least with any kind of expectation for him to play the outfield regularly. The Orioles are well aware of Pearce's limitations, and the last thing they would need is for him to get injured again playing the outfield.
In center field, there's Jones. He'll be there for the next couple of years as long as he's healthy. The O's do view Rickard as a viable backup center fielder, so it's not a requirement that whomever they sign has those defensive skills. But it wouldn't hurt.
In left field, there's Kim. If you read this site often or follow me on Twitter (sorry), you know I've questioned (relentlessly, you might say) why Kim wasn't playing more often. He led the team in on-base percentage by a wide margin, was one of the team's only options to diversify a power-heavy lineup, and isn't necessarily just a platoon bat (as argued by Jon last week). Perhaps defensive limitations led to him not playing more. According to Defensive Runs Saved data, he was a -13 defender. For reference, Trumbo was -11, Jones was -10, and Rickard was -8. You know Trumbo is a bad outfielder, and also that the advanced metrics are not always kind to Jones. For Kim and Rickard, that's only one season's worth of data (and not a full season for either). Kim has a bad arm, but I have a hard time seeing him as that terrible in the field. The same goes for Rickard.
Regardless, Kim showed that his hit tool plays in the major leagues. The O's need to take advantage of having him under contract for one more season and deploy him more often. His on-base skills are a must at the top of the lineup -- I'd bat Kim first and Machado second -- and it's worth giving him extended at-bats to see if he can tread water against left-handed pitching. Batting him leadoff against right-handed pitching but ninth against left-handers would not be unreasonable. It's not a perfect option, but even sticking him in the lineup at DH wouldn't be terrible.
With Kim in left and Jones in center, that means Rickard needs a platoon partner in right field. A full-time right fielder would be wonderful, but with only about $20 million to spend, that doesn't seem likely. There are some enticing names for sure -- Dexter Fowler, Ian Desmond, Josh Reddick -- but they are too expensive (plus, there's little to no chance Fowler ever dons an Orioles uniform after last offseason's drama).
So here are a few left-handed bats that could make sense, with their BORAS projections in parentheses:
Michael Saunders (two years, $20M)
Colby Rasmus (two years, $23M)
Brandon Moss (one year, $9.5M)
Matt Joyce (one year, $9M)
Jon Jay (two years, $20M)
Jay Bruce (one year, $7M)
Michael Bourn (minors deal, up to $6.5M in incentives)
Out of those options, my first choice would be Moss (though Jay is intriguing as a more versatile defensive outfielder and Bruce is pretty cheap). Moss is a decent enough outfielder (and able to play first base as well) who can hit. I don't want any part of Saunders or Joyce as regular outfielders, and Rasmus on any kind of multiyear deal is kind of scary. It also seems that if the O's were truly sold on him before, they would have brought him on board a couple years ago. Still, Moss will probably command a multiyear offer of some kind, and a fit doesn't seem all that likely.
I'm not a huge proponent of Michael Bourn, but it's easy to see how he would again fit on this team. He demonstrated that in limited time after the team acquired him on August 31. I'm not sure he'll get a minor league deal, but he shouldn't cost much. And it's hard not to like the speed and decent glove, even if his bat is a concern.
Thanks in part to a ridiculous .471 BABIP, Bourn actually hit better against left-handed pitching than right-handed pitching last season (122 wRC+ vs. 69). But career wise, he's better against right-handers (92 wRC+ vs. 76). Neither of those is great, but the main reason to sign Bourn isn't his bat. He'd serve as the second piece of an interesting (though surely not great) platoon with Rickard, and he'd also be a nice defensive and baserunning option late in games.
For the fifth outfielder/bench bat, I'd either sign someone to a minor league/minimum deal or give someone like Dariel Alvarez a shot. He doesn't seem like any kind of answer at the plate, but the glove seems adequate in corner outfield (and he has an outstanding arm). Barring injury, he wouldn't play much anyway.
Possible DH options:
Mike Napoli (1 year, $10M)
Adam Lind (1 year, $8M)
Pedro Alvarez (1 year, $8M)
I feel pretty strongly on this one: The Orioles need someone who can hit left-handed pitching after a disastrous year against southpaws.
Could that guy be Trey Mancini? It would be fantastic if that guy could be Trey Mancini. But I'd feel more confident in someone like Mike Napoli (career 142 wRC+ vs. LHP), or even Pearce (career 130 wRC+ vs. LHP). BORAS has Pearce at three years and $39 million, which seems far-fetched. After undergoing surgery on his right forearm, Pearce may indeed be in the market for another one-year deal.
Napoli turns 35 soon, so there's always the chance he could fall off the proverbial cliff. Not every DH ages like David Ortiz (thankfully). He'll also want a multiyear deal, but that doesn't seem all that likely for someone with his skill-set.
I like Pedro Alvarez, and it wouldn't be a surprise at all to see him return. If/when Trumbo departs, the Orioles could definitely use another big bat, even if it's a left-handed one. I'd prefer Napoli, though.
Jason Castro (2 years, $20M)
Kurt Suzuki (1 year, $8M)
Alex Avila (2 years, $20M)
You know what isn't much to work with in free agency? $20 million. I guess this is how the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A's feel every year. With Bourn and Napoli on board, the O's could have anywhere from $4 to $6 million (maybe) to spend. That's not a lot.
In terms of a catching duo, it would be nice to have a left-handed hitting catcher to pair with Joseph. Castro or Avila would present an interesting fit, but the money might not be there. If the O's went with Mancini as the regular DH over Napoli or Pearce, etc., then yes, it would be. Other than that, there aren't a whole lot of options.
Maybe the likeliest alternative is a reunion with one-time Oriole Nick Hundley. Hundley is an OK hitter for a catcher but not a well-regarded defender or pitch framer. He's also 33 and just completed a two-year, $6.25 million deal, so he shouldn't cost much. As the superior defensive option, Joseph should receive the majority of the playing time.
Would you be happy with an offseason where the most notable additions are Mike Napoli, Michael Bourn, and Nick Hundley? No, probably not. But that's what can happen when you have a few players on hefty contracts and also a handful of good players going through arbitration. Money gets tight in a hurry.
Even still, having Napoli and Bourn around for an entire season should help the O's in two important areas: hitting left-handers and outfield defense. And getting creative with a pitching trade or two or choosing to give Mancini an extended look would free up some money to use, most likely for a better outfield option. The Orioles surely can't afford any of the expensive outfield options, but it would be a bonus to have a regular corner outfielder playing who is actually useful with the glove.
If the Orioles are going to again approach the 90-win mark and make a push for the playoffs, in all likelihood they'll need to rely on a hopefully improved starting rotation; better seasons from Chris Davis, Adam Jones, and Caleb Joseph; and another dominant year from the bullpen. When you look at it that way, it's far from unreasonable.