03 April 2017

The 2017 Orioles: Creativity Required

Another Orioles season is about to begin. The team and their fans believes themselves to be playoff contenders, while the national media and projection systems see a sub-par club (both Fangraphs and Baseball Projections project them to be a .500 club or below). This has been the case the last 5 years, and while the Orioles have beaten those projections, I personally sided more in line with the projections at the start of most, if not all of those years. However, they've outperformed them so many times and so convincingly over the last 5 years, that it’s increasingly plausible (if not likely) that the projections are missing a key ingredient to their success. Is it the undervaluing of the bullpen, not accounting for the genius of Buck Showalter, the failure to quantify the “Orioles Way”, or some combination of all of the above? I don’t know. All I know is despite that, the Orioles again appear (in my opinion) to be taking a roster into the 2017 season that requires everything to go right if they really want to contend.

But not only will everything need to go right, the team will also likely have to be creative in order to squeeze every bit of value out of this roster. How are they going to do that? I don’t have any answers or suggestions for them at this time, but there are some areas where I think they will need to focus on in order to do that.

The first is something that they’ve always done under the Dan Duquette/Buck Showalter era, and that is roster manipulation. The concept of the “Norfolk Shuttle” and moving guys all over the place to play the best match-ups they can and keep guys from wearing down is something that Matt discussed last week. The Orioles are going to have to continue to take advantage of roster rules once again to try and gain an advantage, and as Matt mentioned, the advent of the 10-day disabled list in the new CBA may end up leading to even more roster moves than we’ve seen in previous year’s.

Additionally, the team is going to need to get creative with their starting pitching. I’m not even talking about players they should add or target at the trade deadline, I’m talking about getting creative in how they use the guys that they have. Similar to previous seasons, the Orioles starting rotation has serious question marks, and that was before they lost Chris Tillman for at least a month. Obviously, getting a healthy Tillman back in the rotation is essential, but even when he returns, the rotation likely only performs average at best, as every member, with the possible exception of Kevin Gausman has a serious question mark surrounding them. With one of the best bullpens in the league (and the previously mentioned expertise in roster manipulation), the Orioles should look to use both their starters and relievers in creative ways to get the most out of each group, and to limit the exposure of their starting rotation.

On the offensive side, it feels as if half of the players on the team are 1B/OF/DH types. Despite Adam Jones asking for a more athletic outfield in 2017, the Orioles brought in (or in some cases brought back) outfielders with decent bats and suspect gloves (with a couple more hanging around Norfolk). Those bats aren’t necessarily every day bats though, and Showalter will need to pick his match ups to put the team in the best position to win. And while the projected starting corner outfield defense leaves a lot to be desired, Craig Gentry and Joey Rickard did make the club (at least for now), so they should factor into defensive replacement duty. The challenge will be when and how to deploy them.

Finally, the front office will have to be creative in the trades they make this season, no matter how the team performs through the All-Star break. If they’re contending, they’re likely going to be looking to add at the deadline, which means they’ll be shipping off prospects to help the major league club. However, outside of Chance Sisco, they don’t really have anyone of significant value to trade. Even if players such as Cody Sedlock, Ryan Mountcastle, Keegan Akin, Austin Hays, Jomar Reyes, and DJ Davis continue to develop during the first half of the season, all of them appear to have at least one sizeable deficiency that limits their ceiling, and potential value in a trade. With that in mind, the team (and Camden Depot bloggers for that matter) may have to be creative in finding ways to upgrade. The best way may be hoping that some of the 1B/DH/OF depth performs well enough to draw interest from another contending club. Either way, it will be a challenge.

If they’re losing, then they will likely sell at the deadline, but how much will they want to trade away? The team has several major league assets that could bring back good returns and provide a boost to the minor league system, but the general consensus is that their window of contention remains open through the 2018 season. As Jon mentioned last week, April will be unusually more important to the success of the Orioles season than it typically is, so we may find out sooner rather than later how the team wants to plan for their immediate and long term future.

The Orioles hope to contend in 2017, despite an opening day roster that once again doesn’t immediately look like they will. Luckily for them (and for fans), this situation is something that this organization is very familiar with, and something they have consistently overcome during the last five years. However, the old tried and true methods may not be enough and a return to the playoffs will likely require some additional creativity in the front office and the dugout. Enjoy the 2017 season, and here’s hoping Baltimore (both the team and its fans) can keep an open mind.

*This post was later updated to clarify that Craig Gentry and Joey Rickard could serve as defensive replacements


Anonymous said...

If the O's keep beating the odds and making the playoffs and playing very well the last 5 years then why do you keep always running them in the ground at every post...you are just too negative for me....I will pick out Bundy for example of the starters to go with Gausman and Tillman...Jimenez is very capable if on...and Miley can be good if he is on as well...there are tons of backups that need their full chance....the entire IF....Schoop is underrated and one of the best in baseball to me...the OF...aside from Jones they are not anywhere near as bad you make them seem even on D.....and so what if they platoon like Earl used to do all the time....and that is saying nothing about one of the best bullpens in the game period.....

Unknown said...

I keep getting mixed messages: so does Gentry have good defense or not?

Unknown said...

Gentry is considered to be a good defender in the outfield. That sentence was just worded really badly. Thanks for bringing attention to it so I could clarify.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Running what into the ground at every post? We have different writers who have their own thoughts about various things.

Also, listing a bunch of things to break right does not mean things can't break wrong. It is both possible to be happy about that upcoming season and also skeptical.

To Unknown: Yes, Gentry's calling card is his glove. It's not known yet how the Orioles will use him (most likely as a late-game defender/runner and probably in a platoon, but Mancini's presence also clouds that). He's also a 33-year-old with concussion problems who hasn't played much in the majors the last couple of seasons. His story is a positive one and he's worth rooting for, but who knows exactly what the Orioles can get out of him.

Jon Shepherd said...

To Anon: If it makes you feel better, I talked to another team's exec and they think the Orioles bullpen is not elite. The argument went that the Orioles have Britton and then guys with caution flags in Givens, Brach, and O'Day. Other clubs have two legit shutdown guys. He thinks the perception still is one that remembers what O'Day was, ignores the jams Brach avoid, ignores that platoon nature of Givens' offerings, and forgets that closers are rarely perfect. Another big issue for him was that the club does not have a situational lefty.

But that is just one industry professional's opinion.

Roger said...

Wait a minute, what is Donnie Hart? He's a situational lefty if I ever saw one. The other exec is either trying to promote his own guys over the competition or just plain stupid. Fangraphs has the O's bullpen as #5 (or 6, can't recall). Not sure why he thinks O'Day is a "was" as opposed to an "is". He had some injury problems last year for the first time as an O and he is aging but he is still a shutdown reliever. And Brach is close to being that good. Most of the elite bullpens have two guys better than the O's first two, but very few have three or four guys as good as the O's four. Considering what Hart did to Papi last year, he is on his way to being a shutdown LOOGY. Overall, I get what you guys are saying in this article, but, as David Price is already showing us, no team is a lock - many things can happen. One thing I can say, though, is that it looks to me like the O's have depth like they haven't had in recent years. Granted that it's a lot of questionable depth (AAAA or flawed MLB depth), but ya' gotta believe that is what real depth usually is (or up and coming which the O's have little of). And the O's didn't bring in any terrible players that they had to give up a draft pick for. And some parts of the offseason were addition by subtraction, so things look more optimistic than last year did at this time.

Jon Shepherd said...


Mr. Diggz said...

"...a return to the playoffs will likely require some additional creativity in the front office and the dugout."

Isn't this the case with every team? Was there a more creative team during the season and playoffs last year than the dominant Cubs? I like the platoon the situation at leadoff for the Orioles: Smith and Kim who can crush right handed pitching and Ricard who had virtually all of his success last year against lefties. Not a bad option, but you hope Ricard can stay healthy.

Also Buck needs to USE the bullpen to his advantage especially in division games. No time for saving. Four quality bullpen arms with plus material right now (Brach, Givens, O'day, Britton) with a Lefty in the minors who has the potential to make an impact this season (Lee).