22 December 2014

What if the Orioles Don't Actually Do Anything?

If you listen to Dan Duquette, then you have heard that the Orioles are not finished adding to the team, whether that's via trade or free agency. And even if you think that's true, you know by now not to believe that Duquette is completely forthright about anything. It's not his job to be 100 percent truthful. It's his job to construct a team that's able to win -- and hopefully keep winning. (Duquette is also signed to a deal through 2018, and as Peter Angelos has said, "we expect him to satisfy his contract." But that story isn't going away just yet.)

Unless you get overly excited about decent left-handed relievers or Rule 5 selections, then you're probably still waiting for the O's to make a significant transaction. If a trade or signing of note does happen, it will probably be for a corner outfielder. The O's have been linked to a plethora of outfielders -- even 41-year-old Ichiro, for some reason -- but they have yet to do anything so far. As usual, fans are waiting for something to happen.

In terms of position players, the O's roster is mostly set. Assuming everyone is healthy, there won't be many surprises. The infield is set. Perhaps the O's target another catcher, depending on Matt Wieters's timetable. And Adam Jones will obviously patrol center field. And on the pitching staff, the O's mostly have the collection of pitchers they want, but they will need to decide which five starters they want in the rotation out of six options.

But then things get interesting. Steve Pearce, Alejandro De Aza, and David Lough are the three best options the O's have now to get significant playing time at both corner outfield positions. On the O's 40-man roster, there's also Quintin Berry, Henry Urrutia, and the recently acquired Alex Hassan. Dariel Alvarez, who's likely to start the year in Norfolk, is also another wild card. But Pearce and De Aza seem like the two who will play the most, with Lough likely filling in frequently as a late-game defensive replacement.

Even if the O's do add another outfielder, it seems obvious that they are reluctant to take too many plate appearances away from Pearce. It would not be wise to expect Pearce to be nearly as good as his 161 wRC+ in 383 plate appearances in 2014, but there are reasons to believe he is still a pretty good and useful player. Whether it's in the outfield, at first base, or at DH, he should be in the lineup often.

As Pat wrote in November, the O's outfield will be fine without Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. The O's lineup will look weird without Cruz and especially Markakis, and they could take a step back in the power department without Cruz. But Cruz, Markakis, and Andrew Miller signed contracts worth a combined $137 million this offseason. Even factoring in arbitration raises and salary increases, the O's saved a chunk of money by not bringing any of those three back. Certainly they can afford to bring in another couple of pieces, whether that's an outfielder, catcher, or reliever.

But that also might not happen, though the O's have shown that they are adept at playing the waiting game. Several free agents make sense. But maybe the O's know something we don't about Pearce. De Aza is also a pretty useful player when used properly -- and Buck Showalter will use him properly. If the O's end up not bringing anyone else aboard, maybe that says more about the hand they are currently holding -- or maybe just the hand they believe they are holding.

As Drew Fairservice wrote in his FanGraphs post on Pearce linked above, "The Baltimore Orioles are good at many things. Their greatest skill is probably confounding expectations. The rest of the league zigs and then the O’s zag their way into the playoffs, twice in the last three seasons." Right now, according to FanGraphs' projected standings, the O's are projected to finish last in the American League East (79-83). It would be hard to argue that the Blue Jays, Red Sox, and Yankees haven't improved this offseason; the O's also lost talent of their own. And sure, the offseason isn't over yet; just ask the Padres. I don't think the O's should be done making moves, but they do deserve the benefit of the doubt. They've shown the last few years that they know what they're doing, and it appears as if they will be overlooked again.


Berdj Rassam said...

Well, they have a decent team, but they have to make some positive additions to make themselves a World Series contender.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Well, they're not signing Max Scherzer or James Shields, though doing so wouldn't make them a World Series favorite anyway. No other free agents would boost their roster all that much. But they do have some areas they could upgrade, and they very well might do that.

Unknown said...

I expect Duquette does something that surprises us all but I doubt its a name anyone has heard. The free agents available are underwhelming at best.

Rasmus would have to be cheap because the Orioles wouldn't use him as a CF.

Can he find the next Bruce Chen or Miguel Gonzales from some unlikely place? Resigning Delmon Young makes sense to me.

Is Pearce, de Aza, Lough, Young a good enough LF, RF, DH, backup OF, and backup 1B? Pretty good value and used properly those 4 could produce quite nicely.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I think Young will be back, too, for what it's worth. But will that OF/DH group be good enough? It's a good question.

Would Duquette be able to pull off a trade? The Padres have shown that you can pick up some pretty good players without necessarily parting with No. 1 or 2 prospects. Perhaps the O's would be willing to take that chance, though their farm system isn't as deep as San Diego's.