04 November 2013

Making the Orioles a Champion in 2014: The Moves the Orioles Should Make

This post is part of the Making the Orioles a Champion in 2014 Series.  Below you will find links to the other articles.  We will do our best to make sure the links go live with each new update.
C | 1B | 2B (12) | 3B | SSLF | CF | RF | DH | Bench | SP (1, 2) | RHRPLHRP | Conclusion

A sight for 2014 | photo by Keith Allison
Over the past month or so the writers here at the Depot have put forward their best ideas as to how Dan Duquette could improve the team and make the squad a winner in 2014.  The basic way we initiated this concept was to ask ourselves for each position we were assigned, what is the best way to maintain the position to move this ball club forward in a realistic way.  A major challenge is figuring out what exactly that means in terms of having the money to throw around to buy any piece one's heart desires.  In other words, this will not be a column where we call for the team to sign Shin-Soo Choo, Masahiro Tanaka, Brian McCann, Kendrys Morales, and Matt Garza.  Instead we will try to figure out some more realistic scenarios for improvement.

Again, be sure to check out the other articles in this series.  We all acted independently and I took on their advice on how this team should improve, but I did not fully agree with them on every point and it is unlikely that it is financially possible to meet all of the demands in those pieces.

2013 Payroll and Implications for 2014

Plausible arguments can be made that there are three potential payroll numbers for the 2014 Orioles:

95 MM.  When it was all said and done the Orioles spent roughly 95 MM on payroll.  This includes the mid-season acquisitions of Scott Feldman, Bud Norris, Francisco Rodriguez, and Michael Morse as well as the departures of Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop.  The conservative estimate is that 95 MM is the extent of the team's payroll possibilities.  They did not go big in the International Market for Blue Chip talent nor did they really overspend with respect to what one is capable of during in the Rule 4 draft.  It is probably a sufficient assumption that 95 MM is a realistic floor.

105 MillionLast year, I suggested that the team could increase payroll about 10 MM to 94 MM.  This number was based on a napkin scratch (not shown) that  was supported by amount of assumed take home profit that the team stands to gain from a single fan is around $30.  There was not a lot of hard line methodology behind that.  It was supported only by what I thought was a fair approximation of what the team cut is; an increase of 10 MM.  The Orioles hit that number right on the dot, which is probably a major bit of coincidence.  Regardless, I think it probably sets a nice mid-level target for 2014 payroll.  Here is an updated table showing the last three years.

Attendance MM+ '11 ($30) Payroll
2011 1,755,461 -- 87
2012 2,102,240 10 84
2013 2,357,551 18 95
Based on that very simple approximation, I think the mid-level expectation is that this team could increase payroll 8 MM to 103 MM in order to reflect the increase in attendance.

115 MM.  Based on some discussions I have had, there will be an increase in team allotment from MLBAM of about 10 MM.  I am not sure to what extent the team actually sees that money against what is taken in taxes and for reinvestment in MLB.  Let's assume that the 10 MM is a true increase, one that affects all MLB teams (which will likely have an impact in the free agent market by driving up prices another 10% over their expect 5% increase this off season).  That leaves the team at around 115 MM for spending.

A Note About Any Trades Suggested in This Piece
Trades are always a difficult thing to realistically tease apart.  In light of that, the only deals I will be engaging in with this post are ones that are money saving considerations where the team brings back prospects who are not ready for prime time.  Basically, your typical single and double A players.  In all likelihood, the team will engage themselves in a fringe veteran (e.g. Jason Hammel), but I will not assume that my toe in the trade waters are sensitive enough to detect who that will be.

Current Obligations

The table below lists all of the current obligations the Orioles currently have.  This means any potential salary allotment for players like Brian Roberts, Francisco Rodriguez, Michael Morse, Scott Feldman, Nate McLouth, Jason Hammel, and Chris Snyder are not to be included.  Values in italics mean that I have assumed an action to be made and boldness reflects our assumption of what the salary of the player will be after arbitration.  Another fair question is why I have included all controlled players on the 40 man roster as being worth 0.27 MM.  This value was derived as the average value of 40 man roster non-arbitration players based on minimum MLB salary (0.49 MM) and 40 man roster AAA salary (0.082).  The information in this table is a reflection of information gathered at Baseball Reference and MLB Trade Rumors.

Age  Service 2014 (MM)
J.J. Hardy  30 7.164 7
Nick Markakis  29 7 15
Adam Jones  27 5.139 13
Alexi Casilla  28 5.038 0.2 buy out
Jim Johnson  30 4.165 10.8
Darren O'Day  30 4.103 3.2
Dan Johnson  33 3.151 0.8
Matt Wieters  27 3.129 7.9
Steve Pearce  30 3.116 1.1
Bud Norris  28 3.068 5
Tommy Hunter  26 3.066 3.1
Chris Davis  27 3.061 10
Nolan Reimold  29 3.004 1.2
Chris Dickerson  31 2.171 0.7
Brian Matusz  26 2.156 2.1
Troy Patton  27 2.15 1.2
Danny Valencia  28 2.02 0.27
Zach Britton  25 1.117 0.27
Chris Tillman  25 1.113 0.27
Miguel Gonzalez  29 1.107 0.27
Jason Pridie  29 1.047 0.27
Steve Clevenger  27 1.01 0.27
Wei-Yin Chen  27 1 4.07
Ryan Flaherty  26 1 0.27
Josh Stinson  25 0.058 0.27
Steve Johnson  25 0.056 0.27
Manny Machado  20 0.056 0.27
Dylan Bundy  20 0.015 1.25
T.J. McFarland  24 0 0.27
Mike Belfiore  24 0 0.27
Kevin Gausman  22 0 0.27
Jonathan Schoop  21 0 0.27
Henry Urrutia  26 0 0.27

The final tally for obligations is 91.7 MM before any roster movement.  Last week, Chris Dickerson and Dan Johnson were released, opening up 1.5 MM.  I will round that down to 90 MM.

Proposed Moves

Low (95 MM)
Released - Nolan Reimold (saves 1.2 MM - 88.8 MM payroll)
Traded - Jim Johnson for 2 B level prospects (saves 10 MM - 78.8 MM payroll)
Signed -  Nate McLouth (2/12 MM), Eric Chavez (1/4 MM), and Joe Smith (2/8 MM) (92.8 MM payroll)
Surplus - 2.2 MM for additional moves in season.
Regarding Nolan Reimold, I still believe he has the ability to be a late bloomer with his plus power, but there are lingering concerns about his health and some inconsistency in performance over his career.  I would be very interested in offering him a Minor League Contract with a Spring Training invite.  If he is not interested, I am not incredibly concerned.  This organization is not lacking in left field talent even though they may not exactly have Reimold's flickering potential.

For this team, there is no reason why the club would even consider using a tenth of their payroll for a closer no matter how elite Johnson might be.  Other teams with larger available money for payroll would likely be interested in Johnson.  Those teams would be likely playoff contenders, so it is unlikely the Orioles would see a meaningful MLB quality player in return.  Instead, they would probably settle for two B level prospects.  Perhaps the Tigers (RHP Jake Thompson and 2B Devon Travis), Reds (OF Jesse Winker and RHP Dan Corcino), or the Rangers (2B Rougned Odor and C Jorge Alfaro -- Odor's inclusion could be incredibly wishful thinking) would be interested in an established closer.  Maybe not.  Regardless, the team needs to find a way to reduce the cost of their bullpen.

Additions would include resigning Nate McLouth as well as signing Eric Chavez and Joe Smith.  McLouth would be good to bring back because he is sufficient in left and has a platoon split in the proper direction for a starting left fielder.  He is however a large probability guy for a complete breakdown in ability due to performance issues last season and age.  Chavez can still hit, but has trouble staying healthy.  If Machado needs to begin the season a month or so late, Chavez could spell third for a few games a week and be a major upgrade over Ryan Flaherty.  He also should be able to stay rather healthy hitting from the DH slot in tandem with Steve Pearce.  Finally, Smith dominates right handers and is above average against lefties.  Used primarily as a setup man, he has the ability to compete for a closer job against Darren O'Day and Tommy Hunter.

Middle (105 MM)
Released - Nolan Reimold (saves 1.2 MM - 88.8 MM payroll)
Traded - Jim Johnson for 2 B level prospects (saves 10 MM - 78.8 MM payroll)
Signed -  Nate McLouth (2/12 MM), Franklin Gutierrez (1/3 MM) Eric Chavez (1/4 MM), Scott Feldman (3/24 MM) and Joe Smith (2/8 MM) (100.8 MM payroll)
Surplus - 1.2 MM for additional moves in season.
Basically, read the three paragraphs in the Low Payroll section to cover most of the moves here.  The two added moves here are OF Franklin Gutierrez and RHP Scott Feldman.

Gutierrez has been hurt by injuries the last three years with some of that related to have Celiac's Disease, a real allergic reaction to gluten.  One of the benefits of playing in Seattle is that the medical center there is a premier center for Celiac's research (or at least it was 10 years ago).  Johns Hopkins, coincidentally, also has an excellent program (or at least they did 10 years ago).  Anyway, that may be something Baltimore has to offer.  That convenience might be useful because Gutierrez might be hoping for a starting position.  Earlier in his career, he profiled as an elite defensive center fielder with an above average bat.  My intention would be to sign him to spell McLouth against southpaws as well as provide an exceptional glove to backup Adam Jones in centerfield.  I think this would be an excellent bet to make.  Perhaps in a reduced role, Gutierrez would be able to stay healthy over a full season.

If Gutierrez is reluctant to sign on as a backup, maybe Rajai Davis or Andres Torres would be willing to be platoon left fielders and backup center fielders.  Rajai Davis spent last year with the Blue Jays and has expressed a strong desire to find a full time starting position for 2014.  Davis is a plus defender and an above average bat against southpaws while being completely hamstrung by right handers.  It is difficult to imagine anyone other than a team like the Marlins or Astros to give him a full time position.  Andres Torres is not quite the defender he used to be, but he is adequate in center and above average in left.  He is a platoon hitter, but not as extreme as Gutierrez or Davis.  He would be my third target for this role.

Scott Feldman is a decent three or four slot pitcher.  His presence enables the team to shift one of the starters down to the bullpen.  The arrangement would find either Bud Norris, the obvious choice, or Miguel Gonzalez, the less considered choice, to be relegated to the pen.  It may surprise you that I would prefer to ship Miguel Gonzalez to the pen as opposed to the infamous platoon splitted Bud Norris.  Why?  With nearly two seasons under his belt, Miguel Gonzalez has shown that he is quite effective against both left handed and right handed batters (718 vs 694 OPS splits), but suffers greatly as he goes through the lineup up two (+.025 OPS) or three (+.181 OPS) times.  I think he could be an excellent closer.  However, if you wish for Smith or O'Day or Hunter to be the closer then Bud Norris would fit well as a third or fourth right hander in the pen.  I would prefer he would not be exposed to lefties in high leverage situations.

High (115 MM)
Released - Nolan Reimold (saves 1.2 MM - 88.8 MM payroll)
Traded - Jim Johnson for 2 B level prospects (saves 10 MM - 78.8 MM payroll)
Signed -  Nate McLouth (2/12 MM), Franklin Gutierrez (1/3 MM), Eric Chavez (1/4 MM), Masahiro Tanaka (5/60 MM and 60 MM posting fee) and Joe Smith (2/8 MM) (114.8 MM payroll)
Surplus - With money allotted for part of the posting fee, minimal additional capital for moves in season.

The difference between the High and Medium scenarios is the selection of Masahiro Tanaka instead of Feldman.  I have written before about Tanaka and how I think he is the only elite pitcher on the market this offseason and one that won't cost a draft pick in compensation.  If Tanaka is considered unattainable (i.e., posting fee escalates over 80 MM or if Tanaka has no interest in coming to Baltimore--based on rumors of the new posting arrangement, the postee will have his choice between three winning bids) then I would suggest that the Orioles seek out Scott Feldman and reclamation project Josh Johnson (2/22 MM).

In the latter situation, Feldman and Johnson in the starting rotation would drop Norris and Gonzalez into the pen.  This would mean that either the team would not seek out Joe Smith or that they could choose to see what they could get for Tommy Hunter in a deal.  I think for a minimal increase in salary that Smith would be a significant upgrade over Hunter.  With that move, the team would have between 3 and 4 MM in surplus to use during the season.

Bonus Round - Extensions

If Matt Wieters and Chris Davis sign extensions, then it is likely that they will take higher pay later in exchange for freeing up money this season.  This might mean an additional 4 or 5 MM in room for payroll.  For the Low payroll team, that could mean resigning Scott Feldman.  That room for the Mid payroll team could result in the squad being able to sign a reclamation project like local boy Gavin Floyd.  Another three or four million on the High payroll team would mean more in-season flexibility in the Tanaka scenario or maybe firming up 2B with Mark Ellis in the Feldman-Johnson situation.


Anonymous said...

How do these moves make the Orioles a contender and not just another 85 win team? The $115M version could elevate them to the 90-95 win range needed to contend for the division and wild card, but the other versions keep them exactly where they are now which is just off the pace of the Rays and Red Sox.

Ben said...

Chavez seems like a good fit for next year's team (though wouldn't he platoon with Valencia at DH?), but I think that Chris Young fits better in the outfield than Gutierrez--you don't want to only sign players almost certain to break down.
My problem with all three scenarios is that--rightly or wrongly--it doesn't seem like the O's will actually deal Johnson. So why not calculate a team that includes him so that we can take a look at what we're more likely working with... Keeping Johnson, and signing McClouth, Chavez, Young, and either Feldman/Josh Johnson/Floyd could make for a successful winter if Gausman breaks through sometime next year.

Jon Shepherd said...

How do they make the O's a contender? Being an 85 win team is being a contender. At that level you have somewhere in the neighborhood of getting more than 90 wins about 15 or 20 percent of the time, so I would not undersell that footing.

I think given payroll restrictions...you have to put the best team forward and hope that more positive peculiarities occur than negative ones. At 85 wins...you really don't need much to break your way.

Jon Shepherd said...

Well, one of the written points of this article detailing the moves the team should make is that dedicating 10 MM to a closer is likely a poor use of limited resources. Therefore...whether or not Johnson will be moved is irrelevant. For this series and this post it is about what should be done.

Now, if we entertain keeping Johnson then the scenarios result in not having an additional 10 MM. Fixing that allocation of payroll can then roll down to other positions as you see fit. That said, I reiterate, the Orioles best chance to improve the team is to find a taker for Johnson and use that monet elsewhere.