14 October 2015

Blueprint For The 2016 Orioles (Option 6): Trying To Make Chicken Salad

Camden Depot has been discussing how the Orioles should proceed this offseason for the past week. At this point, it should be clear that the Orioles have about $35 to $40 million available while needing to add two outfielders, a first baseman, a DH, a backup shortstop, at least one starter and a veteran reliever. Complicating the situation is that the Orioles have no major contracts expiring after the 2016 season, while expecting significant payroll increases via arbitration players meaning that they have to worry about flexibility for 2017.  If the Orioles offer just long-term contracts this year, then what do they do next year when they have a budget around this size and need to offer arbitration increases to players like Machado, Britton and Tillman? What should the Orioles do this offseason that gives them their best chance to compete in 2016 while adhering to a reasonable budget and not breaking the bank for 2017?

First off, I would definitely offer Chris Davis and Wei-Yin Chen qualifying offers. I would probably offer one to Wieters and make it clear to him that I’d use him at DH if he accepts but expect the Orioles will not.

I would tender both Matusz and Reimold contracts. The Orioles’ bullpen has a number of pitchers that can crush righties but struggle against lefties and therefore a LOOGY like Matusz is a must. Reimold can be an acceptable outfielder presuming health. I would also tender Tillman, Flaherty, Britton, Brach and Machado. In a scenario where I’m not allowed to make trades, I would non-tender Gonzo but ideally he’d be trade bait.

The first move I would make is signing Mat Latos. Latos is coming off of a tough year in which he had a 4.87 ERA, a 4-10 record and was ultimately released by the Dodgers. Thing is, I don’t think his year was as bad as it looked. For starters, he has an FIP of 3.50 and an xFIP of 3.65.

In 2015, opposing right-handed batters had a .307 wOBA against him compared to a wOBA of .306 in 2014, of .285 in 2013 and .268 in 2012. His 2015 K-BB% of 16.4% and his 2.0 HR% against right handed batters is in the same ballpark as his statistics from 2012 to 2014. For the most part, it seems that Latos didn’t have problems against right-handed batters in 2015 and any difference between his 2015 and 2012-2014 stats can be explained due to random variation.

Latos’s problems in 2015 have been due to opposing left-handed batters having a .336 wOBA against in him compared to a .271 wOBA in 2014, a .310 wOBA in 2013 an a .329 wOBA in 2012. This is in part due to the fact that his K% rate dropped from 20% in 2012 and 2013 to 18% in 2015 and partially because he had a BABIP of .321 in 2015 compared to .293 in 2012 and 2013.

It’s also in part due to the fact that left-handed batters had a wOBA of .418 against him with runners in scoring position in 2015 despite a wOBA of .225 in 2014 and a .242 in 2013. This was primarily due to a higher BABIP in those situations and a HR rate of 8.2% in 2015 compared to roughly 2% from 2012 to 2014. He faced 40 left-handed batters in these situations and they hit five home runs. I’d imagine that’s bad luck and will bet against it happening again.

Furthermore, it doesn’t seem that batters were having much more success hitting his fastball or changeup or curveball in 2015 than in previous years. The one pitch that he really struggled with was his slider. Opposing left-handed batters had a wOBA of .578 against his slider in 2015 compared to a wOBA of .242, .174 and .083 in 2012-2014 respectively. This pitch ended up being in the zone over 50% of the time in 2015 despite the fact that it’s meant to be thrown out of the zone to collect swinging strikes. As a result, batters were able to make contact with the pitch and simply hammered it.

Latos realized he was struggling with the pitch and decided to throw his changeup more often to counteract this weakness. The problem is that his changeup isn’t as good as his slider and therefore this lowered his strikeout percentage and caused him problems. This combined with his issues against lefties with men on base sealed his fate. A team that signs him would have their work cut out for them as they’d need to find a way to fix his slider against lefties and ensure he didn’t choke in the clutch but if they’re successful then he’s a legit #2 starter.

After being DFA’d and absolutely struggling in 2015, it seems unlikely that he’d receive a long term deal this offseason. Latos has a reputation for being a bad influence in the clubhouse and this will also hurt his value. I think Latos’s comp is Justin Masterson, who signed a one year deal for $9.5 million last offseason after having an absolutely dreadful year for the Indians after years of success. Latos would earn something similar and therefore a one year deal for $9.5 million should be enough to convince him to come to Baltimore.

The second piece that I want is J.A Happ. Happ had a strong year for the Mariners and primarily the Pirates.

Over the full 2015 season, he’s had similar performance against righties as he did in 2013 and 2014. He showed significant improvement in Pittsburgh, where he was able to throw his fastball for strikes, but still get opposing right-handed batters to rarely put the pitch into play, while having success getting batters to swing and miss at off speed pitching. If that continues, then he’s a legit #1 starter.

But where he’s really improved is against left-handed batters. Opposing batters had a .299 wOBA against him in 2015 which is roughly 60 points than their wOBA against him in 2012-2014 due to a 27.4% K-rate, a 4.3% BB-rate and a 1.1% HR-rate. He was successful in spite of an awfully high BABIP of .366.

He was consistent in both Seattle and Pittsburgh. In Seattle, Happ had a 30.2% K-rate, 4.7% BB-rate, a 1.9% HR-rate and a wOBA of .333. He suffered from a BABIP of .403 in Seattle, which I think was a fluke. The main reason for that is his fastball has improved significantly. He had a higher percentage of called strikes and a higher percentage of swinging strikes in 2015 than in previous years. This pitch, combined with a tough curveball/slider combo that showed some improvement starting in 2014, has made him a tough matchup for lefties which is ideal when pitching in Camden Yards.

I think that Happ will receive a deal for 3 and $36M as I think that Feldman and his deal for 3 and $30M is the closest comparable player. The Pittsburgh media believes that Hammel’s extension for 2 and $20M is the best comparable and that the Pirates won’t offer more than two years. I don’t think that Happ will replicate his success against right-handed hitting, but I still think that he can be a #2-3 starter for the next three years.

O’Day has been a large part of the Orioles success and I would try to resign him in an attempt to strengthen a strength. Gregerson has been the best comparable player to reach the market recently as both were solid set-up men  albeit O’Day is better. Gregerson received 3 and $18.5M from the Astros, so I would offer O’Day 4 years and $32M, I would structure it so that he receives 6M in 2016 and 2017 and $10M in 2018 and 2019 when the Orioles will have more financial flexibility.

Adding Latos and Happ would strengthen the Orioles’ rotation and help it survive the loss of Chen as well as allow the Orioles to either non-tender or more likely trade Miguel Gonzalez. A bullpen with Britton, O’Day, Givens and Brach will be dangerous albeit much stronger against right-handed hitting than left-handed hitting. The next thing to focus on is the offense.

I think the top guys like Cespedes, Upton, Davis, Gordon and Heyward are out of the Orioles price range. Chris Davis and his elite left-handed power makes him ideal for Camden Yards and thus extremely valuable to the Orioles but I don't think the Orioles will be willing to offer enough to make a deal. Alex Gordon would also look great in an Orioles uniform.

In theory, there are a number of quality mid-tier players that can help the offense but I don’t think any of them are good fits for the Orioles. If the Orioles do go after mid-tier players then I would look into Ben Zobrist and/or John Jaso.

The next best option is probably Dexter Fowler. Fowler is having a strong season for the Cubs in which he set a career high for home runs with 17. He’s been reasonably consistent against both left-handed and right-handed pitching and is a slightly above-average hitter. However, he will be 30 next year and as he ages his defense and speed will degrade. His defense is already below average in center and given his weak arm, he’ll have to move to left field. Realistically, comparable players are guys like Nick Markakis, Shane Victorino, Michael Bourn, Miggy Cabrera and Brett Gardner. Fowler will probably earn a contract for something like 4 and $60 million (as well as cost a pick due to a QO) and is a type of player that is likely to bust.

Denard Span will be 32 next year. On the one hand, he’s a high OBP player that could probably play right field for the next few years. He may sign for a discount coming off of a season-ending hip labrum injury and probably will end up receiving a contract in the 3 and $40 range. I am a bit nervous about his ability to hit left-handed pitching as he struggled in 2013 and 2015. Going forward he’s a reasonably similar player to Nick Markakis with perhaps slightly better fielding and speed and isn’t the type of player that the Orioles should sign for a large amount. The Orioles are known for being stringent about physicals and I'd think that Span's injury would worry them.

Napoli could solidify the Orioles’ first base situation. His weakness is that he can no longer hit right-handed pitching. His wOBA against them has gone from .378 in 2012, to .361 in 2013, to .332 in 2014 and to .275 in 2015. He was simply unable to hit fastballs this year as his wOBA dropped by about 100 points against them in 2015 from 2012-2014 and about 150 points on balls that were put into play. Billy Butler received 3 and $30M and Morales received 2 and $17.5M last year, so I suspect Napoli will receive a one year deal for about $10M. I have no interest in spending $10M on a first baseman that can no longer hit fastballs by right handed pitching.

Austin Jackson or Gerardo Parra are other cheaper than some others listed, but are also bad fits and have limited upside with a high likelihood of failure. Both are showing signs of turning into platoon players and would be bad options unless they can be signed on relatively cheap one year deals. Rasmus could work, but the Orioles may not be interested after last season’s debacle.

Now that I’ve said who I wouldn’t be interested in, I’d add Byung Ho Park from Korea as a 1B/DH. Park is mainly seen as a right-handed first baseman with good power (over 50 home runs in Korea the past two years) but having strikeout issues and it’s questionable whether his power will translate to the majors. However, his batting profile is a strong fit for Camden Yards and he would be worth the risk. Nick Canfardo thinks that Park will receive slightly more money than Kang and therefore I think a posting fee of $7 million to go along with a 4 year/$20M contract including a team option for $9M will be acceptable. Angelos has spent money to sign foreign players like Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada and might do so again even if he is loathe to pay rights fees to foreign clubs.

A Matt Joyce and Dariel Alvarez platoon could fill an outfield spot. Joyce hasn’t had any success against left-handed pitching since 2012 (when he was merely below average) and isn't really good in the field. However, he isn't a complete disaster in left and probably can still have some success against right-handed pitching. He struggled this past year against right-handed pitching due to a BABIP of .220 and I'm expecting him to bounce back some. Joyce should receive no more than a one year deal at a very modest amount.

If Joyce does cost more than $2.5 M (and I'm not sure I go that high) then players like Will Venable, David DeJesus (the upgrade in quality would be worth extra cash) or Daniel Nava could fill this role. Failing that, there should be some AAAA outfielder that has had some success hitting right-handed pitching in either MLB or AAA that can fill this role and is inexpensive.

Finally, I’d add Mark Reynolds at 1/$2 to be a 1B/DH. Reynolds is nothing special, but can hit home runs and provide average offensive production. The Orioles can fill the other outfield spot by letting players like Reimold, Urrutia, Paredes, Lough and the next Chris Parmelee compete. It’s likely the Orioles would also focus on finding an AAAA shortstop in case Hardy is unable to play.

This plan would cost the Orioles $117M in 2016 and will give them some financial flexibility to make midseason moves as well as future flexibility in 2017. The offense would definitely take a step or two back as these replacements wouldn’t make up for the loss of Chris Davis’ production. But the pitching should be much improved and possibly able to lead this club to the playoffs. I think this team would be competitive in 2016 and would have a legitimate chance of taking a wild card berth if some of these moves work out.

The problem the Orioles have is that they have limited young and cheap talent, have absolutely failed to develop top pitching prospects into good starters and are the smallest mid-market team in baseball. Even with a young superstar like Machado on the roster, it's still hard to make the playoffs in those circumstances. The proposed roster is shown in the chart below.

Blueprint Summary:
Mat Latos - 1 year and 9.5 million
J.A Happ - 3 years and 36 million
Byung Ho Park - 7 Million Posting Bonus plus 4 years and 20 million with a club option for $9 million
Darren O'Day - 4 years and 32 million
Mark Reynolds - 1 year and 2 million
Matt Joyce - 1 year and 2.5 million


Anonymous said...

That Park deal is hands down the most interesting offseason proposition I've read thus far in this series. Highest upside, with really only moderate risk at that price.
Additionally, watch these 475 ft blasts: http://www.cbssports.com/mlb/eye-on-baseball/24980971/video-lets-watch-byung-ho-park-hit-baseballs-out-of-ballparks
I remember when Jose Abreu was available to sign. I was praying the Orioles would go for it. The best player in Cuban history? Of course he'll be at least an average mlber. Most teams around baseball should regret not signing him now. I remember the big concern about Abreu was his supposed inability to hit high velocity fastballs, up in the zone (along with his below-average athleticism). I always found that first criticism to be strange. Most hitters struggle with premium velocity up in the zone, is that really a flaw that will cause a player to completely fail? I thought high fastballs were Mike Trout's biggest weakness (at least a couple years ago I read something on Fangraphs).
The point is, of course there's some risk in translation. But, if you want to be a loser like me and watch all of Park's 40-or-so HRs from 2014, and do the conversions for velocity, the guy was hitting fastballs in the low-mid 90s, along with some above average off-speed offerings for homers. Sign him cheap.

Anonymous said...

To better support my argument, I give you Jose Abreu
vs Power pitchers: 125 ABs --> .240/.291/.416
vs Average pitchers: 202 ABs --> .317/.370/.579
vs Finesse pitchers:286 ABs --> .294/.356/.486
Overall line --> .290/.347/.502
In support of signing Park, I would argue that any sort of question about facing higher-quality velocity should not bar the Orioles from signing him. Abreu doesn't hit Power pitchers (via Bref btw), yet he still succeeds by crushing the other guys.

Here's another example
Manny Machado
vs Power: .203/.264/.367
vs Average: .299/.399/.525
vs Finesse: .312/.369/.545
the atbat splits for machado are similar, something like 100/200/300 respectively

Jon Shepherd said...

Well...with Abreu it was a bad body who had no true position on the field. That put a lot of pressure on his bat to carry him, so that bat had to be excellent. The concern was that for the few instances that scouts could see him, he did have a red flag with his swing. He was able to shorten his swing and he has been able to cope. Not everyone can cope.

I think Park could be a good player, but he is a guy who strikes out a ton in Korea. To strike out that much in KBO is a big warning sign. It will make people worry about tossing away 30 million. Orioles have already nearly 30 million sunk in Hardy. That sinkhole begins to go deeper.

Jon Shepherd said...

Keep in mind the differences between retrospective and prospective assessments.

Anonymous said...

Just to be clear, I wasn't trying to avoid Trout. He's basically an all-star but not elite hitter against 'power' and 'average' pitching, and an absurd .332/.429/.634 hitter against 'finesse' pitching which gives him the numbers he has. Bryce Harper also hits 'power' pitchers the least (.264/.406/.464) but compensates by mauling 'average' pitchers (.406/.507/.806).

Matt Perez said...

Abreu also had more walks than strikeouts in Cuba.

I think Park has been trying overly hard to hit for power in an attempt to garner MLB interest. In 2012 and 2013 he had fewer home runs but also considerably fewer strikeouts. I think once he makes it to the majors he adjusts and turns into a 20-30 home run guy with a 25% K-rate and ends up being a good but not great bat.

Realistically, the Os are going to spend a large chunk of their budget this year on one year deals and signing a guy like Park is a good way to do that and add talent for the future. Cruz was great when he had him but how much did he really help the club?

Anonymous said...

Right, the retrospective-prospective is a good point. I'm definitely jaded through the Orioles' failure to participate in the international market.

Matt Perez said...

The Orioles did sign Uehara, Chen and Wada in the international market. They've shown a willingness to spend on international Asian veterans with a track record and aren't overly expensive. If Park didn't need to be posted then the Os would be a favorite given all of his question marks. Of course, if Park didn't have his strikeout issue and didn't need to be posted then his contract would be far larger then projected and the Orioles wouldn't be able to afford him. Such is life.

Anonymous said...

That's very true. The Chen deal was one of the better offseason value signings in recent years. Turning Koji into Chris Davis wasn't bad either. I guess the question I ask, is how does Park compare to Eric Thames from a scouting perspective? If you recall, Thames fizzled out of the MLB after a couple seasons with the Blue Jays and Mariners, finishing with a .250/.296/.431 slash line.
Last year in the KBO, Thames his .381/.497/.790 with 47 HRs and a 103:91 BB:K ratio.
Contrast that with Park who hit, .343/.436/.714 with 53 HRs and a 78:161 BB:K ratio
Is it fair to compare their numbers? Clearly, Thames looks like the all-around better player. Then again, Thames posted better numbers this year than Kang did last year in the KBO, yet Kang's talents translated much better to the mlb.
I guess it's a little bit like minor league numbers (they don't tell the full story)
I wonder if Thames will get any interest from mlb clubs

Unknown said...

I looked at Reynolds, too. I was cautious, however, with three straight sub-100 wRC+ seasons. ISO hasn't cracked .200 since '12 with the O's. Defense has always been a questionable topic. I think Christian Walker would provide equal value over 162 at this point. Though that's not much savings necessarily from your plan. Great clubhouse guy, for whatever the heck that is worth. That Park deal is a great thought.

I went with bigger pitching deals only because of risk/reward. Happ is most likely to regress among practically all FA starters, but with the deals in mind, also has huge upside to cost. So that is certainly more up DD's alley. My thoughts were simply that for this team to have a chance at contending, rotation has to stabilize and be above average, and then lots of other things have to fall into place. My honest opinion that it is time to rebuild would not have made for any interesting blueprint reading :)

Matt Perez said...

The problem with Walker, Mancini or Paredes is that they're complete question marks and I tend to think of them as having the same mean value perhaps as Reynolds but a higher standard deviation. I'd expect Reynolds to be the slightly-below average bat as he is while I think one of the other three guys may have a better chance of breaking out but also having a better chance of completely busting and having a 50 wRC+. If I can get Reynolds for cheap then I take the certainty and if one of the others is doing well in the minors then I can call them up and dump Reynolds.

The problem with big pitching deals is 2017. If you hand out $42M in long-term free agent contracts for 2016 then what do you do in 2017 when it costs $140M just to keep the gang together? You'd pretty much have to non-tender Tillman and trade/non-tender Britton.

I was considering going one of three routes with this. One was to presume that this team needs to rebuild and should therefore go after attractive guys that will sign for one year. Probably would have suggested Desmond (1 and 20), Latos (1 and 10), and Park. Maybe someone like DeJesus also. Extra savings could be dedicated to the drafts.

Anonymous said...

I would definitely go with Mancini over Walker, at this point. The Orioles probably won't do this, but I wouldn't mind seeing Mancini get a 2006 Nick Markakis sink or swim trial. That's probably a much more difficult thing to do at 1B, a position where you really expect big production, but the Orioles just don't have many 1B alternatives. Davis should be out of their price range (if they are serious about improving the rotation), Walker has very little upside, and Pearce isn't particularly interesting either. Again, I like the Park idea. I kinda wish Mancini was playing in the AFL, but I guess the Orioles think they have a pretty good gauge of him. I really wish there were better scouting reports for his performance in Bowie this year, I haven't seen many, if any, thorough ones.

Anonymous said...

Here's an interesting quote from a september ESPN article (crasnick)
"Duquette leaves open the possibility of some less experienced prospects getting an opportunity with the big club in spring training. That includes first baseman Trey Mancini, who logged a .981 OPS in 84 games with Double-A Bowie, and catcher Chance Sisco, who reached Bowie at a mere 20 years old."
It's worth considering. Those two really need to have big offseasons, and Sisco needs to perform well in the AFL.
If you consider their tools and abilities in a generous light, they could help the Orioles a good bit. If you consider Mancini's numbers an anomaly and Sisco's catching worthless (thus far) they shouldn't sniff the 25-man. Of course, the answer is somewhere in between.

Jon Shepherd said...

I have a hard time reading into that too much. Sisco might be more realistic than Mancini simply because the team is sending him off to AFL. Regardless, top prospects in AA and AAA are given experience in the big league camp pretty regularly.

Anonymous said...

That's interesting, I interpreted the decision to send Sisco and not Mancini as a vote of confidence for the latter, whereas the former still needs to prove himself more.
It's really tough to say, there's some strange players in the AFL this year. James Paxton??
The Orioles just added Tanner Scott who apparently touched 101 in instructional league. One could interpret that as the Orioles positioning to non-tender Matusz. Scott's command improved this year and so did his slider. He could be a legitimate option in the spring if he can improve those two areas further. Garcia is also going to be starting in the AFL.
Interesting note: Osuna had a 9.49 ERA in the AFL last year. Who woulda thought?

Anonymous said...

You lost me when you said you'd tender a contract to Matusz.
A bad left handed reliever is easily found for much less money than he would make.
Folks point out his ERA but ignore his strand rate, which is lousy, and his performance in high-pressure situations.
Just no...

Anonymous said...

Jim Johnson just got DFA'd. He's available....... cheap.

Matt Perez said...

Fully agree that figuring out the LOOGY was a major part of this article and is treated as such in front offices. After all, would you rather focus on starting pitching and outfielders or the mid-leverage reliever?

Johnson would be an interesting addition. Truth be told, I wanted to resign O'Day to ensure that the team had one strength but he's probably a piece the Os could do without.

Ryan Romano said...

I'm annoyed now that I forgot about Latos. He'd be a great one-year gamble, with the rebound in velocity and the fluky HR/FB%.

Anonymous said...

I read at least in one place that he's a terrible person to have on the team, and I do not know whether that is true or not, but if so, I really don't want him around, and Buck probably doesn't either

Matt Perez said...

Latos has a bad rep but the Orioles have a good clubhouse. And Rasmus also had a bad rep but was checked by Buck and found to be acceptable.

Presumably, Latos would have to meet Buck and get the ok. But teams like the Orioles that need talent badly and have payroll limitations need to look into every possible solution. The Os don't have the luxury of just rejecting talent outright without at least seeing whether it could work.