09 October 2015

Blueprint For The 2016 Orioles (Option 3): Building Major League Depth And A Minor League System

On the surface, things look bleak for the Baltimore Orioles. The team finished a disappointing 81-81 one year following a trip to the ALCS. To make matters worse, there is a well-reported free agent exodus looming and the farm system is devoid of any impact talent ready to help the major league team in 2016. The challenge is to find a way to keep the major league team competitive, while rebuilding the farm system with impact talent. With that in mind, I’m proposing to fill the major league team with depth by signing productive, yet unspectacular free agents that do not have draft pick compensation attached to them.

According to Cot’s Contracts, the Orioles are committed to spending $41.83 million in 2016, $43.83 million in 2017, $19.33 million in 2018, and nothing after that. These figures don’t include arbitration raises and minimum salary requirements, but assuming a $120 million payroll in 2016 (and subsequent increases to keep up with inflation), the Orioles do have money to spend, but they’ll need to spend it wisely.

Non-Tendered Players

Of the arbitration eligible players on the current roster, I would not tender Nolan Reimold or Paul Janish a contract (MLB Trade Rumors estimates their arbitration figures to be at $1 million and $700K, respectively). Their skill sets can typically be found on cheaper (minor league) deals.

Qualifying Offers

Qualifying offers (estimated to be $16.4 million in 2016) should be given to Chris Davis, Wei-Yin Chen, and Matt Wieters. I’d expect all three to decline, although I suppose there is a possibility that Wieters accepts, which could throw a wrench into my plans. Worst-case scenario, the Orioles have a catcher who provides league average offense (100 wRC+ in 2015) with above average defense (even with a weakened throwing arm) for one year at $16.4 million. That’s not a bad thing.

2016 Roster

Using Cot’s Contracts and MLB Trade Rumors assumptions on arbitration and minimum salaries, here’s who I believe should return in 2016 and how much money they’ll be making in 2016.

What we’re left with are vacancies at starting pitcher, first base, both corner outfield spots, a bullpen spot, and two bench spots. Oh, and approximately $44.7 million to fill them.


Manny Machado is awesome and now that he’s entering his arbitration years, he’s a prime candidate to sign to a long-term deal. However, according to this tidbit earlier this week, it doesn’t seem to be on the offseason agenda, so we'll stick with the MLBTR arbitration number for now.
If J.J. Hardy can physically play shortstop, he needs to be there. His trade value is non-existent at the moment, so the Orioles can only play him (and hope he produces, which helps the team AND his trade value) or package him with every tradeable draft pick they have for someone to take his contract off their hands. Having said that, Baltimore may want to add some minor league depth at SS in case Hardy is injured, ineffective, or both.

As for first base, I’m with both Ryan P. and Ryan R. that Chris Davis should be allowed to seek employment elsewhere. I’d fill that hole with Mike Napoli on a 1 year, $5.25 million contract. Napoli had a slow start to his year, but finished with a .224/.324/.410 batting line in 2015 and a 98 wRC+ (which looks a lot like Chris Davis’ 2014 line). For someone who doesn’t do anything well but hit, that’s not great, but with a career low BABIP, there is a good chance he returns to his career numbers (125 wRC+) with some better luck. If he falters, the Orioles can call up Christian Walker or put in Steve Pearce (more on him later).


Obviously, the two corner outfield spots were a problem last year. Jason Heyward would be the ideal fit (and worth giving up a draft pick), but a 26 year old free agent outfielder who has been worth more than 11 fWAR the past two years is an ideal fit for 30 teams, so I’m going to assume the Orioles engage him, but get outbid. With that in mind, I’m hopping on board the Denard Span bandwagon and signing him to a 3 year, $42 million contract with a 4th year team option ($14 million annually). As both Ryan’s previously pointed out, his outstanding defense is an asset to a starting rotation that is not overpowering and he’s been about 20% better than the league average hitter over the last two years according to wRC+. He also provides center-field insurance for an Adam Jones injury and gives the lineup a much-needed left-handed bat. His injury filled 2015 does cause some concern, but it should also keep him from receiving a qualifying offer.

As for the other outfield corner, I’d suggest a platoon between Gerardo Parra and the aforementioned Pearce. I’d re-sign Pearce to a 2 year, $12 million contract to play left field against left-handed pitching and anywhere else when the matchup is favorable. I like Pearce’s versatility (he even showed competency at second base in 2015), and while the proposed offer may end up being light, I think that could get it done considering the opportunity for playing time. Bringing back Gerardo Parra on a 3 year, $24 million contract would fill the strong side of the platoon. He had a strange 2015, where his power spiked and his defense cratered, and I’d expect both to return closer to his career norms moving forward. Although 2015 was an outlier for Parra, he’s always been a decent hitter against right-handers (career 102 wRC+), which is the only type of pitcher he should be facing.

Pitching Staff

The Orioles finished the 2015 season with the best bullpen in the majors according to fWAR. I agree that Baltimore should move on from O’Day, but I’m not giving him a qualifying offer. I’m also tendering Brian Matusz a contract, but looking to deal him, although the return may not be worth it. One thing you’ll see in the first figure is the inclusion of Dylan Bundy in the bullpen. It’s important to note that Bundy is out of options and unless he’s on the DL, he WILL be on the roster in some capacity or the team will absolutely lose him to waivers. A role as the long man in the bullpen will allow him to keep his innings in check, while getting him prepared for a starting job late 2016 and/or 2017. I’m not one to pay free agent dollars for bullpen help, so the final vacancy can be filled with any combination of players making minimum salary such as Chaz Roe, Oliver Drake, Jason Garcia, etc.

As for the starting rotation, I’d go with those 4 above to start the season, even if (barring a breakout year from Gausman) there isn’t an ace in there. The Orioles have a number of options to fill out the number 5 spot (Tyler Wilson, Mike Wright, Tim Berry, or even Bundy), but I’d rather bring in a free agent and let those 3 or 4 be my emergency starters once one (or more) of the starting pitchers becomes injured or ineffective. I’ll keep with the theme of looking for someone who isn’t attached to a draft pick and sign…

J.A. Happ. Here me out. I assumed the same thing for David Price as I did for Jason Heyward: great fit, worth a draft pick, is not coming to Baltimore. I also heavily considered Johnny Cueto, but became nervous about the contract required to get him (even a probable low estimate of 6 years and $133 million gave me pause), the health of his elbow, and the fact that he throws a cutter nearly 20% of the time (a current “no-no” in the organization).

Happ may not be a sexy addition to the starting rotation, but he’s dependable, left-handed (something the starting rotation lacks), and he’s been better lately. Happ finished the year with a 3.61 ERA and a 3.41 FIP, which was worth 3.3 fWAR. Amazingly, 2.1 of those wins came with the Pirates in only 63.1 innings. His 2015 results don’t appear to be smoke and mirrors, as his LOB% is in line with his career and his BABIP was actually 20 points higher. Additionally, Happ’s throwing his fastball harder and he’s getting more groundballs than he did earlier in his career.

Happ isn’t the ace that most people want, but he’s a quality and consistent starter. A good comp for Happ’s contract is Jason Vargas’ 4 year, $32 million contract with Kansas City. Since Happ will be 2 years older than Vargas at the time he hits free agency, I think a 2 year, $16 million contract with a 3rd year team option is reasonable.


There were originally two bench spots to fill, but one of those spots will be occupied by Pearce or Parra (depending on the pitching matchup). Let’s fill the other bench spot by taking a flyer on Matt Joyce for 1 year and $2 million. Joyce is coming off a terrible season, but has a career 112 wRC+ and has surprisingly been an average defender in left over the course of his career (3 DRS in 2,259.2 innings) if he’s needed. Having said that, he should NEVER face a left-handed pitcher and shouldn’t see time anywhere else in the field (other than DH).

Final Tally
  • LHP J.A. Happ – 3 years, $24 million ($8 million annually, 3rd year an option) 
  • OF Denard Span – 4 years, $56 million ($14 million annually, 4th year an option) 
  • OF Gerardo Parra – 3 years, $24 million ($8 million annually) 
  • UTIL Steve Pearce – 2 years, $12 million ($6 million annually) 
  • 1B/DH Mike Napoli – 1 year, $5.25 million 
  • OF/DH Matt Joyce – 1 year, $2 million
This gives the Orioles a full roster and a total salary commitment of $119.56 million. Despite only the original $41 million committed in 2016 and a $120 million budget, the Orioles don’t have the finances to pay for superstar level players due to the number of roster holes and arbitration eligible players. This strategy allows them to build depth in the field and on the mound with productive, if unspectacular players, while also keeping their early round draft picks while adding 3 additional selections due to the departures of Davis, Chen, and Wieters. A mid-market team like Baltimore needs to have a strong farm system in order to compete annually. Signing players without draft pick compensation attached to them helps accomplish that.


Links to Previously Published Options
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


Matt Perez said...

I think Napoli at 1 and $5.25 is optimistic. Billy Butler got 3 and 30 and his 2014 was about as bad as Napoli's 2015. Morales got 2 and 17 after an absolutely horrendous 2014. Napoli is older than both of these players and might only get one year (but probably two) but should get something in the 9-11 million range (inflation will play a role as will length of contract).

Happ is a good choice. He's made some strong adjustments against lefties that have turned him into a #3 from a #5. I think you're right that they continue. I see him getting 3 and $36M though.

Unknown said...

I agree with the optimistic contract on Napoli, but went with the suggested figure. Except for the 2 year age difference, Happ's career line is similar to Vargas when each hit free agency, but I didn't account for inflation, so 3 years and somewhere in the range of $24 and $36 million is probably more realistic than 2/$16 with a 3rd year option.

Philip said...

What is your justification for keeping Matusz? Even if he were good, his skill at is so limited he cannot possibly be worth 3+ million dollars.
The Orioles got Brach for basically nothing, the Astros for Tony Sipp for nothing, and Greg Harris too.
Good single-inning relievers are plentiful and cheap. There's no reason to give Matusz so much money, and I personally wouldn't want him under any circumstances. He is just too undependable in pressure situations.

Unknown said...

Philip - I didn't necessarily like tendering Matusz a contract, but I didn't think there was much better out there at the moment in terms of left handed relievers. There is always the opportunity to pick one up on the cheap after players are non-tendered or in a trade, but at this moment (and trades off the table for this exercise), I thought having Matusz for 1 year $3.4 million was better than potentially committing multiple years to a FA LH reliever. Also, I'm skeptical that saving $3 million would have resulted in a more meaningful upgrade somewhere else, although it would be nice to have if you needed additional wiggle room for the Napoli or Happ contracts.

Matt Perez said...

I agree that Vargas and Happ have similar lines but Vargas didn't have a career year right before he hit free agency. People will be interested in Happ because of his performance this past year and in hopes that he can continue dominating lefties. If you switched Happ's 2014 and 2015 performance then I have to imagine he would gather less interest.

Problem is that I can't seem to find a similar pitcher that had one good year before hitting FA (aside from Estrada of course who is useless). I think Feldman is the best comp with his 3 and $30.

Unknown said...

I think Feldman is a good comp, I'm just not sure how many teams will be buying his 2015 season, especially since the bulk of his production came in 60 some innings with the pirates. It will be interesting to see what his market is like.

Unknown said...

You undervalued almost every single one of the free agents you picked for Baltimore to sign.. You would be right on the money if it was 2009..

Jon Shepherd said...

Napoli and Happy seem like they would be low. The others look in the ballpark to me. Joyce might get 5. That said, Rob, concept statements without content do not really add to the conversation. If you think the money is low, state your suggestions or, better, evidence your rationale.

Unknown said...

HI Jon,

Span is coming off of hip surgery and I would go with a one year deal with incentive.

Jon Shepherd said...

I agree about your concern about Span. For me so much of his value comes from his range and if that hip is not going to be what it was then he will have trouble laterally and turning back on the ball.

That said, it is difficult to solve everything with a 120 MM budget. Risks may need to be taken.

Matt Perez said...

Pittsburgh media is arguing that Happ's comp should be Hammel and that his 2 yr and $20M deal should be about right. They also think Pittsburgh won't go three years. Others are bringing up Volquez. I think Hammel is better then my Feldman comp but still think Happ gets three. Maybe he takes two to sign with Pitt. I do think that means that Nate's Happ estimate is in the right ballpark albeit not the third year team option.

I'd be stunned if Joyce gets $5M. I thought one and $2M was generous and wouldn't be shocked if he had to take a minor league deal. He had a .186/.282/.310 line against righties in 2015. But I don't know who his comp would be. I don't pay close enough attention to such marginal players.