13 October 2015

Blueprint For The 2016 Orioles (Option 5): Purchasing Innings In Bulk

As the four blueprint options posted before mine have been keen to point out and summarize, the Orioles' struggles in 2015 were primarily on the pitching and defense side of the game. The offense, meanwhile, scored more runs than it did on its way to an ALCS run in 2014 despite losing Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis.

Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter recognize this. In their press conference at Camden Yards the day after the season ended (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), Duquette made multiple mentions of the need to strengthen the pitching staff.

Photo - MASNOrioles on Youtube
I wanted to bury this in the lede, but it is too important to ignore - Wei-Yin Chen is a free agent. 191 1-3 innings pitched, totaling 2.8 fWAR in 2015, gone.

Anyhow, looking forward, the Orioles are on the verge of also losing Chris Davis, Steve Pearce and Matt Wieters from the lineup, a trio that created a total of 195 weighted runs (per wRC on Fangraphs). Cruz and Markakis, for whatever it's worth to you, created 188 runs together in 2014 going by that same metric.

Gerardo Parra, while we're at it, totaled -0.8 fWAR over two months in an Orioles uniform. So it's tough to count him as a "loss" at this point.

The team is now left with a lineup of Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Jonathan Schoop and... six other guys.

Look, it would be antithetical for me to go against the grain here and suggest the organization look into trading Manny Machado this offseason. This blueprint will instead lay out a plan for the Orioles to push back into the playoffs in 2016 while hopefully not selling more draft picks to the Dodgers.

At a glance, the Orioles only have payroll obligations to three players entering 2016:
  1. Adam Jones - $16.3 million
  2. Ubaldo Jimenez - $13 million
  3. J.J. Hardy - $12.5 million
$41.8 million. Not too shabby, even if it does include Hardy's degenerated shoulder.

So back to the Chen ordeal.

He will be the first of three players to be granted a qualifying offer, joining Davis and Wieters. All three are Boras clients, thus making it a strong possibility that all three decline. Davis and Chen are no-brainers (both will receive longer length contracts with higher AAV) while Wieters' case depends on if he wants one year to reestablish his value. If so, he would clearly accept as no other team would go near $15.8 million for a catcher coming off a 1.0 fWAR season following a year off for Tommy John Surgery.

For all intents and purposes of this blueprint, I am going to presume Wieters declines and seeks a two or three year deal on the open market, at least.

That brings the Orioles three compensation picks in the 2016 draft. Please don't sell these, Dan. They provide tremendous value, I promise.

Next up are the arbitration eligible players.

Photo - Keith Allison
Using the projected numbers from MLB Trade Rumors, these are the players that should be tendered for 2016 and what they will receive as compensation:
  • Nolan Reimold - $1 million
  • Chris Tillman - $6.2 million
  • Miguel Gonzalez - $4.9 million
  • Ryan Flaherty - $1.5 million
  • Zach Britton - $6.9 million
  • Brad Brach - $1.1 million
  • Manny Machado - $5.9 million
No Brian Matusz on that list. Projected at $3.4 million, that's a lot of money for a guy who walks three and a half batters every nine innings and lets 37 percent of inherited runners score (going by his 2014 line).

Gonzalez and Tillman are what they are. Semi-productive bounce back seasons make both of these deals still worthwhile, both costing less than the price of a win on the open market and both with the possibility of providing innings to a stunningly mediocre rotation. Let's also pray and hope Gonzalez's elbow stays in tact.

Flaherty is useful for when Hardy goes down with a Spring Training shoulder strain, and Brad Brach is primed to step in as Britton's setup man (alongside Dylan Bundy) with Tommy Hunter in Chicago (though not on the NLDS roster) and Darren O'Day likely pricing himself out of Baltimore with four straight very productive and healthy years since Andy MacPhail claimed him off of waivers mid-2011.

As an aside, O'Day seems primed to join the Nationals. The Washington bullpen will look back to Storen to close, Papelbon is likely off of that roster by Opening Day, and O'Day's wife works for the Fox News affiliate in DC. All that plus Ted Lerner likes to spend money.

That brings us to ten players at $69.3 million.

Free Agency

Photo - MASNOrioles on YouTube
I don't expect Duquette to make even a single big splash in the free agent market, as his philosophy has always been to "build the team year round." He has tended to shy away from multi-year contracts completely, preferring to make non-headline minor league deals for AAA pitchers. But again, for the purpose of this exercise, here is what Duquette should do with the remaining $50 million or so:

Denard Span

I have to admit that I'm being a bit of a copycat here. The four blueprints prior to mine included Span, and while he wasn't initially on my radar, the idea has grown on me. A 2-4 win player on a three-year deal worth $43 million ($12 million in 2016, backloaded to $16 million in 2018) sounds solid with perhaps a touch of upside. If healthy ("if"), that locks down a corner outfield spot and allows the masses to continue the debate on if Dariel Alvarez can hit at the big league level (Adam Jones says yes).

Putting a solid center fielder into a corner spot generally makes for an above average defensive situation in theory, too.

With this deal in place, Span and Jones would be teammates for three years, and both of their deals would be set to expire in 2018. And also, paying Gerardo Parra any amount of dollars to come back just doesn't sound productive.

Jeff Samardzija

If Samardzija is looking for a multi-year contract rather than a one-year "show me" deal, four years for $74 million should get it done. With Cueto, Greinke and Price headlining the free agent pitcher market and Samardzija posting an ugly 4.96 ERA this past season, this deal would likely bring a decent amount of controversy.

With a walk rate well below his career average, no nominal rise in hard hit percentage, and three straight seasons of 200-plus innings, Samardzija could be a staple for a middling rotation that needs innings. The quality of those innings is, notwithstanding, to be determined.

Also, Samardzija pitched in the "no fans" game at Camden Yards this past summer, giving up seven earned runs and 10 hits over five innings. Take that for what you will.

Mike Leake

Let his hamstring heal up and hand Leake $67 million over five years. Only entering his age-28 season, Leake fits the mold as stated previously with Chen and Samardzija - he provides innings. 1083 2-3 of them over six seasons since his debut, to be exact. And check out the above chart - relatively consistent K/BB/HR rates over his career without any major outliers that cause concern.

Steve Pearce

One year, $4 million. The guy is familiar with the organization, and we all know how much this team thrives on culture. Plus, he was the Fan Choice bobblehead giveaway, so that has to count for something, right?

This move mostly acts as one of those Garrett Atkins/Derrek Lee type stopgaps while the organization reevaluates its first base solution long term. Christian Walker likely is not that answer. But Pearce/Flaherty for a year likely helps procrastinate that decision. It could be worse. I think.

Joe Blanton/Chad Billingsley/Aaron Harang/Shaun Marcum/Bud Norris/et al

Give a bunch of these types minor league deals with Spring Training invites and hope to shove them all in a juicer and squeeze 80-100 useful Major League innings out of them. Something like that.


Dan Duquette is more than likely going to solve the pitching problems by trading for a couple of back of the rotation AAA arms, find a first baseman in the depths of the Atlantic League (Rafael Palmeiro, anyone?), a left fielder from the Canadian Junior National Team, and call it a day.

If the team wants to contend, it won't do so in its current situation if it "buys the bats and grows the arms," so to speak. The arms aren't there. Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson are both "maybes" while Tillman and Gonzalez are not as reliable as we once thought. Stabilizing the rotation this offseason allows for Duquette and Showalter to manipulate the roster otherwise how they please. Shaving cost here by simply hoping that J.A. Happ on a three-year deal will work out in your favor is a heavier risk that the organization cannot afford at this time.

Any amount of additions within the current budget structure do not make up for the lost contributions from the 2015 team, unfortunately. The farm system is depleted, Manny Machado is set for free agency in three years, and Kevin Gausman still can't throw a quality breaking ball. But I digress.

Here is the blueprint summary:
  • Denard Span - 3 years, $43 million
  • Jeff Samadzija - 4 years, $75 million
  • Mike Leake - 5 years, $75 million
  • Steve Pearce - 1 year, $4 million

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


Philip said...

Jon, a request:
Please put the author's name at the beginning of the article, rather than at the end.
I like knowing whose thoughts I am reading.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

The author's name is listed under the title.

Jon Shepherd said...

Inexplicably, on mobile access the names come at the end. On a laptop, they are under the title. Blogger's mobile template system confuses me and makes me frightened.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Ahh, right. Mobile.

Philip said...

Not on an iPhone, they aren't, for some reason. I just read Jon's reply,
So I guess it's a mobile device thing.

Amoussou said...

No Lefty starter in this Blueprint = not well thiught out. Rotation of Leake, Gausman, Happ, Jimenez, Tillman. Bullpen with Givens, Brach, Wilson, Bundy, Britton

1b. Pearce / Walker
2b. Schoop
SS. Hardy / Flaherty
3b. Macchiato
C. Joseph
LF Span
CF Jones
RF Dariel Alvarez
DH Pedro Alvarez

AL East

Matt Kremnitzer said...

There's no requirement that says a rotation must include a LHP.

Anonymous said...

True, Cardinals had about the best rotation in baseball for the first few months without a lefty starter (Jaime Garcia wasn't healthy yet)

Jon Shepherd said...

A southpaw starter can be incredibly important in the playoffs and vary in importance depending on the division. Largely though, lefty relievers are more important to have on a team than a single lefty starter.