08 October 2015

Blueprint For The 2016 Orioles (Option 2): Building A Rotation

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 2: Building A Rotation
Ryan Romano

Photo — Arturo Pardavila III

Qualifying Offers

Like Ryan P. (as well as any sane person), I would give Chris Davis and Wei-Yin Chen qualifying offers; I'd also agree with him on Matt Wieters warranting one. However, I'd also extend the QO to Darren O'Day, whose dominance I really can't understate. Since he came to Baltimore in 2012, he's accrued more RA9-WAR than any other American League reliever — a skill that tends to net sizable rewards on the open market. O'Day will likely sign for David Robertson money, or at the very least Andrew Miller money. Faced with $30+ million guaranteed or $16 million, he should decline the QO. Meanwhile, I wouldn't deem Steve Pearce worthy of a QO, although I would try to bring him back (as I explain below).


Before the Orioles look for free-agent solutions for 2016, it will need to think about the years beyond that. Manny Machado, the club's best player who should regularly contend for the MVP, has only three seasons of team control left. While the Orioles have tried to extend him before, they can't focus on anything else until they resolve this. I foresee a six-year, $90 million extension, around the level of Kyle Seager. The Orioles will backload the contract, like many clubs do for players this young, so that Machado will make more by the end but will remain cheap in the short term. For 2016, I'll thus give him a $5 million salary.

Free Agent/Trade Philosophy

I'll begin by noting the set costs for the 2016 Orioles. Between their pre-arbitration players (each of whom will take home $508,000), their arbitration players (whose salaries MLB Trade Rumors has conveniently projected), and their players on contracts (J.J. Hardy, Ubaldo Jimenez, Adam Jones, and Machado), they'll have about $77 million tied up. That gives us $43 million to play around with.

Firstly, I'll let Davis, Chen, Wieters, and O'Day walk. Any contract for Davis would go above $150 million at the very least, which my first base-averse tastes will not tolerate. Chen has a decent shot at $100 million, and he'll approach that level even if he falls short. While bidding on him might not be a bad idea, he'll ultimately sign elsewhere. Caleb Joseph and Steve Clevenger should post average results at least, and at a fraction of Wieters' price. And multi-year, multi-million deals for relievers will always be a no-go for me, especially for a team with a plethora of bullpen options. Together with the Orioles' sparse farm system — which four extra draft picks would help rejuvenate — this makes for an easy decision.

Ryan P. noted that better defense can help a pitching staff improve and planned his free agency accordingly. While I certainly don't disagree with that idea, I strongly dislike the current Oriole pitchers, especially the rotation. Kevin Gausman and Ubaldo Jimenez can certainly hold their own, but their effectiveness pretty much stands alone. Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez regressed horribly in 2015; after topping their peripherals for so many years, they may have just run out of luck. Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson could help the club in the years to come, or they could wash out. And lord only knows what'll happen with Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey. If the Orioles want to return to contention in 2016, they'll need starting pitching.

To address this, I'll start with a controversial trade: Zach Britton to the Red Sox for Wade Miley and a minor leaguer or two. Britton has three years of team control left, and as one of the best relievers in baseball, he'll receive the pay of such a pitcher. MLB Trade Rumors foresees a $6.9 million (nice) salary for 2016, a figure that will likely rise for the years beyond that. With Brad Brach, Mychal Givens, Oliver Drake, Chaz Roe, Jason Garcia, Brian Matusz, and T.J. McFarland, the Orioles have relief options of all calibers — none of whom will carry that hefty a price tag. I wouldn't worry too much about the bullpen suffering in his absence.

On the flipside, the team will get Miley. He's a solid left-handed starter with a career ERA- and FIP- of 99, who gets ground balls and who improved in the later part of 2015 after a rocky beginning. The Red Sox inked him to a three-year extension (with a fourth-year club option) after trading for him last offseason, so the Orioles could have him for a couple extra seasons beyond the next one. $6 million in 2016, for an average-ish starter, sounds like a bargain to me. Losing Britton will hurt, but phasing out one of the aforementioned scrubs will ease that pain.

Then we turn to the free agent market. Among the pitchers whom the Orioles can select, Mike Leake appeals the most to me. His hamstring strain from this August notwithstanding, he's managed to consistently avoid injury, and his age — he'll turn 28 in November — means he stands a greater chance of sustaining that durability. Like Miley, he keeps the ball on the ground, while limiting free passes as well; Leake's 107 career FIP- doesn't entice me, but his 100 ERA- makes a more convincing case.

Contracts for satisfactory pitchers like Leake can vary. I expect him to top out at four years and $50 million — Ubaldo money, in other words. Leake's deal will have a slight backload in it, similar that of Jimenez, such that he'll receive $12 million in 2016 and 2017 and $13 million in 2018 and 2019. Leake has said he wants to stay with San Francisco, but if the Orioles can pry him away, he'll likely reward their efforts.

And, because you can never have too many starting pitchers, I'll take a one-year, $10 million flyer on Ian Kennedy. Although he struggled for 2015 as a whole, he progressed significantly in the year's second half. Like Leake, he strained a hamstring this year, a rare blemish on his generally spotless injury record. His fly ball tendencies may not play well in Camden Yards, but he showed as a Diamondback that he can succeed in stadiums that favor hitters. Kennedy has the potential to pitch at an above-average level; for me, that potential outweighs the risk that he'll fall back again.

So Jimenez, Gausman, Miley, Leake, Kennedy, and a cast of thousands should make for an acceptable rotation. Now we turn to the offensive side of things. With the remaining $15 million in our treasure chest, I'll bring in two position players, starting with someone Ryan P. recommended: Denard Span. His solid defense — which will help those hurlers turn balls in play into outs — will combine with solid offense to make him a solid overall player. The hip ailment that sidelined him for much of 2015 concerns me, but it also means he'll come cheaper than he would otherwise. At, say, three years and $36 million ($12 million of which will go toward 2016), he should produce enough value to help the team.

Because I'll have a few bucks left over, I'll re-up Pearce for $3 million. He hit much better in the second half of 2015, and overall his struggles seemed kind of flukish (a topic that I'll write more about in the weeks to come). With Jones in center, Span in right, and a combination of Nolan Reimold and David Lough in left, Pearce will see the majority of his time at first base, where he's displayed an outstanding glove in limited action. If he can come remotely close to his 2014 form again, he'll make this contract a bargain.

Now that I've made all of these moves, we have a regular with respectable hitters and fielders, to accompany a decent and deep rotation and a bullpen with some upside. It'll cost the Orioles a full $120 million — a slight upgrade from their 2015 spending — but another prosperous season, and possibly a playoff run, would reward any expenditure.

  • Manny Machado: $90 million / six years ($5 million 2016)
  • Wade Miley: $14.8 million / two year ($6 million 2016)
  • Mike Leake: $50 million / four years ($12 million 2016)
  • Ian Kennedy: $10 million / one year ($10 million 2016)
  • Denard Span: $36 million / three years ($12 million 2016)
  • Steve Pearce: $3 million / one year ($3 million 2016)
An earlier version of this post misstated Leake's birthday as falling in December.

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


Jon Shepherd said...

I guess I will lead off today's commentary.

First off, didn't I mention no trades? I find that market to be a bit too volatile to predict anything of consequence. That said, I do agree that Miley is available and Britton could fetch him if all parties were interested.

Beyond that, I do think the pitching staff needs reconstruction and that competent play from position players would improve the team to a playoff contender (just as they were this year). That said, are Tillman and MiGo still on the roster? Did you release them or tab them to be traded? I missed that. It seems a tandem of Tillman and MiGo would cost the same as Kennedy and perhaps have a better chance for success.

That all said, buying the bats and leaning on internal and fringe SP could also be a solution, so future suggestions should not feel in any way limited. I have made a point to not make up my mind.

Anonymous said...

I've found all of the projected FA salaries and Machado extension figures to be considerably low. Kennedy is under consideration for a QO, he will certainly get more than one year if he were not to receive a QO. Mike Leake will probably get at least five years and may be able to sniff six. Jason Heyward is going to come close to a 8/200M contract, not the 10/150M that was predicted yesterday.

Jon Shepherd said...

I agree. Many of them seem low to me as well. Leake seems close those. I have his expected contract (based on projected WAR and past performance and age) as 3/41. If four years is the special number then 4/55. If pitching is desired enough then you are looking a 5/70 or 6/85. My resolve grows faint though once we go above 4 years, but it is possible another team sees differently.

For Heyward, my projection is 10/357. However, that assumes that teams value defensive metrics equally to offensive metrics. In that case, a 10/250+ deal seems likely, so your 8/200 seems in the ballpark.

Ian Kennedy? I think a club who considers him a QO guy might be taking a big chance. He had a good but not great 2014 and sandwiched that around two poor seasons. I would be more interested in him as a guy trying to resurrect value than to secure him long term. My systemhas him at 1/8, but it tends to underpredict players who are considered "proven veterans".

Matt Perez said...

The San Diego media has indeed reported that Kennedy is likely to get a QO. Then again, I'd be awfully nervous to add a flyball pitcher like Kennedy to the Orioles in any event.

Ryan Romano said...

Right, my bad on the trades. I suppose keeping Britton will help the pen even more. As for Tillman/Gonzalez, I'll option the latter — since he still has an option left, I believe — and keep the former as a swingman/injury replacement. After how they performed last year, I'm not sure I trust either to return to competence. (Or, without Miley, I can just slot Tillman in as the fifth starter.)

Jon Shepherd said...

Yeah, it is not shocking that Kennedy would get a QO and team offers at the deadline might have given the Padres a good idea of how valuable other teams consider him. If he is able to grab a three year deal on the market around 12MM+, then it makes sense to offer him a QO.

That said...his mid career success makes me question the move. Perhaps it is similar to the bet on Wieters though. At worst, you have to eat about 4 MM to trade him and you get back a generic B level prospect to boot, so perhaps that is a good bet to make.

Anonymous said...

Is there going to be a trade column? I understand that it's difficult to judge what is reasonable and what could or could not happen but from where I sit if the Orioles hope to be competitive they'll need to be active in it.

It's just hard to fill all the holes on this roster just through FA. I do think the idea of trading Britton is a good one, as he is likely the best trade chip we have out of our realistic options (not trading Machado/Schoop obviously).

Jon Shepherd said...

Not within the blueprint series, trades will certainly be a discussion point in articles we write this off season, but part of this series is done to grade proposals. Trades just have so many moving parts that it is difficult to really assess them well.

Unknown said...

Fun but only marginally relevant fact - Steve Pearce is older than Jeff Francouer. Also Joey Votto. Given that, I'd probably offer Pearce nothing more than a minor-league deal with a spring-training invitation.

wpdaisley said...

I think Miley is bad and do not see him as an improvement over Tillman. That being said I am not sure that money could be better spent elsewhere as we need starting pitching.

Anonymous said...

I know we aren't supposed to be talking trades but I feel an urge to address the proposed Britton for Miley deal since it's been raised as a possibility.
Briefly, that makes no sense to me. Britton seems like just a much better Wade Miley in a relief role. I'm pretty positive that Britton could match Miley's 4.50 ERA in the rotation. I think that's fairly reasonable to say. With Miley's meh stuff, having one extra meh pitch over Brittons two much better pitches isn't going to make a big difference in value.
Even if Britton stays put, why not just sign Brett Anderson instead of weakening our strong pen in a Miley trade? Again, Anderson looks to me like a very similar pitcher to Miley, just better.
I see why the Orioles would want Miley, but I think 1. Brett Anderson and 2. Zach Britton would be much better options.

Jon Shepherd said...

You certainly can discuss the proposition of dealing Britton for Miley, I just will not be assessing that aspect when I finally compare all of the proposals.

I think way too much is being made out of Britton being a starting pitcher. That Miley has done it is far ore of a credit to him than Britton conceptually being able to do it. And, really, unless doing it means being a top of the rotation arm, Britton is best where he is.

Re: Miley vs. Anderson, I certainly can see why someone would want either over the other one. Money might be a bit tight though.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Joe: A minor league deal for Pearce? That's just harsh.

Jon Shepherd said...

Yeah, if Corey Hart could grab a 2.5 MM deal before this season then I imagine Steve Pearce will find himself guaranteed money. Cubs, Rays, and Pirates would be first guesses.

Ryan Romano said...

I feel like, just because of how much he hit in 2014 — and the fact that he improved somewhat after coming back from the oblique injury in 2015 — he'll get a few million. Regardless, though, I'd definitely try to bring him back.

Ryan Romano said...

W/r/t Miley and Anderson: Miley gave up a lot of runs this year primarily because he played with the Red Sox defense; he managed to limit hard contact, and with the Orioles behind him he'd presumably lower his ERA. He still pitched to an average amount of RA9-WAR and FIP-WAR, just as he's done throughout his career (albeit inconsistently). Anderson showed with the Dodgers that he has a good deal of upside — more so than Miley, in all likelihood — but the downside is that his arm will fall off and he won't pitch at all. With him, I really fear a Brandon McCarthy situation, where he goes under the knife once I've inked him to a multi-year deal. I prefer Miley because he strikes me as the safer option, although as Jon said, one could argue for either.

Unknown said...

For next year, I see Pearce as a 33-year-old right-handed hitting first baseman who, aside from 2014, is a league-average hitter. He's a 33-year-old Christian Walker. There are plenty of guys every bit as good as I think he'll be available as minor-league free agents. If someone wants to give him guaranteed money, more power to him. I just wouldn't care if it's Pearce or Matt Hague on the roster.

Anonymous said...

When can we start discussing the possible approaches for a complete rebuild similar to that of the 2011-14 Astros? After all--as much as I hate to say this--I simply see no combination of free agent signings that can allow the Orioles to be competitive with a $120M payroll. Here's why:

In 2015, Davis + Chen + O'Day had a cumulative production of about ~12 bWAR. With all three of them presumably gone, we're talking about a baseline of 70-75 wins at best in 2016 even if you assume that the rotation and Hardy can rebound somewhat. When you need a win total in the upper 80s to get a wild card spot, there's just no way that you can add that many wins with our current payroll when one WAR costs about $8M in free agency nowadays. It's simple math.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

The difference with Pearce is that he can hit well enough while playing solid defense at multiple positions. That's valuable in itself, especially since it's unknown exactly which positions the Orioles will spend on.

Jon Shepherd said...

I am not sure you are doing math. I think you are doing the general concept of math. Things are not good, but I do not think things are impossible. Team baseline was in the 70s in 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Anonymous said...

Lots of things wrong with this. 1. Nobody is talking about O'Day getting Robertson money. He may be worth it, but the odds of him getting a QO are very low, and it would be disastrous to your plan if he took it. Wieters would be bad enough. 2. Miley is not an acceptable return for one of the top closers in the game with multiple years of team control still left. 3. I would rather go with Miranda and Gunkel than Miley and Kennedy at market value. Lose Davis and Britton while failing to upgrade the rotation, that is a recipe for 72 wins.