17 October 2017

Blueprint For The 2018 Orioles (Option #2): Upgrade The Rotation, Or Nothing

Here's the second option in our offseason blueprint series. If you haven't done so yet, make sure to  read Jon's introduction to the series along with Nate's Option #1 post from Monday. Remember, we're working with the assumption of a $155 million team payroll.

Current roster decisions

For me, this part is pretty straightforward. We're assuming that Welington Castillo declines his $7 million player option (and I'm fine with a Caleb Joseph/Chance Sisco catcher combination), which only leaves a couple of decisions. Passing on J.J. Hardy's team option is a no-brainer, and Wade Miley's disastrous 2017 season forced him into that category as well. Bringing Miley back for $11.5 million - the difference between his $12 million option and his $0.5 million buyout - wouldn't be the worst decision ever, but it's time to move on. The Orioles/Miley experiment did not work.

I'm also offering all seven arbitration-eligible players: Zach Britton, Brad Brach, Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Kevin Gausman, Caleb Joseph, and Tim Beckham. I'd bring back Ryan Flaherty and Craig Gentry on minimum deals for $0.8 million (or something close to that). After accounting for everything - guaranteed contracts, buyouts, and arbitration raises - that'll leave about $42-43 million to use in free agency. Now the fun begins.

Free agency - starting pitchers

This current O's roster is far from one that only has one or two holes. There are things that must be addressed, including upgrading team depth. Having $44 million or so is probably not enough to address all of those issues sufficiently, but we can try. So let's just work our way through this.

There is no question that the biggest need for the Orioles is at starting pitcher. Any series of offseason moves that does not include multiple rotation additions should be considered a massive failure. As a reminder, here's how bad the O's rotation was this past season:

- AL worst in total innings pitched (846)
- AL worst ERA (5.70) by a half-run
- AL's second-lowest FIP (5.23)
- Sixth-highest K/9 (7.74), second-highest BB/9 (3.74)
- Only two regular starters with ERAs under 4.70: Dylan Bundy (4.24) and Gausman (4.68). Others ranged from 5.61 (Miley) to 8.12 (Chris Tillman). The average starter ERA in the AL was 4.54.

With that in mind, here are the pitchers I'd sign (using Jon's updated BORAS projections):

Alex Cobb: 3 years, $31.2 million ($10.4M AAV)
Lance Lynn: 2 years, $18.4 million ($9.2M AAV)
Jason Vargas: 2 years, $17.2 million ($8.6M AAV)

I know these blueprints are individual, and we have the flexibility to do whatever we want within the set guidelines. But I also try to keep them relatively realistic, keeping in mind things the O's are likely or unlikely to do. When the Orioles signed Ubaldo Jimenez in 2014 for four years and $50 million, he became the most expensive pitcher in franchise history. There's no way the Orioles ended up being very happy about either the length of that deal or the total. I would be surprised if they signed another pitcher this offseason for close to what it took to land Jimenez, especially since it's a necessity that they add multiple starters. That puts Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta out of reach.

Still, even though they might not get four-year deals, it's not like these three starters are without risk. In fact, Cobb, Lynn, and Vargas all had Tommy John surgery in 2015. That can't be something the Orioles would be thrilled about. But then again, there's risk for every free agent starting pitcher, and those previous injuries will likely help to keep their contract value down. Orioles ownership is also confident in the team's vaunted physical process being able to identify areas of concern. Love it or hate it, it has a pretty decent track record.

Of the three, Vargas is my least favorite choice, but I also think the O's will add a lefty (that's why they made the move for Wade Miley last season). Regardless, Cobb (2.4), Lynn (3.1), and Vargas (3.8) all had a better bWAR than Gausman (1.9) last season. Of the three, only Cobb was below Bundy (2.7). There's nothing amazing here, but there is improvement.

I'll admit, some of the contract numbers here seem low. It would be pretty surprising if the Orioles were able to upgrade the rotation with three quality veterans for $28.2 million AAV. Still, sometimes feelings can throw things off, and ignoring injury history and overestimating value can inflate perceptions. Jon has also discussed how well the model has performed for pitchers, so while the numbers seem low, they could end up being pretty accurate.

With three competent starters added to Bundy and Gausman, the Orioles won't have to rely on Miguel Castro and Gabriel Ynoa for the No. 5 starter job. Those two look much better as rotation depth or bullpen options anyway.

Free agency - outfielder

With about $16 million left to spend, the Orioles should look to add a proven outfielder with a left-handed bat. With Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Mark Trumbo, Trey Mancini, Adam Jones, and Tim Beckham, the O's could use another lefty to help balance out the lineup. Some options include Jarrod Dyson, Jon Jay, Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson, and Carlos Gonzalez.

Of that group, I'd lean towards Granderson (one year, $12.7 million). As Nate noted, Jay is intriguing (as is Dyson), and I'd be fine with adding either. But I also think I'd begin the year with Austin Hays as the starting right fielder, meaning Granderson would be used in a more complementary role. He'll be 37 in March, and he is probably reaching the point in his career when he can't handle a full-time workload.

Fortunately, there will be plenty of room for him. Hays should play a lot if he's on the roster, but he could struggle and eventually be sent down. Adam Jones will also need time to sit some, and Hays could occasionally shift to center while Granderson handles right field. Granderson could still play some center field if needed, but he'd be better utilized in a corner. Plus, even with Mark Trumbo (likely) still around, he shouldn't find his name in the lineup every day, especially if he keeps hitting like he did this past season. That means there will be some DH opportunities available.

Anthony Santander will surely find himself on the O's bench for 44 more days during the 2018 season until he meets his Rule 5 requirements, but then he'll likely be sent down and the O's can fill that spot with a speedy/defense type like Craig Gentry or Joey Rickard (I'd favor Gentry).

Free agency - infielder

If you look around the majors, there aren't a lot of appealing options for infield depth. It's not like the O's are in a position to spend a bunch on a bench infielder, but they are in a good position of not having to worry about signing a starting infielder. That will likely all change very soon with Machado, but for now, they're set.

O's beat reporters keep pushing the idea that Steve Wilkerson could be the utility infielder next season, and maybe that ends up working out. But even if that happens, I don't see the harm of inviting someone like Ryan Flaherty to spring training and seeing if he can stay healthy. He's not a good hitter, but he can play all the infield positions reasonably well. He's a replacement-level player, and that's what the O's would be paying for.

Recapping the signings

Alex Cobb: 3 years, $31.2 million ($10.4M AAV)
Lance Lynn: 2 years, $18.4 million ($9.2M AAV)
Jason Vargas: 2 years, $17.2 million ($8.6M AAV)
Curtis Granderson: 1 year, $12.7 million ($12.7M AAV)
Ryan Flaherty: Non-roster invite, 1 year, $800,000 ($0.8 AAV)
Craig Gentry: Non-roster invite, 1 year, $800,000 ($0.8 AAV)

This is a little under $44 million, which is fine in case it takes some extra funds to bring in three starting pitchers. When it comes down to it, the Orioles either need to upgrade the rotation in a significant way, or they should stop saying they're trying to compete next season.

After everything, the O's end up with this 25-man roster:

C: Caleb Joseph
1B: Chris Davis
2B: Jonathan Schoop
SS: Tim Beckham
3B: Manny Machado
LF: Trey Mancini
CF: Adam Jones
RF: Austin Hays
DH: Mark Trumbo
Bench: Curtis Granderson, Chance Sisco, Ryan Flaherty, Anthony Santander

SP: Dylan Bundy
SP: Alex Cobb
SP: Lance Lynn
SP: Jason Vargas
SP: Kevin Gausman

RP: Zach Britton
RP: Darren O'Day
RP: Brad Brach
RP: Mychal Givens
RP: Miguel Castro
RP: Richard Bleier
RP: Donnie Hart/Gabriel Ynoa


Anonymous said...

This is close to what I would think is the best case scenario. And my idea of a blueprint will be very close. I don't like the Vargas choice because you're buying a career year from a soft tosser who's getting on in years. That's a recipe for disaster. My choice would be Jaime Garcia, who has upside (I realize he's more expensive). Also, I disagree with the Flaherty and Granderson choices. Flaherty because of no updside (he can be kept on a minor league deal for depth) and Granderson because of age. I am still mulling over how I'd do this so I'll reserve further comment, but the basic logic behind this approach is sound. I also think a critical element is beginning the move of Adam Jones to corner by bringing in a CF that even Adam has to admit is better for the role (thinking Dyson). Of course, moving Adam to a corner is going to make all sorts of problems with Mancini/Hays/Santander in the mix.

I get that there's a focus on shorter term contracts because of the idea that the O's will "have to rebuild", but I think the way to get the FA pitchers in house is to give them longer contracts at similar AAV but include some sort of opt-out (or player option, whatever). Plus by committing to some longer term contracts, you give someone like Machado more (intangible) reason to re-sign. Yes, I may be a cock-eyed optimist but I like being positive.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

It wasn't a career year for Vargas. He's had both similar and better seasons in his career. Still, I wouldn't have much of a problem picking Garcia over him.

Unknown said...

Is Cobb projected to receive a qualifying offer from Tampa Bay? If so, wouldn't that automatically take the Orioles out of the picture since they would lose their 1st round draft pick? A good first round pick by the way.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

The qualifying offer system no longer works that way. I believe the O's cost for signing a QO player would be their third-round draft pick.

Jon Shepherd said...

I just posted the rules.

Unknown said...

Yes,bringing Miley back would be one of the worst decisions ever!

Unknown said...

Flaherty washes Dan and Buck's cars!

Salisbury Dave said...

I'll take the OVER on all of those pitching contracts.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Duly noted.

Brent Upham said...

These projections seem extremely low. Especially since most of these contracts were handed out a couple or more years ago.

Ubaldo got 4/50 (4 years ago)
Chen go 5/80
Mike Leake 5/80
Rich Hill 3/48
J.A. Happy 3/36
Scott Kazmir 3/48
Ian Kennedy 5/70

While the projections for these 3 pitchers (which I would classify about in the same tier/range as those mentioned above) is nearly half of what others have gotten in the past. In fact I would say these 3 pitchers are slightly better than any on this list.

Alex Cobb: 3 years, $31.2 million ($10.4M AAV)
Lance Lynn: 2 years, $18.4 million ($9.2M AAV)
Jason Vargas: 2 years, $17.2 million ($8.6M AAV)

My projection is that these pitchers get double the total dollars. (the years might be accurate, I could see a extra year for Cobb & Lynn) but I still think they all get double this projection.

Jon Shepherd said...

BORAS pretty much nailed those contracts at the time and was somewhat less strong last year. Those contracts are informing what the projections are for this season.