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.


Anonymous said...

I would like some of what Borass is smoking! Two years, 19.1 million to a released player who exactly batted MENDOZA!

Roger said...

I like this profile but have a few problems. First, I like the bold profile better but I never considered that the O's might have a shot at being competitive for Cespedes. If that relies on trading Tillman, I don't agree. I would press hard to trade out salary on Gallardo or Jimenez or even Miley. With the conservative profile, it seems like you have too many players for the roster and signing so many FAs leaves very little of the optionable flexibility that Buck seems to like. I agree, also, that adding one star is better than adding four slightly above replacement players. I have been pushing for Desmond who is cheaper and younger and more flexible than Cespedes. Not quite the offensive impact but fills the same hole while also adding infield flexibility. Jennings and Bourn seem duplicative and you don't seem to be considering internal candidates much.

Can't remember where it was mentioned but a 13 man pitching staff with 3 middle relievers with multiple inning capability and Bundy starting in the pen would be a great idea (plus the Rule 5 guy is likely to be a pitcher). Signing someone like Desmond makes it much easier to go with 12 position players. As we all know, having several 1B/DH types didn't provide much flexibility and made injuries hard to handle (especially when JJ was out of the lineup but Jones too).

Also, I wish there were really a case for keeping Pearce. But with Mancini in tow it's hard to justify Pearce. I would do it but Pearce would have to come at a deep discount. Pearce would make a great platoon partner for Kim. But with Desmond (or Cespedes), you don't have room for both Bourn and Pearce especially if you include Rickard.

I know everyone hates the O's farm but you have to use what talent it does offer. There's enough there to fill a roster if you go big on one star.

Anonymous said...

PEARCE?!?!?!?! 3 years, 40 MILL???????????????? Pass me your pipe now, Boras!!!!!!!!!!

Matt Perez said...

Being competitive on Cespedes doesn't necessarily require trading Tillman -- trading Jimenez should also do the trick. Or if the Os are willing to go to $165M then perhaps Miley or Gallardo. But the Os would have to be able to trade those three pitchers straight up without eating any cash. I'm not sure that's possible.

I'm not considering internal candidates much. The Orioles don't have a single credible Plan A player in the minors with the possible exception of putting Wright in the bullpen. I consider Mancini to be a strong Plan B at DH while Sisco is probably a year away. Rickard is nothing more than a fourth outfielder that hopefully sees minimal playing time. Walker is probably around a top 500 prospect and should be considered nothing more than a Plan C for the majors.

Jennings and Bourn are somewhat similar players but one can play LF and the other can play RF. As I have no respect for the Os minor league system, I think the Os could use both. If you sign Cespedes, then there isn't cash for Pearce or Bourn and the Os would really want to get a promising corner outfielder in a trade. Another reason to trade Tillman.

Roger said...

Anybody wanna be "in" on Derek Holland? Maybe we could trade Gallardo back to Texas along with a minor prospect and a competitive balance pick for Holland. Doesn't save any money but it might be an upgrade because Holland can pitch out of the pen too. And would make Miley expendable.

Also, just saw that Carlos Ruiz (PHIL) should be available at catcher. Seems like he might be a good stopgap to wait for Sisco to be ready. Does Ruiz have more potential upside than Castro? His D metrics seem to be good.

Matt, as much as you dislike the O's farm players, I think they have to use what they have where they can. Rickard as a 4th OF is exactly how he needs to be used and he has options now. You say Jennings and Bourn can play LF and RF, but then what about Kim? He actually does deserve a shot at batting against LHP with Rickard backing him up if he doesn't succeed. Cespedes or Desmond in RF would take care of that. Bourn can spell Jones or Cespedes/Desmond. I also think Mancini, Plan B or not, must be counted on to fill a significant role considering his low cost.

Matt P said...

We don't necessarily have a competitive balance pick. The draft isn't until January. But it's highly unlikely that the Os would be eligible for Part A as they're not bottom ten in market(the Os are bottom 11th) or in revenue, which means the best they could do is get a pick in part B (because the Os receive revenue sharing).

Agreed that Jennings, Bourn, Kim and Pearce would cover LF, RF, DH and give us a versatile player on the bench. Buck could use the fourth guy to keep players fresh and could rotate. I don't think I trust any of those guys except Kim to play 160 games anyway. Maybe the Os would use Walker instead of Rickard in order to have a pinch hitter available?

If the Os go after Cespedes then they'll likely have no money available to add depth. You'd need Bourn or Desmond playing LF (if the Os can afford them) and use the farm for the bench.

Matt P said...

Oh, no interest in Holland or Ruiz.

vilnius b. said...

So what does BORAS project Josh Reddick to make? He's coming off a down season in the power dept. and with defensive metrics so maybe the Orioles can get him for roughly the 3 years and 30 million he rejected from the A's before being shipped off to the Dodgers. Wouldn't that make him cheaper than Desmond? (Don't get me wrong, I'd prefer Ian Desmond to Reddick both because he's more durable and can play the IF if necessary.)

Sure, Reddick is injury prone but then again so are Jennings and Pearce. Reddick is only one year removed from a 20 HR season, playing half of his games in Oakland. So what might he accomplish in Camden Yards? And while his defensive metrics for 2016 don't outshine those of Jennings or Pearce, neither of these guys could claim they have won a gold glove. When healthy, he can cover a lot of ground and make outstanding plays, while contributing much greater power than you can reasonably expect from either Bourn, Jennings or Pearce (I think he'd love that short porch in RF). And he can steal a few bases for the team.
Like I said, I'd prefer Ian Desmond to Josh Reddick, but we should consider a backup plan since I imagine that Desmond would have multiple suitors this off-season. And, if you get Reddick at a reasonable cost, you can afford to get Pearce or Jennings if you prefer for that extra RHB in the OF.
No way I can see us having the money to sign Cespedes, unless you trade Tillman and even then that's problematic for reasons already covered.

Matt P said...

BORAS projects Reddick to earn 3 and $41M. Definitely cheaper than Desmond.

The Orioles probably can afford to add Reddick (barely) if they non-tender guys like Worley and Flaherty and go minimum wage with everyone else. Perhaps there would be a few million to add an outfielder like Jennings or Bourn. I think I'd rather sign Castro and go cheap on outfielders given the option.

In order to sign Cespedes, you'd need to get another team to eat about $12M in salary. If they'll go for Jimenez or Gallardo, then that can work. But Tillman is the realistic option.