07 October 2015

Blueprint For The 2016 Orioles (Option 1): Seeking A Cornerstone

Over the next week, Camden Depot will be offering a series of offseason blueprints for the Orioles to follow from our stable of writers (attn: Dan Duquette, these are free to use).  At the end of the series, Jon Shepherd will put on the Great Decider hat, run through the plans, and choose what makes most sense to him given the current structure of the franchise.  Under consideration are choices in handing out Qualifying Offers, releasing players, free agent targets, and finding a way to fit within what is a realistic, slightly generous budget of 120 MM.  If any of our readers feel the urge to write in a plan, send it to CamdenDepot@gmail.com.  Do it well and we just might consider your plan as well.

Option 1: Seeking a Cornerstone
Ryan Pollack

Qualifying Offers

Before free agency comes the qualifying offers (QO). Assuming the QO this year is about $16.4 million, I would offer them to Chris Davis, Wei-Yin Chen, and Matt Wieters, each of them can be effectively argued as above average or better non-relievers. If history is any guide, none will accept because no one has ever accepted one. (Wieters may think long and hard about it, though.) Steve Pearce and Darren O’Day worth the offer far less than $16.4 million and the goal here is not to earn the honor of being the first team to have their QO accepted.

Free Agent Philosophy

The Orioles have several mediocre starting pitchers already under contract to provide respectable pitching. Although defense is becoming more appreciated each year, defense appears to be undervalue in relation to pitching. With that in mind, a focus on defense will help make the current motley rotation by turning the large number of balls in play into outs and to prevent walks from turning into runs scored. With the infield defense locked down for the next few years, and with Adam Jones still patrolling center field, the focus should be on the outfield corners and that focus should be on better defensive help than was seen in 2015.

The top priority should be securing Jason Heyward to play right field. Heyward’s young, an above-average hitter and a great defender. Having him on base will boost the offense, and having his glove means the team can use untested rookies and scrap-heap free agents on the mound instead of springing for elite pitchers. Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, et al. may actually pitch better knowing their ground balls will be scooped up and their fly balls will be pulled down in the outfield. Plus, Heyward can spell Jones in center field when the latter needs a turn at DH and perhaps replace him there altogether during the 2017-2018.

Whatever the offer to Heyward, I don’t think it can be higher at a higher annual salary than what Adam Jones is making ($16.3 million in 2016), at least not until 2018. Logic aside, it would not look right to snub the face of the franchise that way when he’s still producing on a daily basis. Fortunately, teams do not value defense in the same way they do offense, so we can get away with a lower offer to Heyward than some projections might indicate. I would offer him $157 million over 10 years, an average annual value of $15.7 million. This is potentially less annual money than what other teams would give him, so I’m hoping the 10-year deal length will sweeten the offer.

Now the team needs an everyday left fielder. Let’s offer Denard Span for $40 million over three years, or $13.3 million/year. He is coming off an injury-plagued 2015 so may have to take a bit less money than he’d otherwise have gotten. He is another center fielder in disguise, an above-average hitter with a history of a good glove.

The last free agent move will be to re-sign Matt Wieters for $36 million over three years or $12 million/year. He should be amenable to such an offer with his last full season (2013) being so bad and after missing so much time in 2014 and 2015. He knows the organization and, in particular, the pitching staff that he’ll have to work with every day. He’s not a superstar, but he’s a known quantity and that’s good enough for me. The short-ish length is a hedge against further injuries/ineffectiveness.

Let Wei-Yin Chen walk. We’ll replace his southpaw innings with T.J. McFarland, a serviceable long relief pitcher with a high groundball rate that fits a Machado/Hardy/Schoop defense. He’ll do even better with Heyward and Span running down the occasional fly ball he allows.

Let Chris Davis walk, too. We’ll 'replace' him with Christian Walker, who’s hit well at AA Bowie and AAA Norfolk. We’ll let O’Day and Pearce walk as well. Mychal Givens will slot in as the setup guy.

Finally, let’s pay Manny Machado. He’s entering his first year of arbitration on the heels of a legitimately improved offensive season. $7 million should do the trick. I am projecting 20% raises in arbitration for all the other players on the staff and for pre-arb players to make the same as they did the year before.

If we make these moves we come in around $114 million for the 2016 season, short of the $120 million budget. I would use the remaining $6 million to sign some backups like Paul Janish to spell Hardy when he gets injured, another reliever to add to the bullpen, and maybe to bring back Nolan Reimold for $1.5 million or so. Summary of major moves:
  • Jason Heyward: $157 million / 10 years
  • Denard Span: $40 million / 3 years
  • Matt Wieters: $36 million / 3 years
  • Manny Machado: $7 million / 1 year

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...

Heyward for 10/150M is as realistic as the Orioles paying a contract that large. He will get at least 150M over 8 years.

David said...

My main objection to this plan is it relies on guys like Wright, Wilson, and McFarland to fix a rotation that continues to be in the bottom half of the league. The rotation was 18th in WAR this year, and is 23rd in WAR since 2012. We've seen that you can overcome this if you are among the top teams in offense, defense, and bullpen which the Orioles have been the last couple season. But in this scenario, the Orioles take a big hit on two of those with the losses of Davis and O'Day. I get that it might be cost effective to invest in defense than starting pitching for a team like the Orioles, but I feel like you have to at least replace a guy like Chen to keep the rotation from getting worse. Those three options don't accomplish that.

Anonymous said...

Since baseball is part theater, it's wise to keep someone who can draw paying customers. Also,it's important for the team not appear to appear to be the "farm team " for wealthier teams. Hollywood wouldn't let Chris Davis walk. He,along with Adam, JJ, Manny, and Jon,is part of a star ensemble for Oriole fans. The team won't pay for a star pitcher,so let's retain our stellar defense. Walker may become a star, but to Davis, he's an understudy. (Let's not forget that Nick and Cruz were not successfully replaced.) Orioles fans deserve the varsity.

Jon Shepherd said...

With regard to letting known players walk, this has been shown to have a slight effect on new season ticket purchases (though not retaining ticket holders) and no effect on non-season ticket holders. By and large, fans attach themselves to whoever the players are as long as the club is winning.

So I think letting a guy like Davis or Chen go will not be a death knell for attendance unless those player's performance levels are replaced. It also should be mentioned that you will be getting 2016 Davis and Chen, not 2015 Davis and Chen.

As the eventual decider, I am concerned about the pitching. The bet here seems to be that 2012 can be replicated with a Chris Tillman and a MiGo coming out of the woodwork. Heyward would be a solid addition, but I fear that the money dedicated to Wieters or Span would have to be added. Heyward's main calling card is excellent defense, which is still undervalued, but perhaps not as much as it used to be. Having Heyward as a cornerstone does give this club a brand new Markakis like talent that may be able to hold onto that talent better than Markakis did.

Anonymous said...

The 2015 Orioles scored more runs (715) than the 2014 Orioles (705). I think it is time to retire the narrative that the O's did not adequately replace Cruz and Markakis. Pitching is the problem.

Matt Perez said...

How does defense age? It's my understanding that defense degrades quicker than offense and that we see far fewer elite fielders older than 35 compared to elite hitters.

Do you think Heyward would want a ten year deal? He'll be 26/27 next year so a ten year deal would take him to 36/37. Young enough to still play in the majors but old enough to make it unlikely that he'll get more than a two year deal. Suppose he signed a five year deal meaning that he'd hit free agency again at 31/32? As long as he's effective, he'd be able to sign another seven or eight year deal. It may be a valid plan for him to take advantage of his youth and try to sign two major free agent contracts instead of just one.

The bet seems to be that the defense would be elite (Span, Jones and Heyward would be a sick defensive outfield) and make up for weak pitching.

18-1 said...

Orioles will NEVER sign someone to 10 year contract and they shouldnt. They rarely if ever work out.

Unknown said...

Anon #5 - Although the Orioles did score more runs in 2015 than in 2014, there are two problems with your conclusion that offense wasn't the problem. First, the American League average for runs scored increased from 677 to 710; the Orioles declined from 28 runs above average to 3 runs above average. Second, Camden Yards, for whatever reason, went from a park factor of 97 (3% below neutral) to 109 (9% above neutral) between 2014 and 2015. The Orioles offense did decline significantly between 2014 and 2015. I haven't worked through all the numbers, but my ROM estimate is on the order of 35-40 runs, or 5-6%.

Jon Shepherd said...

I am not too concerned about Heyward. He has very good speed, smart baserunner, and has moderate pop. Those kind of athletic players tends to age well. So I don't think he will fall into the same rut as Markakis did or, god forbid, Gerardo Parra. I think the bet is that 7 years down the line that a win on the open market is worth somewhere between 10 and 12 MM and shifting up to 14 or so by the end of the deal. In other words, you may be in a J.J. Hardy situation at the end of the contract or a Nick Markakis situation.

I also agree he would be smart to include an opt out after five year, but sign the security of a 10 year deal in case he goes to pot. His play and age has probably earned him that risk for several teams.

Span worries me most as that might be a goof chunk of change that the club might be spending while he sits on the DL. I also am concerned that with guys like McFarland out there that opposing teams will not let Jones, Heyward, and Span position themselves 10 rows behind the fence. That said, Duquette did find solutions for the pitching staff in 2012.

18-1 said...

Realistic Orioles blueprint - sign a bunch of middle of the rung free agents and extend Machado to soften the blow of the free agents leaving town. Blue Jays are the team to beat next year and the Orioles will save their money.

Jon Shepherd said...

You can make a very competitive team with mid-level free agents. One of the major issues of this club was poor play from the corner outfielders and not having much to plug in at DH. Replace those three and 1B with 700 OPS guys and you actually have a team that would have scored more runs than they did in 2015.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

O's offense in 2014: 104 wRC+ (4th in AL)
O's offense in 2015: 96 wRC+ (t-10th in AL)

O's were seventh this year in the AL in runs scored; they were sixth in 2014.

The offense wasn't the biggest problem this season; that was the collective woes of the starting rotation. But it's not an area that can't be blamed at all, as Joe noted.

The Orioles could really use a boost in the starting rotation, but it's not like the lineup can't improve as well. A lot of that offensive disappointment came from J.J. Hardy (which may not improve anytime soon) and the corner outfield (which can be upgraded). The bottom line is the Orioles need to add more talent, and that isn't cheap thing to do.

Philip said...

Why re-sign Wieters? Even if he's a better overall catcher than Joseph/Clevenger, the difference between his millions and their thousands is huge.
And I don't think he is better defensively than Joseph at all, and catcher is a defense-focused position. And the pitchers performed better with Joseph than with Wieters.
After third base, catcher is the most worry-free position.
Give Wieters the QO. If he accepts, trade him, and if he doesn't, take the pick.
But don't sign him to a long term contract when you have many more areas of need.

Unknown said...

What about Justin upton? Would you take him over Heyward? I slightly like him better especially replacing Davis bat in the lineup plus I heard him and jones are good friends