31 October 2016

Blueprint For The 2017 Orioles (Option 5): Be Bold, But Not Too Bold, Mr Fox.

The Orioles are an aging team. Their good players are rapidly becoming either free agents or expensive, while the farm has been unable to make significant contributions over the past few years. As a result, the Orioles are in a situation where they can only improve their team by increasing payroll, but are already spending over $140 million. Over the last week, Camden Depot writers have illustrated how the Orioles will have a difficult challenge merely trying to maintain the status quo, let alone improve. And yet, as Matt K wrote, the Orioles did win 89 games last year and earned a spot in the wild card game. All is not bleak.

With minimal remaining resources, the Orioles will need to decide whether they should stay the course or shake things up a little. I believe that the Orioles, with an aging team, need to be bold. Therefore, I'm creating two blueprints, one presuming a payroll around $150M and the other presuming a payroll around $160M.

As Patrick and Ryan noted, the Orioles have three main players becoming free agents this year: Mark Trumbo (RF), Matt Wieters (C), and Pedro Alvarez (DH). I believe that the Orioles should offer a qualifying offer solely to Mark Trumbo. Pedro Alvarez had a decent season for the Orioles, but I think everyone agrees he isn't worth $17 million a year and would happily accept a QO.

Matt Wieters is perhaps the hardest decision. With the inability of Caleb Joseph or Pena to contribute any offense, it's pretty clear that the Orioles wouldn't have made it to the playoffs without Wieters last year. Yet Wieters is only an average catcher at this point and the Orioles don't have the resources to afford to spend $17 million on an average player. Even with Wieters on the club, the Orioles' offensive production was 23th in the majors. BORAS thinks that Wieters will receive 2 and $20 million and therefore would happily accept a QO.

On the other hand, I think the Orioles should offer Trumbo a QO. Trumbo has just had a career year and would be better off signing a long-term deal to ensure that he maximizes his earnings. In addition, Trumbo brings a significant amount of offense to the table and can help the Orioles as a DH. BORAS projects Trumbo to receive 3 and $40M and I think that's a high enough amount to ensure that he declines the offer.

Next, the Orioles have to make a decision to tender a number of arbitration eligible players. I recommend non-tendering Ryan Flaherty and T.J McFarland. McFarland is an AAAA player worth only the minimum wage while Flaherty is nothing more than an extremely offensively-limited super sub. The Orioles should keep Britton, Worley, Machado, Schoop, Gausman and Joseph although non-tendering Worley may not be a bad idea. I would attempt to trade Chris Tillman and Brad Brach. The rules for this blueprint do allow for trades, but don't allow using any received players on the 25 man roster.

I think that both Tillman and Brach had lucky seasons in 2016, and are currently overvalued. While some teams may see the 2016 all-star as a potential closer candidate and certainly as a set-up man, I think that he's nothing more than a seventh-inning reliever and primarily a ROOGY unless he can find another pitch to use against lefties. A trade to a team that values him higher could possibly net a generous return in prospects far in excess of his value.

The decision to shop Tillman is more difficult. If one believes that an opposing team will trade for Jimenez, Miley or Gallardo and take on their entire salary, then trading Tillman may not make sense. Likewise, if one thinks that Bundy can't start for a whole year, then it may be impossible to trade Tillman. However, teams need to trade talent to get talent, and it is hard to get strong returns trading mediocre players. If like me, you think that Tillman is due for regression, then better to sell high.

The first player I’d sign is Jason Castro for 2 and $20 million. It seems reasonable to presume that the Orioles are going to have to rely on mediocre starting pitchers next year. If so, the best chance of ensuring their success is by adding catchers with good pitch framing skills. A Castro/Joseph platoon would be able to frame pitches for strikes, thus encouraging Jimenez, Gallardo and Miley to throw pitches near the strike zone and hope their catchers can get them a strike.

In addition, Jason Castro has strong platoon splits favoring using him against right handed pitching (.332 wOBA vs .240) while Caleb Joseph was best against left handed pitching in 2014 and 2015. This sets up a situation where Castro can catch 90-100 games against primarily right handed pitchers while Joseph can catch 50-60 games against primarily left-handed pitchers. This also gives the Orioles more time to assess Chance Sisco and see whether he’s a major league catcher.

The second player I’d recommend the Orioles’ sign is Desmond Jennings. Jennings was DFA’d by the Rays after having yet another injury-filled and largely ineffective season. He’s considered to have a significant amount of talent but was considered frustrating. Tampa Bay Times writer Mark Topkin asked why it took so long to release him. It’s questionable whether he can still play CF or if he needs to play in a corner. Clearly, there are some issues here. On the other hand, a good corner outfielder could cost the club $16 million a year. If the Orioles want to fill their weaknesses in the free agent market, they’ll need to take some chances.

For this exercise, I developed a metric that determined which hitters faced the best pitchers. I found that Jennings faced stronger pitching than the average hitter last year and this makes his offensive numbers look worse than they actually were. Jennings historically also has strong numbers against left-handed pitching than right-handed pitching and could be used in a platoon with Hyun Soo Kim in a corner outfield position. A platoon role may keep Jennings fresh, healthy and productive. Jennings is a player that could possibly benefit from a change of scenery. His talent isn't in question, so a team that signs him may be rewarded.

BORAS thinks that Jennings will receive 2 yrs and $19.1 million in free agency. However, it’s clear that BORAS isn't aware of his off-field issues. If any team felt that Jennings was worth that much, they simply could have claimed him from the Rays and taken advantage of the fact that they’d still have one more year of control that would cost at most $4 million. The fact that no one picked him suggests that his value is easily below $5M in the free market. I think $3.5 million should be enough to sign Jennings and he’d be my key to the off-season.

The next player I’d sign is Michael Bourn. Bourn is ideally a fourth outfielder even if he had a good stretch with the Orioles in September. Unfortunately, the Orioles desperately need an outfielder and don’t have the cash to sign one of the top ones like Desmond, Bautista, Reddick or Cespedes. Bourn can contribute good defense in right field and also faced tougher pitching than the average hitter in 2016.

BORAS projects Bourn to receive a minor league contract with significant incentives. I think that a one year offer for $2.5 million should be enough to get him signed. The hope is that given 600 PAs, he can be a 1 win player or so.

The final main player that I’d sign is Steve Pearce for 2 yrs and $15 million to play DH. Pearce is a professional hitter with significant versatility and is a Buck favorite. BORAS felt that Pearce would receive 3 and $40 million but is unaware of the fact that Pearce suffered a season-ending injury last season. Rounding out the team is Rickard and Janish on the bench and Hart, Wright and a Rule V pick in the bullpen.

All told, this team should cost $153.5 million. For this analysis, I count Chris Davis as earning $17 million in 2017 and disregard his deferred cash. I also do the same for O’Day but not for Jimenez or Hardy. In addition, I presume that Bundy will get a pay cut this year (just like Guthrie) and will earn only $1.5 million. In theory, this gives me a few million dollars to spend on signing minor league players, but I also think that the Orioles are unlikely to spend $160 million this season. The starting rotation would take a hit due to the loss of Chris Tillman and the bullpen would struggle to replace Brach, but the offense would be about the same due to some of the new additions and the defense would be much improved. For 2018, the Orioles would be at roughly $114 million in payroll and would have the flexibility to rebuild their rotation after Jimenez, Miley and Gallardo become free agents.

But what if the Orioles really are willing to break $160 million and maybe even go close to $165M? In that case, I’d do the same thing with offering qualifying offers. I’d still try and trade Brach and Tillman while non-tendering McFarland, Flaherty and Worley. I’d still add Jason Castro at Catcher. To fill left field, I’d offer Jennings and Bourn $2.5 million. The first player to accept the offer gets the role and the second can go elsewhere. For DH, I’d use a platoon of Kim and Mancini. This gives Mancini a chance to get himself acclimated to life in the major leagues without requiring a huge role.

With the remaining cash, I’d offer 5 years and $115 million (salary increases by $1M each year) to sign Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes has been an elite bat for the Mets the past year and a half and faced harder pitching than the average hitter. Cespedes is better against left handed pitchers than right handed pitchers and therefore could be paired up well with Chris Davis. BORAS thinks that Cespedes will only receive 4 yrs and $70 million in the free agent market. I disagree. I think that Cespedes will benefit from being the best player in a weak market. Jon Heyman has said that teams will offer him four years at close to hundred million.

This would be a bold move because it would mean that the Orioles would have promised significant money to two players that will be past their prime in three years. It would almost certainly make it harder for the Orioles to build around Machado in the future. But on the other hand, adding Cespedes would give the Orioles another elite bat. There would be no question that the Orioles offense wouldn’t be improved from last year, especially with a healthy Chris Davis. And if the Orioles could find another decent starter off the scrap heap, then they’d be tough to beat in the playoffs.

By my calculations, this club would cost $161 million and would have roughly $30 million next year to find a new third baseman, a DH, and three starting pitchers. This would certainly be a challenge and would likely force the Orioles to use Wilson and Mancini as regulars in 2018 regardless of their performance.

The Orioles have been a successful club over the past five years and may think that they only need a few minor changes to make it to the playoffs in 2017. But if they feel that they need to get bold and mix things up, then these plans would certainly do that for them. And the pieces they get in these deals might just be enough to take them to the Promised Land.

Looking Back At My 2016 Blueprint: Some Good Chicken Salad

Here at Camden Depot, we’re doing our off-season blueprints. I think it’s only fair for me to take a look at what I suggested last year and see whether it panned out.

Qualifying Offers:

I suggested that the Orioles offer qualifying offers to Chris Davis and Wei-Yei Chen. I also stated that I would probably offer Wieters a qualifying offer, but expect that the Orioles wouldn’t. Then again, I also didn’t expect the Orioles payroll to skyrocket.

These were probably the right decisions. Chris Davis and Wei-Yin Chen were easily able to find lucrative contracts despite being offered a qualifying offer. To my surprise, Matt Wieters was not only offered a qualifying offer but accepted it. Wieters didn’t have a particularly good year with only a .320 wOBA and 1.7 fWAR, but the other Orioles catchers were terrible as Pena had a .244 wOBA and Joseph has a .192 wOBA. Without Wieters, the Orioles certainly wouldn't have made the playoffs so sometimes bad decisions work out.

Non Tenders:

I recommended tendering Matusz and Reimold contracts, but non-tendering Miguel Gonzalez. In retrospect, this worked out poorly. I was correct in suggesting that the Orioles non-tender Gonzalez. Instead, the Orioles waited to non-tender him until they were on the hook for some of his contract and thereby wasted a million dollars. Gonzalez did have a strong season for the White Sox, primarily due to lowering his home run rate at home. I don’t think he would have been successful in Camden Yards.
Matusz and Reimold were both unsuccessful in Baltimore. The Orioles needed to trade their competitive balance pick to get rid of Matusz while Reimold put together a .222/.300/.365 season worth -.4 fWAR. In retrospect, the Orioles would have been better off without either of these players.

Free Agents:

Mat Latos for 1 year and $9 million: Bust.

This was one of my biggest busts in the blueprint. I saw something in Latos and thought that he might be able to bounce back. However, the market was decidedly cool on Latos and he only received a one year $3 million dollar deal, suggesting that his baggage hurt him. After 60 innings with the White Sox, Latos was cut. The only saving grace for this pick is that the Orioles probably wouldn’t have signed him due to his baggage.

J.A Happ for 3 years and $36 million: Hit

As I projected, Happ received a 3 year and $36 million dollar deal from the Blue Jays. Happ continued to make me look good by putting together a 20-4 season with a 3.18 ERA. However, his FIP wasn’t as impressive at 3.96 in part due to a mediocre strikeout rate. Happ showed some regression from his impressive 2015 with the Pirates. Against right handed pitching, his fastball is still dominant, but he lacked a quality second pitch to go with it. Against lefties, he struggled to throw his secondary pitches into the strike zone. Going forward, I think it’s safe to say that Happ had a lucky 2016 but should be seen as a likely #3 starter for 2017 and 2018. For 3 years and $36 million, that’s a huge hit.

Darren O’Day for 4 years and $32 million: Unclear

I was reasonably close when projecting how much O’Day would receive. I said 4 and $32 million with some deferred money while he actually got 4 and $31 million with some deferred money. Unfortunately, due to injuries, O’Day only threw 30 innings and had home run issues. O’Day was definitely disappointing in 2016 but there’s reasonable hope that he can bounce back in 2017 and be the setup man that the Orioles need.

Byung Ho Park for 4 yrs and $20 million with an $8 million posting fee:  Bust

Park had a terrible season where he was completely unproductive in the majors and was ultimately sent to the minors. He was one of my two biggest busts. However, unlike the Latos pick, I get a mulligan on this pick because the Twins topped my posting fee by over $4 million. I had no interest in Park for a posting fee of $12.8 million. This is another case where sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

Matt Joyce for 1 year and $2.5 million: Hit.

Matt Joyce had a strong year for the Pirates as a platoon player with a .242/.403/.463 line and 1.3 fWAR. Given that Joyce signed a minor league contract, he should have been happy to sign with the Orioles for a major league contract.

Mark Reynolds for 1 year and $2 million: Hit

Mark Reynolds had a decent year for the Rockies with a .282/.356/.450 line good for about .1 fWAR. This is pretty much what I was hoping from him – basic competence at the DH position. Realistically, there’s no way he would have taken this offer over what the Rockies offered him.

All in all, this team would have been probably better than what the 2016 Orioles fielded. It seems likely that Angelos made the decision to sign Davis. Fortunately, this team would have enough cash to afford him. Likewise, this scenario didn’t allow me the opportunity to make any trades, so it’s only fair that I have Trumbo added to this squad. As such, the offense and relief pitching would have been reasonably similar to what the Orioles actually fielded. But my rotation would be far better. I felt the Os should sign Happ and Latos instead of using Gallardo and Wright, and this was easily a victory for me. In addition, this club would have cost $139 million on opening day compared to the $148 million that Cot’s said that the Orioles payroll actually was on opening day. That means I’d have an extra $9 million to spend, and as it happened, I did suggest two players that the Orioles consider signing late in the offseason.

Ian Desmond: 1 year and $8 million: Hit

I suggested that the Orioles should have been in on Ian Desmond at 1/$8 because he could either be a right fielder or a shortstop if Hardy got hurt. I didn’t think Desmond would be a strong offensive player and he ended up with a wRC+ of 106 or slightly above average. However, Desmond was excellent on the basepaths and showed competence in center field. Having Desmond on the team would have given the Orioles above average defense in right field instead of being forced to rely on Trumbo and his poor defense with decent offensive production. As it turns out, Desmond would have fit perfectly in the Orioles remaining budget under my blueprint and would have fit in beautifully in right field. Oh well.

David Freese: 1 year and $3 million: Hit

I also said the Orioles would regret not signing David Freese. Freese had a good year with a .270/.352/.412 line while matching his wRC+ of 110 as he did in 2015 and being worth 1.9 fWAR. For $3 million, such production would have been a steal. I’m not sure the Os could have fit both Freese and Desmond on the club, but either one would have been a huge boost to the Orioles playoff chances.

All in all, if the Orioles followed my blueprint, they would have had a slightly upgraded offense. The Orioles wouldn’t have picked up Kim, Rickard or Alvarez, but they would have added Joyce and Desmond. The offense would have been slightly better and the outfield defense would have been much improved. Adding Happ to the rotation would have been a huge upgrade for both 2016 and the future instead of Gallardo. Happ and Desmond would have been huge hits while Latos would have been the biggest bust.

If nothing else, this blueprint would have ensured that the Blue Jays missed the playoffs. But it’s likely that the Orioles would have at minimum taken the first wild card spot and likely would have just edged out the Red Sox for the division. If you ask me, that would have been a pretty good result and I’d say some pretty good chicken salad.

28 October 2016

Blueprint For The 2017 Orioles (Option 4): Aiming For The Wild Card

Next year's Orioles will be fascinating. The team is in win-now mode, as evidenced by the 2014 J.J. Hardy extension, the mammoth contract to Chris Davis, the large commitment to Darren O'Day, and the forfeiture of several draft picks over the past few years. These players were retained to complement a solid core: perennial MVP candidate Manny Machado, exceptionally talented relievers Brad Brach and Zach Britton, and face-of-the-franchise Adam Jones.

The challenge: make the playoffs for $160 million. That's difficult given the large commitments already on staff. The 2016 team opened the season with a $147 million payroll. And although next year a few free agents will come off the books, Britton and Machado will earn over $11 million each, according to MLB Trade Rumors' arbitration estimator. Brad Brach's salary will jump to nearly $3 million. Jonathan Schoop and Kevin Gausman will also see their first arbitration salaries, estimated at $3.4 million for the former and $3.9 million for the latter. I'm happy for these guys; they've played well and earned the money. But that leaves the team in a bind.

With the team looking to contend yet again but with payroll already high, what moves should the Orioles make this offseason?

Qualifying Offers

The most pressing question is to whom, if anyone, the Orioles should make a qualifying offer. MLBTR estimates the QO at a princely $17.2 million. That sounds like a lot but it isn't; with the price of a free-agent win coming in at around $8.5 million, the QO is the going rate for an average (two-win) player. The draft pick element adds another wrinkle, but I'll ignore it here. It's safe to say the Orioles don't care much about those right now, and I agree they shouldn't. I'll ignore that element of their decision.

Offer the QO to Wieters; I think he'll decline it. The new QO represents only an 8.8% raise to him, and Wieters stands out as a good catcher in this year's free-agent market. He will want to test the waters for his age-31 season. He can get a multi-year deal that will exceed the value of the QO. Take the draft pick his rejection will bring.

Don't offer the QO to Trumbo. It's a tempting 87% raise for him, and I think he'll take that sure thing over testing free agency. Enough teams have passed on Trumbo that he and his agent should view him as a marginal player, and enough players have been screwed by rejecting the QO that Trumbo will accept it. Given I don't think Trumbo has another two-win season in him, his acceptance will stick the Orioles with Trumbo at an above-market rate, which they can't afford.

Ditto with Pedro Alvarez: don't make him an offer. The QO represents a 190% raise from his $5.95 million salary. He'd take it in a heartbeat. As with Trumbo, I doubt Alvarez will crack the two-win mark next year.

Good-bye to Wieters, Trumbo, and Alvarez. It was nice knowing you (Wieters especially).


With the departure of Wieters and Alvarez, the team is down a catcher and a DH. It's time for Caleb Joseph to take the lead with the tools of ignorance. Abysmal 2016 aside, he makes contact at an average rate and has exhibited a roughly league-average ISO before. His defense is also better than Wieters'. Oh, he'll also make about $1 million next year.

As his backup, I'd sign Nick Hundley for 1 year and $4 million. Hundley has cut down on his strikeout rate and increased his walk rate since leaving the Orioles. He also continues to hit for a bit of power, showing a .180 ISO last year. As a result he can put up a wRC+ in the 80's. Not great, but then again he's not making Buster Posey money.

Or, if you want Hundley starting and Joseph backing up, that's fine too. I don't have a strong preference. If you want to swap Hank Conger with Nick Hundley, I'm fine with that too. I would prefer Jason Castro; his excellent framing skills will help paper over the crack in the sidewalk that is the Orioles' starting rotation. But he's too rich for this team's blood.

As for DH, I'd like to give Christian Walker a shot. There's no money available for anyone else. Walker's played the outfield before, so I have him over Trey Mancini. But if you show me a video of Trey Mancini playing left field in Little League, then fine, he can start for the team. Finally, let's keep Ryan Flaherty and his utility-ness at his estimated $1.7 million salary.  

Infield total: Davis, Schoop, Machado, Joseph, Hardy, Hundley, Flaherty, and Walker for $58.81 million.


Trumbo's departure means the team needs a starting right fielder. As I did last year, I implore the team to focus on defense. Teams like the Mets can get away with a bad outfield defense because Syndergaard, deGrom, and Harvey strike a lot of guys out. The Orioles are in the opposite situation; low strikeout totals mean more balls in play.

The Orioles will also need to mix and match in the outfield moreso than in previous years. Jones is big for a center fielder (6'3", 220 lbs). Center fielders with this body type (Vernon Wells, Andruw Jones) moved to a corner by age 32; Jones will be 31 this year. He'll need more days of rest than last year, whether that means DH'ing, riding the bench day-to-day, or spending time on the DL.

With these needs in mind I'd sign Peter Bourjos to a one-year deal at $7.7 million. Bourjos isn't much of a hitter, but he has some excellent defensive seasons on his resume. He's also a good baserunner and extremely fast, meaning he can spell Jones in center and score from second in high-leverage spots. The team will hope he catches BABIP lightning in a bottle en route to a two-win season. As a bonus, Bourjos should not cost the team a draft pick.

The piggy bank is nearly empty, so let's bring back Michael Bourn and Drew Stubbs on deals at the league minimum plus incentives. They provide speed on the bases, defense in the outfield, pinch-running opportunities, and hit from opposite sides of the plate. Stubbs can platoon with Kim in left as well, if need be. Good-bye to Joey Rickard; you never learned to control the strike zone and your defense left a lot to be desired.

Outfield total: Jones, Kim, Bourjos, Bourn, and Stubbs for $28.74 million.


No moves on this front. My starting rotation consists of Gausman, Tillman, Miley, Jimenez, and Gallardo in that order. Gausman had himself an under-the-radar three-win season last year; tellingly, he started the Wild Card-clinching game on the final day of the season. Tillman is who he is at this point. Miley is also an average pitcher who suffered horrendous HR/FB and BABIP luck with the Orioles. Would you believe his xFIP with the team was a sparkling 3.34? I predict the same fans who turned on him in August 2016 will sing his praises by August 2017.

These guys are, shockingly enough, not a bad one-two-three. But the same can't be said about the last two guys. I put Jimenez in front of Gallardo because the former at least gets ground balls and can strike batters out. He's also proven he can adjust his mechanics should he struggle too much. Gallardo's K-BB% last year was a pathetic 4.6%. Enough said.

No one will take them in a trade. I would DFA/release them but that wouldn't solve the salary problem. I'd stick them in the bullpen except they'd be useful only as mop-up men. Oh well. At least both will be gone after this season. Would you believe this is the last year of Jimenez's contract? That snuck up on me.

Rotation total: Gausman, Tillman, Miley, Jimenez, and Gallardo for $47.92 million.


The aforementioned rotation means Dylan Bundy starts the year in the bullpen again. With Jimenez and Gallardo in the rotation though, Bundy should see plenty of action as a long reliever. By the end of the year, if the team is in contention, he may replace the latter entirely.

In addition to long relief, Bundy can spot start. Very few teams make it through the year needing only five starting pitchers. That's why Tyler Wilson is in the pen as well. He provides a similar, if less effective, option as Bundy. I chose Wilson over Mike Wright because Wilson walks fewer batters. Throwing 95 MPH isn't so great if you don't know where the ball's going.

O'Day, Givens, Brach, O'Day, and Britton return. I hope Givens works on his change-up this offseason so lefties don't smack him around the park so much. Donnie Hart also gets the call as a much-needed lefty.

I've heard some chatter about trading Britton. That would be a mistake. The Orioles are in urgent, red-light-flashing, sirens-blaring, win-right-the-hell-now mode. The starting rotation will not dominate the opposition and the offense is boom-or-bust. The team needs to be as sure as possible that any mid-to-late inning leads stay that way. Britton provides this assurance.

Trading Britton would also lead to ... what? Prospects? Those aren't valuable to the Orioles right now. They're all-in for the present. Another corner outfielder? $11 million doesn't buy what Britton gives you: total dominance in the highest-possible leverage situations in baseball.

No, it's best to keep Britton, scratch out a one- or two-run lead, and let the familiar Orioles bullpen put a sleeper hold on the opposition. You look at trading him towards the midpoint of the 2018 season if the Orioles aren't in a good spot then. Plenty of teams will need a rent-a-reliever. Just look at what Chicago gave up for Aroldis Chapman this year.

P.S. I non-tendered Vance Worley and T.J. McFarland.

Bullpen total: Bundy, Hart, Wilson, Givens, Brach, Britton, and O'Day for $24.63 million.

25-man total: $160.1 million.


This exercise was incredibly difficult, but the Orioles now have a reasonably competent 25-man roster that exceeds the budget by only $100,000. That seems good, although it could escalate if Bourn and/or Stubbs hit their incentives. By that time though payroll will be inflated anyway, assuming the team adds a bit of money to push for the playoffs. If Peter Angelos is going to fire me over 100 grand, well, I'm fine with that. I tried! Get Chris Davis to write you a check. He can afford it.

It's reasonable to think the team will contend again this year. In the dual Wild Card era, fielding a true-talent 81-81 team keeps you in contention to the final weeks of the season. Gain 5-6 wins in the standings with some well-timed hits with runners in scoring position (or well timed run prevention), and you vault into legitimate Wild Card contention.

These outcomes are entirely within reach for the 2017 Orioles.

27 October 2016

Blueprint For The 2017 Orioles (Option 3): Let's Get Versatile

Since this is the third installment of Camden Depot’s 2017 Orioles blueprint series, you should know the drill by now. Construct the 2017 roster while staying within an assumed budget of $160 million without trading anyone. Here we go…

Non-Tendered Players

As in years past, the Orioles have a number of arbitration eligible players. I’m going to keep all of them except for T.J. McFarland and Vance Worley, as I think similar contributions can be found for less money. I would preferably non-tender Ryan Flaherty as well, and try to resign him for less than the MLB Trade Rumors arbitration projection ($1.7 million), but unless you can talk yourself into a Ruben Tejada type player instead, there isn’t much else out there in terms of a cheap bench bat that can play shortstop, among other positions.

Qualifying Offers

I’m giving one to Mark Trumbo because I think there is a really good chance that he declines. In the event that he accepts the offer, it would be worthwhile coming up with a Plan B, as that $17 million (or there about) would suck up basically all of my budget. For now let’s assume that he declines, since that currently seems to be the perception. With a strict 2017 budget of $160 million, there is no way I’m offering another qualifying offer to Matt Wieters, as I think there is a good chance that he accepts, even with the Wilson Ramos injury. Either way, I can’t take the chance of both accepting the qualifying offer, so I’m only handing out one, and it’s going to Trumbo.

2017 Roster

So here is what we are left with in 2017 and the holes that we need to fill. All salaries are either obtained from Cot’s Contracts, the arbitration projections from MLB Trade Rumors, or salary projections using the Camden Depot BORAS model. I assumed that the major league minimum will be $520,000 (this will ultimately be decided when the new CBA is completed) and that Dylan Bundy gets a slight raise from $1.8 million (his 2016 salary) to $2.0 million.

Looking at the figure, I have to fill vacancies at catcher and right field, along with 2 bench spots, and 2 bullpen spots with approximately $14.96 million. This is where you say, “good luck”. Thanks.


First and foremost, if Manny Machado is open to a contract extension that is structured in a way that frees up a little bit of budget space in 2017, I’m trying to get that done immediately. For this exercise, I’m assuming he’s not. Catcher is the only open position. Caleb Joseph stays on, but great defense aside, I’m not sure his bat justifies a starting position for him. Furthermore, I’m not sure he can physically handle the catching position on a full time basis. To help with the catching duties, I’m looking to stay internal with Francisco Pena. Pena hasn’t been terribly impressive in his limited time in the majors, but he has a reputation of being a decent defender and has shown power in AAA in the past (40 home runs in 744 PA’s between 2014 and 2015 in the Royals system). I don’t even feel good about this decision, but the options on the free agent market aren’t great, and there are limited funds. There isn’t really a starter in this scenario, more of a 50/50 timeshare.

If you want to be extremely optimistic, Chance Sisco comes up halfway through the season and takes over the catching position. I wouldn’t bet on that though. Signing a veteran to a minor league deal (think Ryan Hanigan or Drew Butera) for insurance would be a prudent move.

Remaining Funds: 14.44 million


Adam Jones returns to man centerfield and Hyun-soo Kim performed well enough to earn the full-time left field job. And by full-time, I mean no platoon. Right field is where we need to fill a spot. I’m in more of the Joey Rickard 4th or 5th outfielder camp than even platoon starter and Dariel Alvarez may not even be a bench bat. So we'll need to sign someone to play right field.

Originally, I was in favor of Jay Bruce to fill right field, but following yesterday’s post and the discussion regarding the Mets picking up Bruce’s option, he probably won’t be available. In light of that, I’m suggesting signing Jon Jay instead, who BORAS projects can be acquired for a 2 year deal worth $19.7 million ($9.85 annually). It may eat up a lot of our remaining budget, but Jay is essentially your league average hitter (career 106 wRC+) and fielder (career -1 Defensive Run Saved), can play all 3 outfield positions adequately, and will also fill an outfield position in 2018, which at the moment consists of Adam Jones and that’s it. I also like the addition of Jay to the Orioles lineup as someone who consistently puts the ball in play.

Remaining Funds: $4.59 million

Pitching Staff

It would be nice to improve the starting pitching, but aside from the fact that the Orioles already have 6 starters for 5 spots, there isn’t a guaranteed improvement on the free agent market. Plus, because of various flaws among them, I’m keeping all 6 starters because one of the 5 listed in the figure above WILL inevitably succumb to injury or ineffectiveness. In fact, with this group, I’d ideally want to bring in a few more options, but with this budget, it’s not happening.

So I’m starting Bundy in the bullpen for the beginning of the season for health reasons, and he’s the first cavalry (sorry) member called when someone disappoints. I’m filling the other two bullpen openings with internal options with any combination of Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, Oliver Drake, Parker Bridwell, Donnie Hart, etc. Wright, Wilson, and Bridwell could potentially be spot-starters as well if more than one of the starters needs to be relieved of their duties.

Remaining Funds: $3.55 million


So far, the bench consists of Caleb Joseph or Francisco Pena, Ryan Flaherty, and Joey Rickard, meaning we have 2 spots to fill. I only have $3.55 million left, so one (or both) will need to be filled by a player making the minimum. One of those players would be either Trey Mancini or Christian Walker, and while I would prefer Mancini to get a little more time in AAA, I wouldn’t be opposed to putting him on the opening day roster.

With $3.03 million left, I am going to sign Chris Coghlan to be a poor man’s Ben Zobrist and play all over the field. Coghlan’s 2016 season wasn’t good at all (66 wRC+ and -0.5 fWAR), so he potentially could be had cheap. However, he was worth 5.7 fWAR in just over 900 PA’s in 2014 and 2015 combined, so he isn’t too far removed from success either, which makes coming up with a salary for him potentially challenging. Signing Coghlan to a somewhat realistic contract while staying under budget requires me to take some creative license, so I’ll sign him to a 1-year deal for $3 million (how convenient!), with a $7 million option that vests at 300 PA’s, or something else that is easily attainable (I did not ask Jon to run a BORAS projection for him since I’m finishing this up late the night before).

The acquisition of Coghlan allows the Orioles to use the DH spot as a rotational position to rest guys or play match ups (or both), which is in stark contrast to the 2016 team that featured both Mark Trumbo (miscast in the outfield) and Pedro Alvarez on the roster. With many of the Orioles core position players getting older (Jones, Davis, Hardy), having that additional flexibility to rest guys or rotate them through the DH spot becomes more important.


Here’s the final tally:
  • OF Jon Jay - 2 years, $19.7 million
  • UTIL Chris Coghlan – 1 year, $3 million (vesting $7 million option if 300 PA’s reached)
This was a tough exercise, much more difficult than last year in my opinion. I went through many different possibilities (including releasing Gallardo to save $520,000) and for now I think this is the best option. However, I may very well wake up tomorrow not even liking my own suggestions anymore. On the plus side, much of the team that returns is the same one that won 89 games in 2016. If you don’t have a lot of money to spend, that’s a pretty good starting point.


Postscript: If trades were an option, I’d be heavily shopping Zach Britton, along with Brad Brach, Christian Walker, and Trey Mancini to try and restock the farm system and potentially add to the major league roster. Cost savings from Britton’s (and potentially Brach’s) salary would likely go to the catcher position or a better option in RF (like Josh Reddick), along with potentially an additional pitcher(s) who could start or relieve like a Travis Wood or Jesse Chavez.

26 October 2016

Blueprint For The 2017 Orioles (Option 2): Meet The New Boss...

Positional Needs & Wants

The following players are set to be free agents after spending 2016 with the club:
  • C Matt Wieters
  • 1B/RF/DH Mark Trumbo
  • 1B/DH Pedro Alvarez
  • LF Nolan Reimold
There aren't any literal holes in the rotation; the Orioles claim to have 5 starting pitchers. I don't agree with them, so I'd like to see the team make an effort to bring on another starting pitcher and relegate at least Jimenez to the bullpen. Still, the actual roster holes need to be filled before any new pitchers can be brought in.


Based on MLB Trade Rumors' arbitration estimates, the Orioles will be spending quite a bit next year already. With an available budget of $160 million, there's not much left over for filling the holes.


Here's the rub with the Orioles: they're good enough to feel like they're just a piece away when really, they're one or two really expensive pieces away. Staying within a tight budget given the team's current commitments means that the rotation can't be meaningfully upgraded while also filling the hole in right field. While I want to upgrade the rotation through free agency, I probably won't be able to. I'll have to count on Gausman and Bundy to continue to progress as professional starters.

 I'm also incredibly risk averse and projecting contracts is not my strong suit so other Depot writers and you, the reader, might think I'm foolishly giving up the chance to earn two draft picks here. That's fine:

Like last year, I'm against extending a qualifying offer to Matt Wieters. He's definitely not worth the $17M that would be associated with the QO, and unless he is really looking for a long-term deal, he'd take the QO and the Orioles would end up with an expensive catcher who is no better than the other free agent options.

I'm not going to offer a qualifying offer to Mark Trumbo either because he might actually take it. That ice was broken last year by Colby Rasmus and Matt Wieters and although Trumbo's season-long numbers look great, he was noticeably worse overall in the second half. Sure, his WRC+ was over 100 in every month of the year, but just barely in July and September. I'm not willing to bank on Trumbo to put another two-or-more win season together while being strictly a power hitter and a liability in the outfield, which means I'm not willing to risk paying him like a two-or-more win player.

I'll also get rid of TJ McFarland and Vance Worley. Their skills are easily replaced by other guys on the roster and frankly the Orioles already have too many 6th starter/LRP types anyway. I'd rather let Ubaldo and Miley fight for the last spot in the rotation. That also saves us about $4 million.

I'd like to see the Orioles acquire Jay Bruce to play right field. He's coming off of a year in which he played well enough to be seen as the Mets' missing piece before falling apart at the end of the season. He had two bad years prior to that, but his early- and mid-20s hinted at a lot of potential. Even if Bruce puts together a pretty average season worth 1 win, that makes him better than both Joey Rickard and empty space, and he's only going to cost the team $7.2M on a 1-year deal, per the BORAS model.

Catcher is a tough position to fill, because many of the impending free agents are older and haven;t caught a full season. The Orioles have Caleb Joseph, who I thought might be the man to fill Wieters' spot as recently as last year, but I think he's better off used as a backup. However, I'd prefer to go cheap here. I don't need a lot of power from this position. A healthy, reliable backstop is fine. With that in mind, I'm going to pass on the top free agents and go with the less expensive Hank Conger on a 1 year, $4 million deal. He's never played more than 100 games in a season (for performance reasons, not injury), but he's under 30 and has multiple season with an OPS over .700. If, like I did, you thought at one time that Caleb Joseph could be the organization's future simply because he was cheap and serviceable, then Hank Conger isn't a stretch. He's an upgrade from Joseph and the two can split time to keep them both healthy. But most important, Conger is a cheap warm body that can play behind the plate. The organization needs to go cheap somewhere if we're going to see meaningul improvement anywhere, so I'm punting on a position that most organizations punt on anyway.

Finally, we're looking for a DH, and preferably one that can play a little first base if necessary. The BORAS model used by Camden Depot suggested 3 years at an AAV of $13 million for Steve Pearce, which feels a expensive. Pearce hasn't made more than $5 million in any single season, so I'm going to use that as my high estimate for his AAV and offer him a 2 year, $10 million deal. Pearce also offers some flexibility in the outfield and can play left field whenever Buck feels like excluding Kim for no apparent reason.

Pearce hits lefties and righties pretty well, but is noticeably better against lefties than righties, which makes him ideal for a platoon with a left-handed masher. True to Orioles' fashion, I expect the team to go with a decent option that they've seen in the clubhouse before. With that in mind, I'll recommend bringing back Pedro Alvarez for about 1 year and $5 million. This is again below the BORAS projection of 1/$8M for Alvarez, but he signed for 1/$5.75 last year and didn't do anything to earn himself a major raise.

Major Moves

  • Let Matt Wieters and Mark Trumbo walk
  • Signed Jay Bruce, RF for 1/$7.2M
  • Signed Steve Pearce, DH/UT for 1/$5M
  • Signed Pedro Alvarez, DH/1B for 1/$5.75M
  • Signed Hank Conger, C for 1/$4M


If you're keeping score or adding salaries at home, I went a little over the $160 million budget ($5 million to be exact, but in the spirit of being a fan: it's not my money, so spend away!). I'm sure a few of these contract projections are high; Pearce and Conger will probably cost less than $5M and $4M respectively, so there will be ways to get this roster to $160M.

Exciting, isn't it? This roster looks pretty much identical to the 2016 squad, except Jay Bruce is the new reclamation project in right field. The Orioles will always go as far as their stars take them, and they've got too much money committed to those stars to give them much help in the field or in the lineup. The only way this team competes for a memorable postseason experience is if Gausman and Bundy make major leaps forward.

25 October 2016

Blueprint For The 2017 Orioles (Option 1): An Expanded Role For Hyun Soo Kim

This is the second post in a series by Camden Depot staff writers exploring what the Orioles should do this offseason to get back to the playoffs in 2017. It should be noted that this exercise does not include trades, though it's unlikely the O's make a major move in that regard. These posts focus on roster construction and free agent decisions. Enjoy!

The one good thing about this offseason for the Orioles is that they don't have a bunch of decisions to make if they don't want to. The 2016 Orioles won 89 games and earned a spot in the American League wild card game, so, for the most part, they can run things back next season. The most crucial question is what to do about impending free agents Matt Wieters and Mark Trumbo. Both are good players, but neither is a superstar. And if both were to walk, the Orioles still have a talented core.

While the O's may not have a bunch of decisions to make, there doesn't appear to be much flexibility in terms of payroll. This past season, the Orioles had a payroll of about $147 million. Before arbitration in 2017, the Orioles have around $95 million to eight players tied up in salary. But factoring in arbitration is when things get dicey.

Arbitration Raises

The Orioles' arbitration-eligible players are estimated to earn about $50 million. The big three of those arbitration players includes Manny Machado, Zach Britton, and Chris Tillman, who could all receive about $11 million apiece. (See MLB Trade Rumors' full list of arbitration salary projections for next season.)

Machado, Britton, and Tillman are no-brainers. They're good players (phenomenal in the cases of Machado and Britton), and you pay them what they're worth. The same goes for Jonathan Schoop, Brad Brach, and Kevin Gausman.

But what about Ryan Flaherty ($1.7M), Vance Worley ($3.3M), T.J. McFarland ($700K), and Caleb Joseph ($1M)? Joseph isn't going anywhere, and he shouldn't. There's no way the Orioles opt to move on from Wieters and Joseph in the same offseason. McFarland is due to make even less than Joseph, but the need for him is not as crucial. Plus, like Flaherty, he's now out of options.

Out of the four questions marks, I'd non-tender Worley and McFarland. McFarland isn't all that good, has struggled to stay healthy, and doesn't fill a position of serious need. The Orioles very well may carry all six starting pitchers -- Tillman, Gausman, Wade Miley, Ubaldo Jimenez, Dylan Bundy, and Yovani Gallardo -- next season, meaning that's one bullpen spot already filled by a swingman type. Plus, the Orioles also have Tyler Wilson, Mike Wright, and Parker Bridwell (among others) who could duke it out for another mop-up, long reliever slot.

If the O's somehow dump one of Jimenez or Gallardo, then it might be worth keeping Worley around. But there are only so many OK pitchers you can keep who don't have options, and there are only so many spots in the bullpen. And I really, really don't want the Orioles to tender him a contract and then ship him off with a competitive balance pick in the spring just to get rid of his moderate salary. That's a poor use of resources, and it should stop happening.

As for Flaherty, the Orioles don't seem to have someone else in their organization capable of a utility player role. Perhaps the O's could bring back Paul Janish and save a little money (maybe around $1 million). I wouldn't be against that, but again, we aren't talking about much. It is nice, too, to have a reliable and versatile glove around. That also describes Janish.

After accounting for players under contract and arbitration raises, the Orioles are already at about $140 million. Now the fun starts, because it's qualifying offer time.

Matt Wieters and Mark Trumbo

Let's just get right to it: Should the Orioles extend both Wieters and Trumbo qualifying offers (which will be $17.2 million next season)? That would be a calculated risk to acquire two extra draft picks, but it might also be something the Orioles simply will not do.

One-year deals are low-risk maneuvers, but potentially tying up more than $34 million next season in those two players would almost certainly lead to the O's doing very little else with the roster. But here's the thing: The Orioles might be cash-strapped anyway, which would be an argument for offering both. If both players were to somehow accept the qualifying offer, that would bump the team payroll to nearly $175 million while still needing at least one or two players to fill out the rest of the roster.

Despite the risk, I'd still offer both. Wilson Ramos's torn ACL catapulted Wieters to the top of the free agent catchers list, and it wouldn't be hard to see a team in search of a moderate upgrade at catcher offering Wieters a deal of at least three years. Wieters isn't great by any means, but he'd be a good enough addition for a handful of teams. If he's willing to sacrifice that money to stick around another year in Baltimore, then so be it. It's not ideal to offer him $17 million for one season. It wasn't ideal to have him back for $15.8 million in 2016. But yet another year gets you one step closer to figuring out if Joseph's awful season was a blip on the radar, and also to Chance Sisco's eventual promotion (whether he sticks at catcher or not).

As for Trumbo, the O's still need his bat. The problem is, unless you tether him to the DH spot or play him at first base (both unlikely), you can't get his bat without his outfield glove. He also seems to hit a bit better when he's actually playing in the field.

Like Wieters, Trumbo should be in the market for a lucrative multiyear deal, so it would be tough to imagine him forgoing that money just because he liked the Orioles' clubhouse and winning culture. Still, it's possible. The qualifying offer is now large enough for players to consider taking it, which was demonstrated last year when Wieters, Colby Rasmus, and Brett Anderson became the first players to accept it.

Both would probably reject it, so you'd have to plan for otherwise. But if the Orioles could manage around it, that large of a payroll would be a one-year thing. Look at the list of free agents the O's could have after the 2017 season (other than Wieters and Trumbo): Ubaldo Jimenez, J.J. Hardy ($2M buyout), Yovani Gallardo ($2M buyout), Chris Tillman, Wade Miley ($500K buyout), and Hyun Soo Kim. Sure, there will be another round of arbitration raises and several roster holes to fill, but that would be even more money coming off the books.

So the first option would be to offer both players and see what happens. Running things back with the same cast of characters might not be ideal, but there are much worse things.

And then the next, more likely option is that Trumbo and Wieters, or at least one of the two, declines the qualifying offer. Not only does that net you an extra draft pick or two, but it frees up money to improve the roster in other ways.

Free Agents

The Orioles' (opening day) payroll will almost certainly surpass $150 million this year, but what you think the team will do in free agency depends on how much higher you think it'll go. Could it approach $160 million? Anything much higher than that seems out of the question.

Let's say $160 million is the max. Perhaps that's unrealistic considering the Orioles went from a team payroll of $108 million in 2014 to $119 million in 2015 to $147 million in 2016. That 2015-2016 jump was quite large, but let's stick with the increasing pattern. Without Trumbo/Wieters, the O's would be at about $140 million. That leaves about $20 million for an outfielder or two, a 1B/DH type, and a second catcher.


The returning group of outfielders includes Adam Jones, Kim, and Joey Rickard. I would not bring back Nolan Reimold or Drew Stubbs. I also would not bring back Steve Pearce, at least with any kind of expectation for him to play the outfield regularly. The Orioles are well aware of Pearce's limitations, and the last thing they would need is for him to get injured again playing the outfield.

In center field, there's Jones. He'll be there for the next couple of years as long as he's healthy. The O's do view Rickard as a viable backup center fielder, so it's not a requirement that whomever they sign has those defensive skills. But it wouldn't hurt.

In left field, there's Kim. If you read this site often or follow me on Twitter (sorry), you know I've questioned (relentlessly, you might say) why Kim wasn't playing more often. He led the team in on-base percentage by a wide margin, was one of the team's only options to diversify a power-heavy lineup, and isn't necessarily just a platoon bat (as argued by Jon last week). Perhaps defensive limitations led to him not playing more. According to Defensive Runs Saved data, he was a -13 defender. For reference, Trumbo was -11, Jones was -10, and Rickard was -8. You know Trumbo is a bad outfielder, and also that the advanced metrics are not always kind to Jones. For Kim and Rickard, that's only one season's worth of data (and not a full season for either). Kim has a bad arm, but I have a hard time seeing him as that terrible in the field. The same goes for Rickard.

Regardless, Kim showed that his hit tool plays in the major leagues. The O's need to take advantage of having him under contract for one more season and deploy him more often. His on-base skills are a must at the top of the lineup -- I'd bat Kim first and Machado second -- and it's worth giving him extended at-bats to see if he can tread water against left-handed pitching. Batting him leadoff against right-handed pitching but ninth against left-handers would not be unreasonable. It's not a perfect option, but even sticking him in the lineup at DH wouldn't be terrible.

With Kim in left and Jones in center, that means Rickard needs a platoon partner in right field. A full-time right fielder would be wonderful, but with only about $20 million to spend, that doesn't seem likely. There are some enticing names for sure -- Dexter Fowler, Ian Desmond, Josh Reddick -- but they are too expensive (plus, there's little to no chance Fowler ever dons an Orioles uniform after last offseason's drama).

So here are a few left-handed bats that could make sense, with their BORAS projections in parentheses:

Michael Saunders (two years, $20M)
Colby Rasmus (two years, $23M)
Brandon Moss (one year, $9.5M)
Matt Joyce (one year, $9M)
Jon Jay (two years, $20M)
Jay Bruce (one year, $7M)
Michael Bourn (minors deal, up to $6.5M in incentives)

Out of those options, my first choice would be Moss (though Jay is intriguing as a more versatile defensive outfielder and Bruce is pretty cheap). Moss is a decent enough outfielder (and able to play first base as well) who can hit. I don't want any part of Saunders or Joyce as regular outfielders, and Rasmus on any kind of multiyear deal is kind of scary. It also seems that if the O's were truly sold on him before, they would have brought him on board a couple years ago. Still, Moss will probably command a multiyear offer of some kind, and a fit doesn't seem all that likely.

I'm not a huge proponent of Michael Bourn, but it's easy to see how he would again fit on this team. He demonstrated that in limited time after the team acquired him on August 31. I'm not sure he'll get a minor league deal, but he shouldn't cost much. And it's hard not to like the speed and decent glove, even if his bat is a concern.

Thanks in part to a ridiculous .471 BABIP, Bourn actually hit better against left-handed pitching than right-handed pitching last season (122 wRC+ vs. 69). But career wise, he's better against right-handers (92 wRC+ vs. 76). Neither of those is great, but the main reason to sign Bourn isn't his bat. He'd serve as the second piece of an interesting (though surely not great) platoon with Rickard, and he'd also be a nice defensive and baserunning option late in games.

For the fifth outfielder/bench bat, I'd either sign someone to a minor league/minimum deal or give someone like Dariel Alvarez a shot. He doesn't seem like any kind of answer at the plate, but the glove seems adequate in corner outfield (and he has an outstanding arm). Barring injury, he wouldn't play much anyway.

Designated Hitter

Possible DH options:

Mike Napoli (1 year, $10M)
Adam Lind (1 year, $8M)
Pedro Alvarez (1 year, $8M)

I feel pretty strongly on this one: The Orioles need someone who can hit left-handed pitching after a disastrous year against southpaws.

Could that guy be Trey Mancini? It would be fantastic if that guy could be Trey Mancini. But I'd feel more confident in someone like Mike Napoli (career 142 wRC+ vs. LHP), or even Pearce (career 130 wRC+ vs. LHP). BORAS has Pearce at three years and $39 million, which seems far-fetched. After undergoing surgery on his right forearm, Pearce may indeed be in the market for another one-year deal.

Napoli turns 35 soon, so there's always the chance he could fall off the proverbial cliff. Not every DH ages like David Ortiz (thankfully). He'll also want a multiyear deal, but that doesn't seem all that likely for someone with his skill-set.

I like Pedro Alvarez, and it wouldn't be a surprise at all to see him return. If/when Trumbo departs, the Orioles could definitely use another big bat, even if it's a left-handed one. I'd prefer Napoli, though.


Jason Castro (2 years, $20M)
Kurt Suzuki (1 year, $8M)
Alex Avila (2 years, $20M)

You know what isn't much to work with in free agency? $20 million. I guess this is how the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A's feel every year. With Bourn and Napoli on board, the O's could have anywhere from $4 to $6 million (maybe) to spend. That's not a lot.

In terms of a catching duo, it would be nice to have a left-handed hitting catcher to pair with Joseph. Castro or Avila would present an interesting fit, but the money might not be there. If the O's went with Mancini as the regular DH over Napoli or Pearce, etc., then yes, it would be. Other than that, there aren't a whole lot of options.

Maybe the likeliest alternative is a reunion with one-time Oriole Nick Hundley. Hundley is an OK hitter for a catcher but not a well-regarded defender or pitch framer. He's also 33 and just completed a two-year, $6.25 million deal, so he shouldn't cost much. As the superior defensive option, Joseph should receive the majority of the playing time.


Would you be happy with an offseason where the most notable additions are Mike Napoli, Michael Bourn, and Nick Hundley? No, probably not. But that's what can happen when you have a few players on hefty contracts and also a handful of good players going through arbitration. Money gets tight in a hurry.

Even still, having Napoli and Bourn around for an entire season should help the O's in two important areas: hitting left-handers and outfield defense. And getting creative with a pitching trade or two or choosing to give Mancini an extended look would free up some money to use, most likely for a better outfield option. The Orioles surely can't afford any of the expensive outfield options, but it would be a bonus to have a regular corner outfielder playing who is actually useful with the glove.

If the Orioles are going to again approach the 90-win mark and make a push for the playoffs, in all likelihood they'll need to rely on a hopefully improved starting rotation; better seasons from Chris Davis, Adam Jones, and Caleb Joseph; and another dominant year from the bullpen. When you look at it that way, it's far from unreasonable.

24 October 2016

Jae Gyun Hwang is Ryan Flaherty plus KBO KANG translations

You can call me a mild Ryan Flaherty fan.  He came over as a once semi-promising Cubs' prospect.  He had shown a fringe plus bat potential in the minors, but was considered too plodding to be a second baseman and not athletic enough for third base.

2008 21 A- 245 8 .297 .369 .511
2009 22 A 543 20 .276 .344 .470
2010 23 A+-AA 559 10 .271 .339 .418
2011 24 AA-AAA 530 19 .280 .347 .478
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/24/2016.

Remarkably, Flaherty turned into someone else with the Orioles.  The fringe hope in that bat vanished.  His average contact skills in the minors turned into minus minus contact skills while he retained other aspects of his offensive profile.  It is a bat that won't be able to keep anyone afloat.

2012 25 167 .216 .258 .359
2013 26 271 .224 .293 .390
2014 27 312 .221 .288 .356
2015 28 301 .202 .281 .356
2016 29 176 .217 .291 .318
5 Yrs 1227 .216 .284 .359
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/24/2016.

However, Flaherty has not needed that bat to stick with the Orioles because he became a plus fielder at second base and at third base.  Somehow, he even made himself into a competent shortstop and corner outfielder as well.  Over the past five years, Flaherty has been a cheap and useful fixture on the Orioles bench.  As 2017 approaches, he finds himself going into his final arbitration year with an approximate price of 1.7 MM on him.

At 30 and with 1227 plate appearances in the Majors to his name, we have a rather solid understanding of who Ryan Flaherty and what he is likely to become.  His bat has remained fairly consistent during this time.  Good ability to draw walks, good gap power, and poor contact.  It is difficult to see any of that getting better and easy to see it getting worse.  His defensive profile looks solid and for 1.7 MM in 2017, it might make sense to be able to carry a Jack-of-all-Positions, Not-a-Master-at-the-Plate kind of player.  Flaherty is useful, but is it possible for similar money or less to find something that might have an upside?

That someone would be Jae-gyun Hwang.  Hwang was put up for bid like Byung-ho Park last winter, but unlike Park was not bid on.  The issue for Hwang was that his power display appeared suspect.  He showed little ability to hit for power before 2015 and was considered more of a slap hitting, gap power third baseman with an above average glove.

All Levels (10 Seasons)4653114172.285.349.433
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/24/2016.

Then 2016 provided another data point.  His power spoke again.  The growing word was that Hwang grew eyes for the United States after the 2014 season and saw how someone like Jung Ho Kang brought attention to himself by revamping his swing to generate more power.  This past year, his swing bought moments like this 476 blast:

I asked Sung Min Kim of Today's Knuckleball who writes about KBO from Korea on his thoughts about Hwang.  He said that in addition to his power beginning to play in game these past two seasons that Hwang "can steal bases and make highlight plays at third base."  He comped Hwang to a Brett Lawrie or Trevor Plouffe type.  Good gap power that breaks out occasionally and adequate to good fielding.  To differ between him and Kang, he noted that Kang has much better bat speed and it is easier for him to translate that power into games.  Hwang has a smoother swing, but a lack of bat speed is a yellow flag to wave about.

The updated KANG model puts Hwang at of 250/293/381, but that uses 2014 data.  He supposedly reworked his swing for 2015, so that might not be an appropriate projection.  If we only consider his performance after that point, we have a projection of 266/314/394.  To phrase that differently, Hwang looks better at the plate than Flaherty is we consider all three previous seasons.  However, Hwang looks like a borderline starter if we only consider his performance post-change in his batting.  That potential to be a starter might be quite useful to have in house when J.J. Hardy departs after next season and Manny Machado shifts to shortstop.

Defense, though.  Scouts suggest that Hwang can play third base without trouble.  His size makes him a questionable fit at second base, but so was Schoop and the Orioles were able to position him around to make it work out.  Add Hwang's athleticism and speed, he might be usable at second in a pinch.  Shortstop is likely out of the question, but with Machado able to shift over it might not be all that needed of a question until 2018 comes.

Cost?  Jae-Gyun Hwang is not a mind blowing elite KBO player.  Park was.  Kang was.  Even Hyun-soo Kim was in his mystique as a professional hitter.  Hwang is clearly a rung below that even though he currently is an elite KBO player now.  This year, Hwang does not need a bidding process and is free to go to any MLB club he chooses.  He will likely prefer a starting gig, but those might be hard to find for a fringey third base prospect who performed well in a league where Park dominated and later went nuts in MLB play.  So, maybe, the Orioles could make a play for Hwang as a utility player to take Flaherty's place.

I think it likely that Hwang would prefer a club where a starting spot is more up for grabs as opposed to take 2017 as a learning red shirt year and then trying to break camp in 2018 as a starter.  Who knows whether there is any apprehension about the Orioles after Kim's clumsy handling by them.

Anyway, for fun, I decided to run a reverse KANG model for Ryan Flaherty to see what his numbers would look like over in the KBO.  I also threw in Pedro Alvarez for the fun of it.  I compared those projections with Hwang's actual numbers.

Ryan  Flaherty 26 .286 .386 .436
Jae-gyun Hwang 26 .330 .391 .558
Pedro Alvarez 39 .334 .453 .534

Alvarez would probably require a major change in KBO finances to play overseas.  Last year, the highest paid foreign player in the KBO was Dustin Nippert at 1.6 MM.  However, the KBO is notorious for reporting inaccurate salaries.  Nippert or someone else may have been paid more than that.  However, it is difficult to see anyone coming close to Alvarez' 5 MM he received from the Orioles last year.  He may be a 30-some MLB home run bat with no true position, but that is worth more than 2 MM to someone.

Flaherty on the other hand may not be able to find a deal greater than 1 MM stateside.  Therefore, Korea might present him an opportunity to make two to ten times what he might see here.  A player with his caliber should be able to easily grab himself a 100K+ minor league contract, but it might be difficult for him to secure a league minimum deal of 550k.  His numbers suggest he would be one of the best players in the KBO and the KANG translations may be underprojecting his power (KANG KBO->US significantly projects home runs, walks, and strikeouts while US->KBO significantly projects singles, doubles, walks, and strikeouts).  In other words, this might be a solid move for Flaherty and may not prevent him from returning stateside with the rising profile of the KBO.

I asked Kim to provide me with a few more names of players who may look to return stateside.  He suggested Eric Thames, Hyung-woo Choi, Ah-seop Son, and Wilin Rosario.  I have the new KANG model projections for their 2017 MLB seasons listed below.  Players with asterisks by their names indicate that for these projections only the most recent season was considered.  As you can see, there are no Byung Ho Park like contenders this season.

Eric Thames 19 .225 .288 .384
Hyung Woo Choi 19 .243 .293 .400
Jae Gyun Hwang 14 .250 .293 .381
Ah Seop Son 16 .258 .316 .393
Wilin Rosario * 19 .243 .279 .399
Hyung Woo Choi * 19 .240 .290 .398
Jae Gyun Hwang * 14 .266 .314 .394
Ah Seop Son * 15 .258 .317 .391
Eric Thames * 19 .223 .285 .383

In the end, the word on Thames is that he is being sized up for one of the largest KBO salaries in history and will not be returning for 2017.  Choi is another all around successful hitter in Japan, but he will be 33 and has no position.  It is difficult to see anyone giving him more than a Dae-ho Lee minor league invite route to the majors.  Ah-seop Son, who no one bidded on last year like Hwang, is a corner outfield type who is thought to be MLB ready defensively.  However, his slap hit style is considered questionable against MLB velocity.  Wilin Rosario still has the same issues that sent him to Korea.  He is not really a catcher and his bat is not strong enough for first base.

Perhaps one of these players will take faith in their own abilities and take deals to start off in the minors or on a bench, hoping they make the most of their opportunities to shine.  The trials and tribulations of Hyun-soo Kim may speak to them.  He had trouble in Spring Training and then needed continued success to maintain his position with any little imperfection throwing him to the bench.  It has to be difficult going from one of the best in your league to being someone no one cares much about or invests many resources in.  After Buck's, I think, rather apparent continued mishandling of Kim, I would be surprised if a Korean player thinks the Orioles are his best shot at MLB success.