16 October 2017

Blueprint For The 2018 Orioles (Option #1): So Yu Think Yu Can Pitch

Well, we’re finally here. The 2018 season has long been considered the likely last year that the Orioles will have a legitimate chance at competing for a playoff spot with their core players for the foreseeable future. Maybe “core players” casts too large of a net. This idea largely centers around the fact that, as of now, Manny Machado and Adam Jones will be free agents at this time next year, and those are two players that are difficult to replace. Though with several players in the minors taking big steps forward this past season, the post 2018 landscape may not be as bleak as it once seemed.

With that being said, having a (mostly) consistent 6+ WAR third baseman and an All-Star centerfielder on your roster doesn’t happen very often. So with the two of them possibly departing after the upcoming season, it’s extremely important to pull out all of the stops and make the 2018 Orioles as competitive as possible. And that’s what the Camden Depot writers (and some of our readers) will be trying to accomplish over the next week or two in our annual “Orioles Blueprint” series. I’m up first, but before we get to my proposal, let’s go over a couple of things.

Jon laid out the rules last week (along with Camden Depot's BORAS salary projections for pitchers and hitters). Here’s a quick recap:
  1. No trades
  2. Camden Depot’s BORAS salary projection model will be used to sign free agents
  3. MLB Trade Rumor arbitration projections are used for arbitration eligible players
  4. All team-controlled non-arbitration eligible players are assumed to have a salary $550,000
Budget: $155 million

Between Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo, and Darren O’Day, the Orioles have a total of $53.33 million in salary committed for the 2018 season.

Remaining Funds: $101.67 million

Team Options

First thing is first; there are some decisions to be made on a couple of options. One of the assumptions we made was that Welington Castillo would decline his player option, making him a free agent. If anyone wants him on the 2018 Orioles, they’ll need to pay him market price.

J.J. Hardy has a $14 million team option that would have vested if he received 600 PA’s in 2017 or 1,150 PA’s combined between 2016 and 2017. He reached neither. Hardy has had a great career in Baltimore, but there is no chance I’m picking up that option. Declining the option means I buy him out for $2 million.

Wade Miley also has a team option for $12 million. With the free agent market for starters the way it is, I did not think Miley would have to perform all that well for me to pick up his option. He ended up not even meeting the low bar I set. Fortunately, his buy out of $500,000 is cheap, so declining his option was a relatively easy decision for me.

Remaining Funds: $99.17 million

Arbitration Eligible Players

Seven Orioles players are eligible for arbitration. I’ll be tendering contracts to all of them in 2018 except…Zach Britton. I know, it sounds crazy, and I actually can’t believe that I am typing these words right now. Don’t get me wrong, I still think Zach Britton is a good pitcher, but there are a lot of reasons why I decided to not tender him a contract this offseason. I am planning to explain this decision in more detail in a follow up post. In short, it boiled down to my opinion that his trade value has been greatly diminished coupled with the thought that the extra $12.2 million saved can be put to better use.

Remaining Funds: $56.27 million

Qualifying Offers

None of the impending free agents are even close to being in consideration for a qualifying offer. This is the easiest decision of this entire exercise.

2018 Roster

The figure below will be the starting point for my Orioles blueprint.
As you can see, there are quite a lot of positions to fill (3 SP’s, 5 RP’s, 2 corner OF’s, 1 catcher, and 3 bench spots). Of course, some of them will be filled with players who are under team control and are not yet eligible for arbitration. I’ll outline that in the upcoming sections.

Before moving on, let's factor in Dylan Bundy's assumed $1.50 million salary for 2018.

Remaining Funds: $54.77 million


With the (pretty great) acquisition of Tim Beckham before the 2017 trade deadline, the 2018 infield was pretty much set. While I think Chance Sisco (probably) showed enough to make the opening day roster as the second catcher, I wouldn’t be opposed to sending him down to AAA to start the season. In the event of that, I would sign a strong framer/defender (someone like Rene Rivera) on a non-roster invite to spring training for a low base salary (< $1 million) if they make the major league club. For now, though, we’ll pencil in Caleb Joseph as the starting catcher to begin the season, with Sisco ($550,000) getting semi-regular playing time as the backup until at some point their roles hopefully reverse.

You can swap Davis and Trumbo between 1B and DH. While Davis grades out as the better defender there over his career, Jon will occasionally mention on Twitter that Trumbo hits much better when he’s playing the field (Matt K. also posted about it).

Remaining Funds: $54.22 million


Trey Mancini had a great year offensively and did not embarrass himself out in left field. At an assumed cost of $550,000, he’s going to be the starting left-fielder.

Austin Hays had a much better 2017 season than anyone probably thought he would have. Putting aside his small sample size struggles during his brief cup of coffee in the majors last year, I think it would be asking too much for him to come up and be the team’s everyday right fielder. I think he needs to spend a little bit of time in AAA before he’s ready to be in Baltimore full time. With that in mind, I would fill the right field position with Jon Jay. I actually advocated for the Orioles to sign Jay in my blueprint for 2017. Here’s what I said:
“…Jay is essentially your league average hitter (career 106 wRC+) and fielder (career -1 Defensive Run Saved), can play all 3 outfield positions adequately…”
Jay ended up signing a 1-year deal with the Cubs last offseason and put up another average season (this is a reminder that average is good). Jay’s going to play the 2018 season at age 33, so his defense is going to start trending slightly below average, but BORAS only sees a 1-year deal for $9.2 million for him, so there is limited risk in signing him. And if Hays plays well enough to get called up early in the season, Jay can easily shift into a supporting role, where his league average bat can adequately fill in at any outfield position.

Remaining Funds: $44.47 million

Pitching Staff

I may be publishing my blueprint first, but I think it’s safe to say that everyone’s blueprint will be focusing mainly on starting pitching. And that’s not just a coincidence, as the Baltimore rotation was absolutely dismal in 2017, ranking 27th in fWAR (29th in bWAR), 30th in ERA, 28th in FIP, 28th in innings pitched, etc, etc, etc. After declining Miley’s option, I’m left with Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy as my only 2 starters. There are (in my opinion, very questionable) internal options to fill those slots, and while at least one of them may emerge as a decent end of the rotation starter, I don’t want to go into the 2017 season depending on any of them. I’m ideally looking for an ace, a mid-rotation starter, and a flyer on a high risk starter.

Yu Darvish (photo via Keith Allison)
There are 2 pitchers on the free agent market that come close to being called an ace. One is Jake Arrieta, who is in no way coming back to Baltimore. The other is Yu Darvish, and he is my main target. BORAS projects Darvish to land a contract of 4 years and $69.26 million ($17.31 million per year)*. Darvish had a rough second half of 2017, which (as Jon noted in the BORAS projection for pitchers), significantly hurt his free agent standing in our projection system’s eyes. Other than a spike in his BABIP and HR rate in July and August, the rest of his peripherals appear to be in line with the more successful months of his season, so I’m not too worried.

For a mid-rotation starter, I would target Alex Cobb, who, according to BORAS, can be signed for 3 years and $31.14 million ($10.38 million per year)*. Performance wise, Cobb has been a really dependable middle of the rotation starter since coming into the big leagues in 2011. Outside of an injury shortened 2016 where he pitched only 22 innings (he also missed all of 2015 due to a torn UCL requiring Tommy John surgery), Cobb has averaged 2.8 fWAR per 180 innings pitched. The problem is, Cobb’s never reached 180 innings in a season, so there is some risk in this signing (he had a career high of 179.1 IP in 2017). Cobb is not a high strikeout pitcher, but he doesn’t walk many either and for the most part keeps the ball on the ground, which is good when one pitches half their games at Camden Yards.

I’m going to fill out the starting rotation by taking a flyer on Derek Holland for a BORAS projected 1 year deal for $1.5 million. Holland has been both injured and mostly ineffective since 2014. A spike in his home run rate and an inability to find the striekzone (leading to a 2017 walk rate of 12%) led to a 2017 where he was nearly an entire win worse than replacement level. However, I’m hoping I can get a little bit of productiveness out of the 32-year-old left-hander. I’m not expecting him to return to his 2013 form, but it’s not crazy to think he could provide some production as a 5th starter. During the 2016 season, he was worth 0.9 fWAR in 107.1 innings pitched when his walk and home run rates were more in line with his career levels. He doesn’t have to be great, and even if he’s terrible, the $1.5 million guaranteed will easily allow the team to cut their losses if needed. In that event, Baltimore can use one of Gabriel Ynoa, Jayson Aquino, Alec Asher, or Miguel Castro to fill the 5th spot in the rotation.

In the bullpen, I’ve got Brad Brach closing and Darren O’Day setting up. As in years past, I’m filling in the remainder of the relief corps with internal options making the league minimum. Mychal Givens, Miguel Castro, and Richard Bleier have certainly earned spots in the bullpen based on their 2017 performance (although Castro and Bleier’s peripherals do worry me). I’ll go with Donnie Hart as my second left-handed pitcher. Gabriel Ynoa is out of options, so he’ll likely get the last spot in the bullpen as a long man (I’d rather keep him as starting pitching depth than risk losing him to waivers). Other internal options such as Tanner Scott, Alec Asher, and Chris Lee can be in the mix as well. I’ll admit, that group does not inspire a lot of confidence, but bullpens can be fickle and it’s the one place where you can find something that sticks if you throw enough at the wall. With that in mind, I’m also handing out a bunch of non-roster invites to spring training to flawed relievers.

Remaining Funds: $12.53 million


We need 3 players to round out the bench. There is no real infield depth, so finding an infielder will be a priority. Furthermore, unless you want to count Mark Trumbo, there isn’t really much outfield depth either. I’m going to use the bulk of my remaining dollars to sign Howie Kendrick, who BORAS projects can be acquired for 1 year and $10.6 million. Kendrick solves some of the depth problem by being able to adequately play both infield and outfield corner positions, as well as his natural position of second base. Additionally, he’s a career 107 wRC+ hitter, who just finished up a very productive season at the plate, hitting .315/.368/.475. Of course, that came in only 334 plate appearances, as Kendrick has been somewhat of injury prone the last couple of seasons. Hopefully playing the role of part-time super utility player (something he’s done the last 2 year) will help keep him healthy.

The next bench spot goes to Anthony Santander over Joey Rickard. While I think Rickard can be a useful player, I think Santander has more promise, and I’d be interested to see if he can fulfill some of that. Plus, as a Rule 5 draft pick who spent most of the 2017 season on the 60-day DL, Santander needs to be on the active roster in 2018 for 44 days before he can be optioned to the minor leagues. The Orioles have stuck with him this long, I think it makes sense to get to the finish line.

The last bench spot should go to someone who can play shortstop, as currently, the backup shortstop options are moving Manny Machado or Jonathan Schoop off of their positions. I don’t think there is an internal option here, and without much money left, I’ll need to take the cheap route. I’ll sign Cliff Pennington, who will get a 1 year contract for $800,000 if he makes the team out of spring training. Pennington isn’t much of a hitter (career 79 wRC+), but not only can he play an average shortstop (career +3 DRS in nearly 5,000 innings), but can also play an average or better 3B and 2B as well, giving Buck Showalter a little more flexibility when giving guys some extra rest.

Remaining Funds: $580,000


Here’s the final tally:
OF Jon Jay – 1 year, $9.20 million
SP Yu Darvish – 4 years, $69.26 million
SP Alex Cobb – 3 years, $31.14 million
SP Derek Holland – 1 year, $1.50 million
UTIL Howie Kendrick – 1 year, $10.60 million
INF Cliff Pennington – NRI (1 year, $800,000 if makes team)

I always love doing this exercise because it demonstrates just how difficult it can be to try and build a winning team while sticking to a realistic budget. Sometimes tough decisions need to be made. It was a difficult decision to non-tender Zach Britton, but with the starting pitching being as bad as it was, I felt that reallocating the $12.2 million owed to Britton was needed in order for me to adequately address the holes in the starting rotation and outfield/bench.

*Author's Note: The original version of this post used incorrect/outdated BORAS projected contracts for Yu Darvish and Alex Cobb. Their projected salaries have been updated. As a result of this change,  there was not enough money remaining to sign SP Francisco Liriano. Instead, Derek Holland was signed as the starting pitcher characterized as a high risk flyer. The paragraph on Liriano has been replaced by one discussing Holland.


Postscript: I realize that my blueprint this year is not as realistic as some of the blueprints I have completed prior to previous seasons. I am under no sort of impression that the Orioles would even dream of non-tendering Zach Britton this offseason. I also think that Darvish may get more than what BORAS projects for him (possibly Cobb as well), which likely puts him out of range for the Orioles, considering the other holes they need to fill.

Having said that, a more realistic option of my blueprint would be to tender Britton a contract ($12.2 million) and not sign Darvish. The extra $5+ million would then be used to sign someone more dependable than Holland, possibly Clayton Richard (2 years, $17.50 million) or Jason Vargas (2 years, $17.20 million)...or it can be used for a more attractive offer for Alex Cobb. In this scenario, the 5th spot in the rotation is open for someone in the Asher, Aquino, Ynoa, Castro group to win out of spring training.


Anonymous said...

My instinct would be to tender Britton, too, but it's a good discussion point especially if the O's can get nothing back in trade (not sure that's true but it's a speculation). The O's have shown a distaste for bringing back relievers who cost 8 digits. They signed Johnson and then traded him for the proverbial bucket of balls (and he now makes half what the O's signed him for). I think the best approach with Britton is to try to sign him for a lower AAV for a longer term (2-3 years) before the non-tender deadline. But that would be outside the scope of this exercise.

Also, overall, the bullpen did not perform as well without Britton even though there were decent individual performances. Isn't there something to the idea that a guy like Britton not only brings his capabilities but makes the rest of the bullpen better around him?

I also think Darvish is a big injury waiting to happen and he's getting up in years. Makes me squirm a little to give such a big chunk to him. I like the idea of dabbling in the "mid-range" pool this year; the options seem pretty good (Cobb's pool). And I don't see the benefit in many of the low range guys. After four years of Ubaldo, why would you want to sign "Ubaldo lite"???

Anonymous said...

Oh, and, unfortunately, the competition for Cobb is going to be brutal. DD is not up for the challenge in my opinion.

Unknown said...

Nate, you can't justify not bringing back Britton. Signing him for one year is a low risk, high reward proposition. If Zach does flake out for whatever reason, you can part ways next offseason. But if he performs well he is a high quality trade asset or asset to the bullpen.

The only reason Britton would have severely diminished value is for injury problems, but you can't project that. You also can't just assume his performance level will just go off the rails; at the very least you pay one more year of arbitration to find out. The opportunity cost of not signing other free agents isn't in play here either; there is no long term commitment for Zach here.

Unknown said...

Non tender Britton? Not happening.

Unknown said...

I would have to know more about his injuries to be sure, but i would be open to a discussion with Britton about a 2-3 year extension. However, that's out of the scope of this blueprint, as you noted. Both Darvish and Cobb are injury risks. I think it's worth taking that risk if all you care about is winning in 2018 (especially if a long rebuild is expected).

Aaron - I believe I can justify non-tendering Britton (as I said, I will have a separate follow up post on the subject after the blueprint series is completed). It's not by any means a slam dunk case, but I do think it's worth a discussion. You don't have to agree with me, and I'm not expecting too many will. I'm not sure how there is not an opportunity cost of keeping him. This exercise has a fixed budget and I didn't have the money to keep Britton.

Elisabeth - At the end of the article I mention that there is no way Britton is getting non-tendered. I did not take the angle of what I thought the front office would do

Pip said...

I enjoy these, but does this exercise take into consideration whether the players in question have any strong feelings about coming to Baltimore?
Darvish is great, but I think he will not be worth the contract he gets.
I would like to see speculation about signing players from the non-tender pile.
There must be a lot of guys on the fringe, set to make too much money in arbitration, who will be cut loose.
Taking a flyer on one of them would probably be wiser than signing a guy like Holland, who, I'm sorry, gave exactly no indication he is worth anything except maybe a minors deal with a ST Invite.

Jon Shepherd said...

Divining feelings or predicting non tenders would probably incorporate way too much fantasy. Therefore, it is beyond the scope.

Anonymous said...

PTCello and Jon both make a point. I do think some free agents have shied away from BAL mainly because of the medical requirements. They have correctly marked players often enough that some have got to be worried (Balfour, Gallardo, Pagan, etc...). Pitchers like Darvish and Cobb who have recovered from significant injuries hopefully pass the physical but surely don't want to take the risk that their careers may be derailed (or predicted to be derailed) by a failed physical.

Again, I think that's outside the scope of this effort (and takes some of the fun away) but it will be part of reality.

Pip said...

Jon I was asking if we had any specific information about whether any major free agents were interested in coming here, I was not suggesting that we speculate.
Regarding non- tenders, every team has a brief list of potential non-tenders, and it is certainly worthwhile to look over those players and see which if any would be good fits for us. They're not intended because they're bad, of course, but also because they're just not worth what they are projected to get in arbitration, cutting them loose make them free agents, available for what anybody will pay. That's a fascinating scenario, and because it is so important to a team like the Orioles, it could be considered without too much fantasy being involved.
For instance, if Britton were cut loose, every team would want to sign him, but I don't think anybody would give him $13 million for a single season.

btwrestler119 said...

I think free agents avoiding Baltimore is overstated. Yes, players have preferences of where they'd prefer to play but in the end, the best offer usually gets the player.