18 October 2017

Blueprint For The 2018 Orioles (Option #3): Shake It Up

Before we get going, be sure to check out the rules of the game, the BORAS contract numbers, and the blueprints my fellow Depot residents have already posted. Did that? Ok, good. So let's talk about this off season for the Orioles. In many ways, 2018 already feels like the end of an era. It is possible that, after next season, Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Zach Britton, Buck Showalter, and Dan Duquette (among others) will no longer be a part of the Orioles' organization. Those men have been integral, in one way or another, in turning around a team mired in 14 straight losing seasons with little reason to think there wouldn't be a 15th. Though the Orioles have not attained the ultimate goal of winning a World Series, and indeed have only won a single playoff series during that time, that the team became even highly competitive is an outcome O's fans would have yearned for around, oh, 2008. It has been a very good run, but barring some sort of dramatic shift in organizational philosophy the team is almost certain to look very different in 2019 than it has for the past half-decade.

In my mind, this should actually be considered a good thing. My template for the Orioles would be to start a rebuild this off season while attempting to sign Machado and Jonathan Schoop to long-term contract extensions. That is problematic for this exercise, however, because trades are the only way to actually complete a rebuild. More to the point, however, I know that the Orioles are not going to do this. Every single thing the team has said has been with an eye on competing in 2018, so unless all of that is just a major smokescreen it is more than safe to say that the Orioles will likely approach this off season in the same way they have approached pretty much every off season under Dan Duquette: avoid huge money free agent deals for pitchers, work around the edges of the roster to build depth, and sign one-dimensional sluggers for triple what anyone else is offering. Ok, that last one might not happen this year. While I don't think this is necessarily the correct path forward for the franchise, I'm very certain that it is the path the team will take. I also do think that it is possible to make this team a contender next season, if probably not a serious threat to win it all. 

Contract Extensions and Options

As a reminder, we have set the projected payroll at $155 million. The Orioles have $53 million committed in 2018, but the big money is tied up in arbitration with seven players being projected to earn a total of $55 million. Given the relatively tight budget after arbitration and the need to significantly upgrade the rotation, major contract extensions are basically out of the question at this point.

The two easiest calls on the roster are the player options on JJ Hardy and Wade Miley. Hardy has a $2 million buyout, but there's just no way the Orioles can pick up his $14 million deal. Miley, who was in the conversation for worst pitchers in the American League last season, has a $12 million option with a $500,000 buyout, so enjoy that cool half a mil, Wade.


Nate outlined the case for non-tendering Zach Britton, and in principle, I agree. The preferable course would obviously be to trade him, but given that the Orioles didn't find a suitable package in July and his price has almost surely only gone down since then, it seems likely that Britton will be on the team in 2018. If I were running the team I'd probably non-tender Britton and maybe even attempt to re-sign him, but I highly doubt the O's will consider this. As a result, I am going to tender Britton his deal for his projected $12.2 million. 

Where I will break with orthodoxy is with Mark Trumbo. The no-trade rule hurts me here, though that would be an avenue I would aggressively pursue if it were available. Trumbo was really, really bad this season, producing a nearly incomprehensible -1.2 fWAR and seeing his power evaporate. Trumbo was 20% worse than the league average hitter and provides negative value defensively. While it's certainly possible that he will bounce back to being around a league average hitter again it also seems possible that he's just done. 2017 was the second season in the last four in which Trumbo produced a negative WAR, and even in his "good" years he's barely a league average player. Additionally, he clogs up the DH/corner OF spots that would be better served by other players.

So, my hot take: DFA Mark Trumbo. I know this is very unlikely to happen and it flies in the face of how the Orioles operate (see Ubaldo Jimenez for more information) but sometimes you need to just admit you made a mistake and move on. Trumbo's contract, in a year in which the market for sluggers cratered, was such a mistake and having him on the roster limits flexibility in addition to having to play him almost every day. This doesn't save any money, of course, but it does open up a needed roster spot.

With all that out of the way, our total payroll left is $42.6 million.

Starting Rotation

What, you thought I'd start with backup catcher? Obviously, the rotation was the biggest issue facing the team in 2017, as it posted the worst ERA of any Orioles team in history. Most of the main culprits will not be coming back in my blueprint, as I bid farewell to Jeremy Hellickson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Tillman, and Miley. This does mean, though, that three rotation spots need to be filled. The big fish are Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish, but I think it's very unlikely the Orioles pursue either for a variety of reasons. What I think is more likely is that the Orioles go after slightly better than average guys that can provide solid innings in the 3/4 spots in the rotation. The big acquisition here should be Alex Cobb, with a BORAS projection of 3 years, $31 million. Cobb has had trouble staying healthy during his career, which should limit his salary upside, but he is a very good to elite groundball pitcher that consistently beats his mediocre peripherals. He doesn't strike out many hitters and his home run rate spiked in 2017, but the price and fit work well for the O's.

In addition, the Orioles should make a run at Tyler Chatwood, with a BORAS projection of 4/42. This is a more significant commitment than Cobb despite Cobb having the bigger name recognition, but Chatwood is in many ways a younger, healthier version. His 2017 numbers certainly wouldn't predict this kind of contract commitment but there are some pretty good arguments that those numbers don't represent his true talent. First, he pitched in Colorado. At home, he was basically what Chris Tillman was this year: a tire fire. On the road, however, Chatwood was excellent, posting a 3.49 ERA in 77 road innings. While Oriole Park is not exactly a pitcher's haven, it is certainly no Coors Field, so I'd expect a stronger performance in 2017 as long as he gets out of Denver. Second, his walk and homer rates spiked but he didn't give up harder contact and he generated similar swing rates to the rest of his career. While I don't know if I'd call this a fluke I also don't think it's necessarily something that will automatically repeat. Like Cobb, Chatwood excels at generating ground balls, and at age 27 there is potentially room for growth in the strikeout department. This is a somewhat risky move, but there's a lot to like about Chatwood outside of Colorado.

Finally, I'd take a flyer on Derek Holland (BORAS 1/1.5). Holland is a lefty starter, and the Orioles have consistently said they really want one (which is a whole other discussion, but maybe another time). Holland was, well, bad as a White Sox this year, but that works in our favor as his market will probably not be robust. Additionally, there are some things to like, as most of his rate stats other than walks and homers (this is becoming a disturbing thing) stayed mostly constant. I don't think Holland is good, but he can be a 5th guy making a tenth of what Wade Miley would have made so I'll call that a win. The Orioles do have other internal options like Gabriel Ynoa and Miguel Castro, but I'd give Holland a shot to win that job out of spring.

Amount Remaining: $22.6 million


The bullpen was good last season, if not quite as good as it's been in the past, and better health from Zach Britton could be a huge improvement on its own. I leave the bullpen essentially unchanged from 2017, with Ynoa as a long man/swing starter. I personally do not believe in Miguel Castro and think he's in for serious regression in 2018, but the Orioles very clearly like him and I doubt they would send him to AAA, so he stays as the 6th inning guy. The one change I'd make is to replace Donnie Hart with Tanner Scott. Scott had a nice year in Bowie in 2017 and he brings a big-time strikeout arm to the pen, something the Orioles lack outside of Mychal Givens. I'd also take a look at non-roster guys, but there are no major bullpen additions in my blueprint, with Givens, Ynoa, Castro, Scott, and Richard Bleier making a combined $2.7 million.

Amount Remaining: $19.9 million


Most of the infield is set, with Machado, Schoop, Tim Beckham, and Chris Davis all returning. At catcher, we are assuming that Wellington Castillo will not pick up his 2018 option, and as a result will leave as a free agent. Castillo was solid enough, but there are too many holes to fill on the club to spend anything significant at the catcher position, especially because I'll be calling up top prospect Chance Sisco. While there are still some questions about his defense, his bat has the potential to be above average for a catcher, and it's not as though Castillo was a defensive whiz either. This will probably mean that Caleb Joseph sees more significant playing time this season, but with his offensive improvement in 2017 and his generally solid defense that seems fine.

My big acquisition for the infield will be Eric Sogard, with a BORAS projection of 2/17. Ryan Flahery has been the utility infielder since the dawn of time, but his usefulness to the team has declined dramatically, culminating in just 23 games played in 2017. Sogard brings a decent bat and above average defense and played second, third, short, and left field for the Brewers last season while racking up 1.9 fWAR. He probably had a career year offensively, but you don't need your utility infielder to post a .393 OBP like Sogard did in 2017. If he only produces his career average of .245/.341/.348 that would a huge bonus, and his left-handed bat gives the Orioles more flexibility as well. Given that there was some discussion about how various players may have run out of gas in September, Sogard playing 4-5 times a week at different positions could be huge.

Amount remaining: $11.5 million


Given my "this will definitely, totally happen" release of Mark Trumbo, there are a lot of interesting options in the outfield. Adam Jones will obviously be a big part of that, but given his defensive struggles in center and overall concerns about losing a step it may be time to move Jones over to a corner. While I don't doubt he would be resistant to this on a personal level, he could be sold on it as a way to save wear and tear on his body as he looks to get his last significant contract after 2018. Jones was actually quite good offensively this year and I think he would be at least average in left field defensively, so I'm making the move. Trey Mancini had a nice year and was better in the field than many thought he would be, but the metrics hated him and improving the outfield defense should be a priority this season. With Trumbo no longer on the team, I'll move Trey over to full time DH.

Right field was manned by a rotating, mediocre at best crew in 2017, but the Orioles have a top 50 prospect who tore up the minors who happens to play in right. So, yeah, maybe let's give Austin Hays a shot. Anthony Santander has to be on the team for at least the first 44 days of the season, and once he goes down the O's could bring up Joey Rickard to replace him, though perhaps Santander does enough to stick around.

This leaves a pretty big issue in center field, of course, which I will solve by signing Jarrod Dyson to a 2 year, $16 million deal. This is clearly below his BORAS projection of 2/25, but given that he is a platoon guy whose main value comes from defense I'm comfortable lowering the projection a bit (look to Luis Valbuena and even Pedro Alvarez last year to see how being a platoon player impacts your market). Indeed, Dyson got a paltry one year, $2.8 million deal last off season despite coming off an arguably better 2016 than 2017.

The big draw, here, is Dyson's defense, which consistently grades out as elite, as well as his speed and baserunning ability. Both defense and baserunning prowess were in short supply in the Oriole outfield last year, and Dyson's skill set would work well in an offense that desperately needs some diversification. Since he is a platoon player, however, I think the O's need one more piece in the outfield, so I'll bring in Peter Bourjos to serve as the right-handed side of the center field platoon. He made $1.5 million in 2017 and I'll give him that same salary for 2018. Bourjos was having a decent season for Tampa Bay before an awful September and brings a similar profile to the table as Dyson, so he is worth a little more than a league minimum type guy. In combination, there's a possibility of +3 WAR center field platoon.

Amount remaining: $0

2017/2018 Off Season Moves

Tyler Chatwood, SP: 4 years, $42 million
Alex Cobb, SP: 3 years, $31 million
Eric Sogard, IF: 2 years, $17 million
Jarrod Dyson, CF: 2 years, $16 million
Peter Bourjos, OF: 1 year, $1.5 million
Derek Holland, SP: 1 year, $1.5 million

2018 Roster

C:  Caleb Joseph
1B: Chris Davis
2B: Jonathan Schoop
3B: Manny Machado
SS: Tim Beckham
LF: Adam Jones
CF: Jarrod Dyson
RF: Austin Hays
DH: Trey Mancini
Bench: Chance Sisco, Peter Bourjos, Anthony Santander, Eric Sogard

SP: Dylan Bundy
SP: Kevin Gausman
SP: Alex Cobb
SP: Tyler Chatwood
SP: Derek Holland

Bullpen: Zach Britton, Brad Brach, Darren O'Day, Richard Bleier, Miguel Castro, Gabriel Ynoa, Tanner Scott

Final Thoughts

In a vacuum, this would be a fairly underwhelming off season for a team that finished in last place in 2017. That said, what the Orioles have long thrived on is the ability to avoid playing really bad players. They may not have had stars at every position, but the successful Orioles teams of this era rarely gave replacement level guys significant amounts of playing time. In 2017, the Orioles had five offensive players who played relatively significant roles that posted fewer than 1 fWAR. On the starting pitching side, there were four. Simply bringing in players with decent floors would improve the team, and subtracting Trumbo, Miley, Hellickson, Jimenez, and Tillman gives the O's a good chance of enduring fewer of the disastrous outcomes we saw this past season.

I'm not sure this restructured team would be a legitimate World Series threat, but if you squint, you could imagine Machado bouncing back to his +7 WAR self, Chris Davis getting back to being at least somewhat of a threat, progression from Gausman and Bundy, better health for Zach Britton, and suddenly this could be a team with legitimate playoff aspirations. Even if this isn't the off season I'd want if I had my way (and, really, everyone should just listen to me all the time) I think it's about as good as one could expect given the budget constraints facing the team.


Anonymous said...

I have to cry "foul". No one else has changed the BORAS projection to fit more FA's in under the budget. Plus, two of your free agents were not on the list of BORAS players presented (not that they shouldn't be - the list lacks good Util options). But I also believe that BORAS is low on the good mid-range pitchers (e.g. I saw 4/42-43 over at MLBTR for Cobb). Besides, asking to make good deals on speed/def guys is not terribly realistic.

Joe Wantz said...

I agree that I changed the projection on Dyson, but in talking with Jon and others there has been a clear trend towards paying platoon players less than their estimated value based off of WAR and other stats. Dyson only had 390 PA this season and has never even had 400, and it’s doubtful he’d reach his BORAS projection given the constraints on playing time he represents. Teams also don’t usually pay huge premiums for defense first guys in free agency.

Also, while Sogard was not on the public list that is his projection in the system.

Jon Shepherd said...

I think Joe has a reasonable argument for lowering Dyson's cost, but in the final article I will be using the full BORAS projected contracts if I do wind up being convinced to include Dyson as a solution.

Sogard was not originally listed, but was made public in the introductory post's comments and among the site writers.

Pip said...

I think it's really good. Dumping Trumbo is a surprise but is actually a good idea( which means Dan will never do it) the Angels dumped Hamilton, the Red Sox tossed Sandoval, and there's no indication that Trumbo is any better than he's shown.
You have to leave room for a rule 5 guy though. That draft is Dan's happiest day.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I'm confused as to how DFA'ing Trumbo would automatically be a Duquette thing. He gets credit for a signing that looks awful right now, but I can't imagine him being able to convince ownership to eat that kind of money. They wouldn't do it with Ubaldo, and there's no way it happens with Trumbo.

Joe Wantz said...

The Ubaldo thing is the biggest indicator that it won't happen, but it's a little different because he offered pitching depth that the team always needs. Trumbo doesn't have that same value, though I also doubt it would happen. I'd deal him for anything at all.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Right. That was a response to the previous comment by PTCello. I get the rationale behind it even though I don't agree.

Unknown said...

I don't know why you guys are so convinced Trumbo was a horrible deal. As terrible as he was, there is only two more years left on it. He's essentially morphed into a $12m per year off the bench platoon hitter. That sounds bad, but the Orioles would be better off using him as such instead of just releasing him outright.

The real culprit of bad deals is Davis. I don't even want to go there right now; getting a headache just thinking about it. Also, nobody has mentioned Tyson Ross with his super cheap BORAS projection contract. Give that guy a shot! (for the 5th starter spot of course)

Jon Shepherd said...

I think the issue with Trumbo is that he is a 12 MM salary who in 2017 performed at a -8 MM or so level. A swing of 20 MM in value is terrible.

Chris Davis is a 17 MM real time contract and he came in as a 0 WAR player, which is a -17 MM swing. Both are terrible.

What makes Trumbo worse is that with the existing contracts on hand and Trumbo's misery in RF that it was clear that the roster would have a hard time accomodating for him and that Davis was there.

Between the two, I think one would have better hope in Davis finding himself again than Trumbo. That said, Trumbo in the field at 1B might well be better than Davis if he continues to struggle mightily as a DH.

So short end of it, everyone thinks that both are terrible deals, but Trumbo's was a worse decision because the club was already locked into Davis.

Joe Wantz said...

I honestly think Trumbo brings negative value regardless of his deal which is why I went the way I did.

Pip said...

I mentioned Dan, because doing such things is Dan's job. He has to get ownership to sign off on major moves, but he can use his power of persuasion to help accomplish what he wants.
I was only saying that Dan does not want it to happen, so it won't. There's nothing wrong with saying that.

btwrestler119 said...

I like it, but don't see the need for a Bourjos, I don't know if he's really any better than a Joey Rickard at this point (and I'm not a Rickard fan at all).

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Duquette's power of persuasion isn't going to do much if the Orioles refuse to sign a top starting pitcher or give someone not named Chris Davis a massive contract. Perhaps he was given a choice to bring Trumbo back or only do something minor. We don't know.

All I'm saying is we can only guess. Anyway, a bad contract swap is the more realistic option, and even that is unlikely to happen.

Pip said...

I suppose, yes we can only guess, however transactions are Dan's job. He is responsible for doing the deed. In the absence of any concrete information, we must assume that transactions are Dan's choice, because signing and acquiring players is the job of the GM.
This means, of course that Dan, or any other GM, will get some undeserved credit or undeserved blame. But whatever should happen, what WILL happen is almost certainly Dan's call.

Jon Shepherd said...

Dan is handed a budget and he works within that budget. Rarely, a big ticket item is forced on the GM. I think during Dan's tenure that has only been Davis. The rest has been Dan working within the system handed to him. If you look at payroll allotment etc. around the league it is hard to find any GM who can successfully alter with any significance the criteria established by ownership.

Dan has done a great job. He has been terrible at some things, but it is hard not to see how well he has done.

Pip said...

It's easy to look at things like waiting so far into the offseason that every worthwhile FA is already gone, releasing Bridwell and Gonzalez, trading Davies, signing Ubaldo, Gallardo and Alvarez, giving away draft picks to save negligible contracts, and many another wildly unjustifiable decision and suggest that he perhaps hasn't done a great job.
I actually give him credit for structuring the Davis contract well, but his tenure has been loaded with head scratching moves that were foolish the day they were made.

Jon Shepherd said...

I have been a regular critic of his as evidenced by the site and the tweets. He has made terrible moves like his attempts to secure the fringe market by handing out 40 man slots to undeserving free agents early on. Or picking up the scraps, though Cruz and Alvarez were useful. Or parading through countless optionable unwanted fringe starting pitchers.

The flip side to that would be that MacPhail left him with a shallow minor league system. Budgets were often tight and the biggest blip in the payroll was an Angelos ordained Davis contract. It is certainly worth pondering whether a conventional approach like MacPhail's would have eventually worked or if the club would have had playoff experience if LaCava or another luminary came in and was able to do a rebuild.

Personally, I think Duquette benefitted from a good MLB core that MacPhail put together. He then found ways to cheaply complement that core to prevent too many negative contributions (something MacPhail could not figure out). In tough spots with imperfect clubs, he dealt out good second tier prospects to improve the team with varying success.

If he left the club this year, he hands over a team with rough the same talent as what he got and a minor league system that is deeper but without a top tier prospect like Machado or Bundy. It is a minot league system that is deeper on position players and relievers, but not really starters.

So what one might see as foolish moves, I think we're often desperate ones trying to find value where other clubs largely were not looking without a great methodology about why he should be looking there too.

btwrestler119 said...

I agree that DD has not a solid if not spectacular job. I think Gary Rajsich has done a great job, the Orioles have drafted well under him (with the exception of 2014 when they didn't pick til the 3rd round). It's hard to have a good farm system without selling off every once in a while or taking advantage of the international market. I think the current Orioles system is in the 10-15 range, thanks to quality drafting.