28 December 2017

What Are The Orioles Doing?

The Orioles always march to the beat of their own drum. During the offseason, that means plenty of interest but not much action, a lot of waiting, and, of course, Rule 5 draft picks. But with Buck Showalter, Dan Duquette, Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Zach Britton, Brad Brach, and others heading into what could be their final seasons in Baltimore, there's more urgency than usual.

That's why, at least in theory, it made sense that the Orioles were rejecting any notions of rebuilding and would instead gear up for one final run. So let's see what they've done so far to reload:
  • Acquired OF Jaycob Brugman from the A's for RHP Jake Bray
  • Selected 3 pitchers in the Rule 5 draft
  • Signed RHP Michael Kelly to a major league deal
The O's have also signed a bunch of players to minor league deals, but that's it. Meanwhile, they missed out on starting pitchers like Tyler Chatwood, Doug Fister, Miles Mikolas, and Mike Fiers; have essentially deemed upgrades like Alex Cobb and maybe Lance Lynn as "too costly" while Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta are certainly out of their price range; wavered on not fielding offers for Machado and Britton but have failed to complete any deals; recently lost Britton for a chunk of the season to a ruptured Achilles tendon; and have to figure out whether Machado plays shortstop or third base if they keep him.

Maybe the only positive developments for the O's this offseason are Kevin Gausman changing his number to honor Roy Halladay and them telling off intolerant people on Twitter.

Should the Orioles push all their chips in and go for it? Should they rebuild? You probably have strong opinions on whether the O's should do one of those things, and you could defend those stances. What you can't defend is the team simply refusing to do either one and continuing to punt on nearly every major decision while only improving the team in the tiniest ways. Under Duquette, the O's have always worked the fringes to improve the team's depth. But depth doesn't matter as much when you have gaping holes in the starting rotation.

Maybe the O's are just laying in the weeds and getting ready to strike. Maybe that means not conveniently using how poorly the Ubaldo Jimenez signing went and adding one of Cobb or Lynn and then another starter or two. Maybe they'd even consider a strong upgrade in the outfield like Lorenzo Cain! It's not like the O's don't have some freed-up money to spend. And that's not even including when MLB owners receive $50-plus million in 2018 from the sale of BAMTech.

But no, that's almost certainly not going to happen. The Orioles are going to do something because they have to, but it's not going to be anything meaningful. If they do go for it, that'll just mean relying on the talent they already have while hoping for bounce-back seasons from Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo, and others. If that sounds depressing, it kind of is. At least the Orioles have some players who are fun to watch.

22 December 2017

Manny Machado's Best Defensive Plays

In case you haven't heard, Manny Machado may be on his way out of Baltimore soon. Or, you know, maybe not. The latest reports indicate the Orioles plan to hold on to him for a while longer. Still, it's a near certainty that he'll be playing in another city in 2019, so all of this is just delaying the inevitable and showcasing the O's disarray.

When Machado departs, what will you remember most about his time with the Orioles? There's a lot to appreciate. But while he's had some monster performances and clutch moments with the bat, what I'll remember most about his days with the O's are his skills with the glove.

Machado has made some truly ridiculous plays. When watching the replays, many of them still look impossible. I'm not sure how that much range, agility, awareness, and arm strength can be combined into one package.

It's sad that Machado's days with the O's are coming to an end, but let's try and keep things positive (at least for now). Here are some of Machado's best plays at third base. Enjoy!

Ranging play vs. the Yankees, where he bobbles the ball and then throws across his body:

Machado's fake throw to catch the runner at third:

Machado's range and feed to Schoop here are crazy:

I like the double play above better, but this has more style:

Diving stop and throw vs. Blue Jays:

Barehanded play vs. the Yankees. Covers a ton of ground:

Machado ranges left, then throws out Trout:

Double play vs. Rockies:

Wonderful catch and avoids tarp vs. Twins:

Ranging play in World Baseball Classic:

Don't see one of your favorites included above? Link to it in the comments. There are so many tremendous plays that it's easy to lose sight of a few. I think I'll miss the Machado/Schoop double plays the most. What about you?

21 December 2017

Adam Jones: So What Would An Extension Look Like?

Recently, Adam Jones reminded the Orioles fan base of something.
This left me with the question about what exactly would an Adam Jones deal look like and whether it would even be a good idea.  People age and all good things come to an end, but Jones still looks like a capable player.  Last year, in the second half of the season, Jones slashed 307/343/502.  That was some prime time Adam Jones action.

To try to look at the angles, I employed the newer version of BORAS to see what his 2019 contract would look like.  I also used a comp model to project his 2019-2023 seasons (ages 33-37).  With the often leaked front office perspective that Jones is a true RF now, I also modeled out what happens when a center fielder moves to right field.  Finally, I assumed that the 2018 season had already played and Jones performed on par with what ZiPS projects him to do.

As you know, the BORAS model looks at a players recent past and compares it with recent contracts to determine how many years a player will sign for as well as what yearly salary the player will take on.  For Jones' 2018 season, we will assume his ZiPS projection is accurate and go from there.  BORAS suggests his age 33 and 34 season would be covered in a 2/23 deal if he is a free agent a year from now.

Given Jones' recent contract and how a two year extension is really not all that much of an extension, I would advise him to not sign that deal if I was his agent.  It would be a shock if he was not able to secure one year deal for each of those off seasons, so I would suggest him to bet on himself and go bigger.  But, what does BORAS think the benefit or cost is to wing it on a one year basis?

Yeah, that is an ugly, bare-bones graph.  The horizontal axis is what Jones might do in 2018 using WAR as an encapsulating statistic for what goes into the model.  The left is AAV and the right is years.  Jones probably needs something north of a "3 WAR" season to get more than two years.

Comp model
We have used comp models before.  Basically what we try to do here is take a player's most recent performance and find similar players who play similar positions.  When we did this for some players, like Manny Machado, it was effectively impossible to find enough players at that age who offensively performed similarly.  For Jones, it is a bit easier, but he is such a unique centerfielder that we needed to consider corner outfielders in the methodology to have a large enough sample size.

Who is in Jones' age 33-37 comp model?
Al Martin, Rondell White, George Bell, Jose Guillen, Mike Morse, Eric Byrnes, Jacque Jones, Cody Ross, Glenallen Hill, and Nelson Cruz.

Admittedly, it is a weird group.  Nelson Cruz and Rondell White do not look like twins, but the process looking at the entire population has delivered good comps in the past.  What we find in this group (Cruz' age 37 year is projected) is that only Cruz makes it to the end.  Most of the players end their career before the midway point of their age 35 season.  To account for those lost seasons, we project their performance, but it identifies uncertainty in the population as we travel further down the path of age.

Moving From CF to RF
A second consideration that needs to be made is that based on the leaks coming out of the warehouse (it might well be the only leak) is that the club no longer views Jones as a competent centerfielder, seeing him true defensive position as a rightfielder.  The old rule of thumb was that moving from center to a corner outfield position was worth an increase of about five runs in defensive ability, which covers about half of the -10 run positional adjustment from center field to right field.

Trying to be more exact or at least more defined, I decided to run a series of regression models for arm, error, and range values.  However, none of the models came out as significant.  All hovered around the 0.1 value.  If those were useful, it would suggest that Jones, a -4 run ZIPS value in center, would translate over to a +2 run rightfielder largely on the strength of increase range performance.

I then decided to do a batch model by looking at fielders from 2015-2017 who played at least 200 innings in right field and left field in a single season.  I then batched these by Statcast sprint speed in three groups: greater than 28.5 ft/s, 27.5-28.5 ft/s, and less than 27.5. Jones would fall into the final center fielder speed category as his 27.2 mark was one of the slowest in MLB last year for that position.

Anyway, what I found is that the fast group actually sees a reduction in range value of -5 runs.  This likely has to do with reduced opportunity in right field.  If you have stellar speed and can use it to expand your range, then a tight foul territory reduces that usefulness.  That reduction though is slightly reduced from improved throwing and error prevention, which results in an overall loss of -2 runs for that speedy group when converting over to right field.

The mid-level speed and lowest speed groups both appear to benefit similarly overall.  The mid-level group sees slightly more improvement in range and slightly less improvement in arm than the slowest group.  However, they both come in around a 5 run improvement.  This would suggest that sliding Jones over to right field would make him a +1 run right fielder.  Part of me wonders if this might be an underadjustment because Jones has shown in the past that he is far batter at moving toward left field than he is at moving toward right field.  Add in that route running and you could imagine him being a +5 run, but for this exercise, we will assume he performs like the population performed and that he is a +1 RF.

All Together Now
Incorporating the conversion into the comp model, what we get below is the projection for Adam Jones' next five years assuming he logs 550 PA each year.

2019 .254 .304 .418 1.4
2020 .251 .303 .426 1.5
2021 .251 .305 .433 1.6
2022 .235 .289 .401 0.6
2023 .228 .28 .397 0.3

What it suggests is that players like Jones maintain a level of performance through their age 35 seasons and then collapse.  Of course, that collapse is largely due to the projection given to all the players whose careers ended mid age 35 season or before.

If we assume that Jones is more like the players within the group who had longer careers, then we would wind up with this projection.

2019 .281 .335 .476 3.1
2020 .272 .326 .472 2.8
2021 .269 .323 .479 2.8
2022 .250 .307 .443 1.8
2023 .232 .286 .414 0.7

Well, we still see that major drop off even when the population has more players who were able to go deeper into their careers.  That age 36 season (2022) looks like a considerable wall.

Conclusion and Comparisons
The comp model thinks Jones is worth about 2/20 or 3/32.  BORAS 2.0 thinks the extension should be 2/23.  For BORAS to think that Jones should get a three year deal, he would need to give a 3 WAR kind of season and then would be looking at a 3/41 deal.  All of that is in the neighborhood of market value and expected performance value.

For the Orioles, the issue is a bit more complicated.  The signings of Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo along with the plethora of corner outfielders in the minors makes Jones, although a franchise important figure, not exactly occupying a position of need in the future.  In terms of a team player, he still is one of the more important players in the clubhouse, so you could fathom extending him and dealing out of the club's strength or finding a new home for someone like Mark Trumbo to push Trey Mancini into a more natural position at DH and sliding Austin Hays to left field.

Could that be done?  Can you wipe Trumbo's salary off the books?  Does Jones give you a better shot of winning instead of relying on players like D.J. Stewart and Ryan Mountcastle coming through in the near term?  Does Jones relieve pressure on a hitter like Mountcastle and lets him mature a bit longer before being called up?

In the end, I could see Jones being handed a 3/36 extension and it turning out OK.  An athletic and relatively healthy player his entire career, he probably is more alike the players in the top end of the comp model.  He certainly is not a Nelson Cruz (few are), but you can see a number of attributes that will like age well and a 1.5 player over his age 33-35 season is a useful player and looks better than previous comp models on guys like Denard Span.

20 December 2017

Time to Waive Zach Britton?

The Orioles were dealt a major blow yesterday.  While working out, Zach Britton ruptured his Achilles tendon, which requires six months of rehabilitation and probably an extended stay in the minors.  The Orioles are looking at their prized closer being gone maybe until August and, not only that, he will be a 12.2 MM hole in their payroll.

Last summer, Britton dealt with injuries that undermined his season and his trade value.  The Orioles banked on him rebounding and either delivering great performances down the stretch or at least rebuilding his trade value.  All that now is lost.  No one can blame the club for this unpredictable turn of events, but it does complicate their situation.  With Britton now coming back so late, what is the club to do.

Option 1
You keep Britton.  You rehabilitate him.  You hope he rebounds and either is a shot in the arm for a competitive Orioles team, a useful August trade piece, or a QO candidate that scores you a draft pick in 2019.

Option 2
You release Britton.  Britton is entitled to a quarter of his arbitration salary.  With a projection of 12.2 MM, that comes to 3.05 MM.  That gives the club an extra 9 MM to do whatever it pleases to do with that newfound cash.  Britton would probably not re-sign with the club.  He would probably sign a deal for five or so MM with the Cubs, Yankees, Astros, or Dodgers.  A club that would bet on him being ready down the line.

For me, option 2 is the way to go.  His appearance for a couple months at the end of the season is not enough of a boost for me to think his inclusion on the roster is worth it.  The 9 MM could be better allocated elsewhere.

Your thoughts?

19 December 2017

Avoiding A Machado Deal With The Yankees Won't Help The Orioles

In nearly every new development in the ongoing Manny Machado trade saga, there's usually a mention of how the Orioles are unlikely to trade him to the Yankees. That improbability is attributed to Peter Angelos's apparent unwillingness to make a significant trade with New York, and that he's wary of dealing with any team that could then flip Machado to the Yankees themselves.

It doesn't seem that many reporters expect that Angelos and his "trusted confidants" would approve such a deal, but it's at least possible
Even though [Dan] Duquette has said he will not rule out negotiating with the Yankees or Boston Red Sox, the idea of dealing a player of Machado’s profile to the Yankees would be a hard sell to Angelos, though it seems more likely now that he could be convinced if the Orioles receive the right return, according to a source.
Let's just make things clear: The Orioles should absolutely be open to dealing with the Yankees. As Eduardo Encina details above, the Yankees have some intriguing trade pieces that should interest the Orioles.

One of the big question marks hanging over the Machado ordeal is why the O's stopped approaching Machado's agent to try and get a deal done. In September, when it was reported that the O's had no interest in trading Machado, Jon Heyman noted this:
Of course, that doesn’t preclude a trade at next year’s trading deadline. The Orioles are said by sources to have come “within $8 million or $9 million” of locking him up a couple years back, though one person familiar with those talks said the offer was for “well below $100 million,” and that person suggested he didn’t believe the sides were especially close to a deal. However, it seems Machado’s side might have made some sort of counteroffer to stay, or at least provided parameters, since sources are suggesting the gap ($8 million to $9 million) existed.

Word is that Angelos, especially conservative when it comes to medical records (they’ve rejected several potential acquisitions in the past), was leery about Machado’s history of knee injuries at the time. Machado has shown he’s plenty healthy since, of course.
That's likely what Encina is referring to here: "The Orioles haven’t engaged extension talks with Machado in three years, last attempting them when he was returning from the second of his two knee reconstructions in 2014. They’ve had little more than a fleeting conversation since."

So what changed between now and then? Maybe that process soured the relationship between Machado and the Orioles. Maybe an extension was never that close. Or maybe Machado really does want to leave for a bigger market or doesn't think the O's can build a consistent World Series contender. We don't know these things yet, but I'll imagine we will one day.

For now, a couple things appear to be true. First, the Orioles are not going to sign Machado to an extension. That means after the upcoming season, he can sign with any team he wants. There's nothing the Orioles can do to stop that.

Second, the Orioles are not doing all they can to compete in 2018. Duquette talked about reloading, but the O's aren't doing that in any convincing way. They're just doing their own version of reloading, which apparently means not paying what it takes to upgrade an awful starting rotation and looking for any kind of overlooked value that can be had at a bargain.

The Orioles can control where they send Machado for the next season, and that's it. They could either hold on to Machado for the time being, or they can choose to take the best possible mix of major league ready talent and prospects -- which could come from the Yankees -- or to send him somewhere else, for a possible lesser return, out of spite. Think of how desperate the O's are for young, cost-controlled talent, and then think of them using this trade to stick it to the Yankees when they could simply sign Machado in a year.

The Yankees are going to be good. Their roster is loaded. It was already loaded before they traded for Giancarlo Stanton (which also seemed to set off an immediate shift in the O's strategy with Machado). The Yankees are set up to be very good for a long time, with or without Machado.

Maybe the Yankees sign Machado this offseason, or maybe they go in some other direction. But however good they end up being, the O's need to do everything possible to improve their own situation. If that means the best trade package from the Yankees is on the table, then so be it.

If you have no faith in that happening, I can't blame you. I don't really either. But until the options are gone, the possibility still exists that the O's could do the best possible things to set them up for future success. With the O's staring down another extended stretch of futility, I'll at least hold on to that hope for now.

18 December 2017

With or Without Manny, Orioles Should Sign Todd Frazier

While the Manny Machado trade rumblings are generating a rather large seismic response in the press, it does tend to neglect one aspect: the Orioles need a third baseman.  If the Orioles trade Machado, the club is without a third baseman.  Jonathan Schoop's poor range, need to set up deep due to a lethargic first step, and his difficulty getting down on the ball all indicate that his clumsy play at third years ago most likely will not have gotten any better.  Meanwhile Tim Beckham really profiles better at shortstop (*whispers* or the outfield).  This leaves a hole at third base.  If Machado stays, his desire to be a shortstop is something the Orioles will likely encourage, which also leaves third base open.  So what should the Orioles do? Sign Todd Frazier right now.

Standard Batting
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/18/2017.

While those numbers in the last three years look problematic with a down trending batting average, slight decrease in ISO, and peculiar jump up in OBP, it should be noted that Frazier has remained rather healthy through his career and is somewhat athletic.  He rates as having mid level speed for a third baseman (sprint scores: 26.1 (2015), 26.2 (2016), 26.5 (2017); on par with Seth Smith and Mark Trumbo) for a third baseman, but routinely stole about 15 bases a year during his peak seasons.  In other words, while several important indicators suggest a potential breakdown, they do not fit well with other indicators.

What does our comp model say?  The comp model looks back over history and sees ten comparative Age 29-31 seasons.  It is not a great group because Frazier is up near the top in terms of offensive output, but he is still within the dataset...so...at least we are not extrapolating outside of the set.  One players bests Frazier's bat: Gorman Thomas.  Thomas quickly fell off the face of the earth for his age 32 and 33 seasons before rebounding into an age 34 last hurrah.  The others in the batch include Lee May, Joe Carter, Raul Mondesi, Rob Deer, Brandon Moss, Andruw Jones, Tony Armas, Dick Stuart, and Steve Balboni.  It is a rather motley crew that looks incredibly different from each other outside their ability to not get on base much, crush the ball, and strikeout a lot.

Average Production
2018 22 .234 .300 .428 2.5
2019 14 .220 .295 .417 1.4
2020 16 .227 .297 .416 1.7

The model is not overflowing with praise and sees some significant reduction in playing time for 2019 and 2020 (less than 400 PA).  Regardless, that production level is worth about 39 MM and is solid for a BORAS 2.0 deal at 3/37.7 MM.  That kind of production would be a considerable drop from Machado, but would provide the club with a solid role player starting at third base.

85th Percentile Production
2018 25 .247 .306 .459 3.3
2019 23 .230 .300 .446 2.5
2020 22 .247 .315 .454 2.9

One thing that really comes to light is how certain players produced quite a bit with the bat in their age 34 seasons.  Gorman Thomas, Joe Carter, and Lee May all had good years at the plate, which drives the model on the higher end.  If Frazier fits this trajectory, then he would be worth 60.9 MM over the next three seasons, which is close to what the original version of BORAS agrees with.

15th Percentile Production
2018 20 .220 .293 .395 1.8
2019 6 .195 .281 .337 0.2
2020 11 .197 .270 .356 0.4

The lower end scenario finds Frazier to be a perfectly fine player in his first season of the deal and then solely existing in the Majors as a third baseman who can field well.  He basically turns into our recent apparition of J.J. Hardy those last two seasons.  This projection is worth 16.8 MM, which would be a major loss.

Todd Frazier is not Manny Machado.  Over the past three seasons, Machado has had a wOBA of .355 which easily beats the .334 of Todd Frazier.  With the glove, one of Buck Showalter's big sticking point, he sure is close.  Over the last three seasons, Machado has had an 8.4 UZR/150.  Meanwhile, Frazier put up a 3.7 UZR/150, which is somewhere between Evan Longoria and Kris Bryant.  That helps shoulder the loss.

Good defense and an adequate right handed power bat is probably the best we can ask for.  Espically, if the ask is a 3/37.7 MM deal.

15 December 2017

The Case for Holding onto Machado and Letting Him Walk

The Orioles do a wonderful job of ignoring multiple problems until they fly up and bite them on the butt.  While the club has done an amazing job taking MacPhail's core and supplementing them with the right players to build a very successful mini-dynasty (that holds only one trophy that was limited to AL East heroics), there have been many glaring issues that they have been unable to resolve.  Pitching depth has been an ever present concern, but that never made Duquette think twice about dealing it out even in the case of Andrew Miller when he really was not needed.  Corner outfield has been a place of need, but the club has done peculiar things such as bringing in Travis Snider at an amazing cost or putting Mark Trumbo out there.  We could go on and on, but we will get to the point of this post.

Manny Machado presented a terribly frustrating problem.  I went into some detail on this last January and noted that right then and there was the time to either extend Machado or trade him.  Neither of those things happened.  This offseason, it appears the Orioles are more aware that Machado is not remaining and something needs to be done about it.  While the interest in Machado is great, his 17.3 MM projected salary and his single remaining year of control have diminished his value.  Based on what I hear, the most any team has offered has been a single top 100 player and a couple lower tier players.

To put this into a more tangible framework, I will use the White Sox as an example here.  Keep in mind, that what I know has nothing to do with the White Sox, so do not take this as a definitive scoop.  A similar White Sox deal would be:
Alec Hansen, RHSP (fringe top 100 prospect, upper minors)
Carson Fulmer, RHSP (Rookie, major concerns)
Jake Burger, 3B (draftee, long road to go)
The above package would likely disappoint folks. To put it in Oriolese, It is like being offered Chorye Spoone, Radhames Liz, and Billy Rowell if it were 2008.  It would be in the neighborhood of a 40 MM value coming back.  That would be on point value for Machado, but not value that you would expect from a club that really, really, really loved. him.  As you can imagine, a package like that can easily go bust and may well not be all that different from what one could expect in a mid-season deal if the Orioles fall out of contention.

A mid-season deal presents some advantages and disadvantages.  On the advantage side, only about 9 MM of Manny's salary will come into play at that point.  While 10 teams right now have some interest in Manny, a lot of that interest in muted by that pricetag.  Halfway into the season and teams may have enough payroll space with ownership approval, have an unflattering contract to hand back, or the Orioles may be more willing to swallow some of the cost.

The cost angle is truly something to consider if you are running the franchise.  Based on the past twenty years, I have identified several "fire sales".  The first one on the board was the Marlins implosion after 1997's World Series and the most recent is the 2012 triumvirate of the Philles, Red Sox, and Marlins all letting their players depart in the winds.  Some other clubs in this data set include the 2000 Orioles, 2007 Twins, and 2011 Astros, just to give you a flavor.  On average, this group saw a decrease of 18% in attendance after trading out significant players the year before.  Best case scenario was that 2008 Twins team where no difference was observed, but most teams saw a drop in the twenties.

For the Orioles, their 2017 attendance was 2.028 million.  An 18% drop would take them to 1.663 million, or a loss of roughly 365,000 tickets.  Using the fan index, each lost ticket is worth around $46 in revenue.  In other words, if Manny Machado departs and the fan base sees this as a fire sale, then the Orioles are projected to lose 16.8 MM in revenue just from fan attendance.  This does not include the current renegotiation of partners with MASN where the loss of a major player like Machado might make those negotiations more contentious.  In other words, this could be a major loss the Orioles' bottom line, which can have long term implication on their ability to spend on future payrolls.

Anyway, a mid-season deal may only fetch the club a few B level prospects, which is what appears to be the current maximum offers if you believe the rumblings.  Or there may be a major push by a club who wants to shove themselves over the top and is willing to pay a boatload for Machado in a way that might be reminiscent of the Aroldis Chapman trade to the Cubs.  There certainly is that potential there.

The downsides are numerous as well.  If the Orioles are sniffing contention, ownership or the front office may be unwilling to throw in the towel.  Think of last year, if the Orioles came back from where they were at the deadline then it would have ranked as a truly historic achievement.  A major problem was that the fan base and maybe the front office saw that they were three games out and thought that was actually very close when, historically, it was not close at all.  That paralysis by appearance would be detrimental to the organization as they would be left with a Qualifying Offer placed on Manny and getting only a draft pick in return.  That draft pick compensation would be the same return if during the first half of the season Machado is lost for the year.

However, that draft pick compensation happens right after the first round, which is a value of around 13 MM.  How much is a pitching prospect like Hansen worth?  15 MM.  So the loss between dealing Machado now and letting him walk is Fulmer and Berger along with potentially losing 17 MM in revenue.  That, in all honesty, is beginning to look like a terrible deal.  Are Fulmer and Berger worth that 17 MM?  Yes, I think they are.   They are probably worth 5-10 MM more than that.  But, it is not much and that 17 MM in lost revenue in 2018?  Well, that may have future impact on club revenue more so than letting Machado walk away for 400 MM some place.

So what should the Orioles do?
Trade Machado last January.

A Quick Rebuild

It appears as though the Orioles are admitting what many have suspected for several years: Manny Machado will not be an Oriole long term. Indeed, the chatter during the Winter Meetings has begun to make it clear that, rather than sticking with their original plan to run it back for one more year in 2018, the team is considering a rebuild, with trade rumors concerning Machado, Zach Britton, and Brad Brach dominating the offseason headlines.

This is, sadly, the correct choice. Even with Machado, it seems unlikely that the Orioles were going to be legitimate contenders in 2018, and Machado could still command a good haul in prospects even as a rental. If Machado goes, there's not much reason to keep around guys like Britton, either, and as a result the Orioles could improve their farm system fairly dramatically in the course of one off season.

Total rebuilds are very much in fashion in MLB these days. Both the Cubs and Astros went through multiple miserable seasons before their young cores coalesced and won championships, and teams like the Yankees, Twins, and Padres are looking to follow in those footsteps. It seems logical, given the budgetary constraints under which the Orioles operate as well as the team's declining performance, that the Orioles would go this same route. Of course, Peter Angelos has long been opposed to a complete teardown, and before this week there was little indication that Dan Duquette would execute one.

Now, though, that calculus seems to have changed, but in a pretty interesting way. At the same time they are discussing trading one of the top 10 players in franchise history, there are also rumors that the Orioles are pursuing Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy. This would, certainly, be an odd move to make under the circumstances, as you generally don't trade for a veteran starting pitcher in the middle of a rebuild. 

Of course, maybe they don't HAVE to tear it all down. In fact, an interesting path would be to punt on 2018 while gearing up for a big run in 2019 and beyond. Let's assume that Machado, Brach, and Britton are all dealt, and they bring back at least 1-2 MLB ready players along with higher upside prospects that aren't likely to be immediate contributors. The Orioles would certainly prefer that one of those players is a starting pitcher and if they somehow acquire Duffy, the 2018 rotation looks already a good deal better than 2017, with all the major components under team control until at least 2020.

You may have heard, but the 2018 free agent class is potentially the greatest ever, and even if the Orioles aren't competing for guys like Machado, Bryce Harper, and Clayton Kershaw, there are plenty of good to great players left over. If the team has a solid rotation in place and prospects like Austin Hays, Chance Sisco, and Ryan Mountcastle are ready to make a big impact, there's a real case to be made that adding a second tier, but still big name, player like Josh Donaldson or Charlie Blackmon and pairing him up with a Gio Gonzalez/Garett Richards/Patrick Corbin type could push the team into immediate contention. These players would obviously be very costly, but with over $30 million coming off the books in the form of Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Wade Miley, the Orioles could save up and make a big splash next winter.

This would be somewhat predicated on the Orioles signing Jonathan Schoop to an extension, hopefully moving Mark Trumbo's contract, and determining what to do with Adam Jones, but given the improving farm system and the jolt it would receive by trading Machado et al., as well as much lower payroll commitments, this seems like a viable path. It will certainly be hard to watch Machado playing anywhere but Oriole Park, and there's no guarantee that the young players will progress enough to make this plan viable, but it certainly beats the alternative of Machado and Britton leaving in free agency and receiving only comp picks in return. Rebuilds are always painful, but maybe this pain wouldn't have to last more than one year.

The Orioles Can't Lose Machado And Contend

The Orioles have developed two potential hall of fame players, Mike Mussina and Manny Machado, over the past twenty years. Mike Mussina was the Orioles ace during their last playoff run in 1996-1997, and received over 50% of total votes for the hall of fame in last year’s voting. Manny Machado has been a star for the Orioles since 2012 and is just about ready to reach his prime years as a player.

Let me make something clear. For the analysis below, I’m looking only at production from 1997-2017. This means that I’m only looking at Cal Ripken’s production from 1997-2001, when he was 36, and not over his entire career. I’m not saying that Machado was the Orioles’ best player since 1997, but rather that from 2012-2017, he was more productive than Cal (or anyone else) from 1997-2001.

Machado has only been an Oriole for five and a half years, but he’s been one of the Orioles best players when measuring production over the past 21 seasons.  According to Fangraphs, he’s been worth 26 fWAR as an Oriole, and only trails Brian Roberts, Adam Jones and Melvin Mora in fWAR by an Oriole position player as an Oriole. Machado is just 3 fWAR off the lead (although Jones is only .1 fWAR off the lead, and will likely be the leader by the end of 2018 if not traded), but has roughly 58% of the plate appearances that the other three players have.

In other words, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to argue that Machado is on pace to be nearly twice as productive (when you consider that Machado can still get even better as he hits his prime) as the Orioles’ best position players over the past twenty years. The only Oriole over the past twenty years that has been as good as Machado according to Fangraphs has been Mike Mussina, who was worth 46.7 fWAR over nine and a half seasons. When he was 32, he left the Orioles in free agency to join the Yankees, and the Orioles didn’t make it back to the playoffs for a long time.

The Orioles have had many players that they’ve hoped would turn into elite talents. Remember hearing about Matt Wieters being “Mauer with Power” when he was a prospect? Wieters was a star player for a few years, but wasn’t the franchise changing player that people thought he might become. People were dreaming about Nick Markakis after his strong 2007 and 2008 seasons, but he was unable to remain elite and now should be seen as nothing more than a good but not great player.

The Orioles have developed a number of starting pitcher prospects who were legitimately hoped to become aces. Some have been successful starters for a time, like Gausman, Bundy and Tillman, but the one that truly became a top of the rotation pitcher was only successful as a Cub. The Orioles have been waiting a long time for an elite player like Machado.

The Orioles haven’t had as talented as a player as Machado since Mussina, and he’s still only 25 (turns 26 in July). In theory, if the Orioles were able to extend him, he could be the best player on the Orioles for the next ten years. A player like this doesn’t come around often in free agency and especially not when he’s just 26. So, of course, we’ve discovered this week that the Orioles don’t think that they’re able to extend Machado and are therefore looking to trade him.

It’s even more frustrating since the Orioles show they understand that free agency isn’t where they’re going to find excellent talent. Dan Duquette has noted that signing pitchers to four-year deals hasn’t worked out for the Orioles and doesn’t really work out for other teams either. The Orioles understand that trying to build their team with free agents is simply going to be expensive and disappointing. The problem is that if teams are not going to build their team with top free agents, then they need to use cash to extend their own talent. If the Orioles think they can’t win with Machado taking up a quarter or even a third of their payroll, then they’ll soon discover how difficult it is to win with Brian Roberts Jonathan Schoop as their best player.

Now look, if the Orioles can’t extend Manny then it makes sense to trade him instead of letting him leave for just a draft pick. The Orioles can’t force him to sign an extension if he wants to go elsewhere. So, if the Orioles want to put themselves in a position to receive draft picks in the top five each year for the next decade so they can find the next Machado, then they might as well start adding young talent now. But it might be awhile before they find a player as good as Mussina Machado that can lead them back to the playoffs.

If the Orioles trade Manny, then they need to do a complete rebuild. I have my issues with Fangraphs’ projected standings for 2018, but they have the Orioles as a 76 win team even with Machado. This does make sense as the Orioles currently only have two starting pitchers (but of course Jason Vargas is going to save the day) and neither of them are top of the rotation starters. The Orioles would still have a good second baseman in Schoop, but what else exactly? A decent but not great hitter in center field who is past his prime? A few potential bounce back sluggers who showed significant signs of decline last year?

The Os potentially have a strong bullpen, but Britton is a big question mark. And Givens struggles against lefties when he doesn’t allow a .212 BABIP against them. This team probably isn’t competing in 2018 unless everything goes right. After 2018, Britton, Brach and Jones become free agents. Does it make sense for the Orioles to spend big money to keep any of these players?

Furthermore, the Orioles only have Schoop under control for two more years and people question how long he’ll be able to stay at second. Is he a long-term building block if he has to be moved to right field or first base? Jones is at the point in his career where he’s too slow to play center field. His bat still is decent at a corner position, but realistically his days as a star are coming to an end. His leadership has some value, and he’s certainly important to Baltimore. How much does it make sense to pay for sentiment?

Gausman and Bundy are fine middle of the rotation starters. At their current salaries, they’re good bargains. But they’re going to be getting expensive. How likely is it that the Orioles will pay full price to keep them? Are these pitchers you want to build around? Britton is a potential elite reliever, but he’s also expensive and has health concerns. Who exactly is management going to decide to build around? Chris Davis? Caleb Joseph? I’m running out of names here.

Teams like the Orioles need to keep their young, talented players because they can’t just add new ones in free agency. Added to this is the fact that they just don’t have enough talent to compete with the Red Sox and Yankees if they lose Machado. If they’re unable to extend Machado, it’s time to go for a complete rebuild.

14 December 2017

The 29 Trades of Manny Machado (NL East edition)

Yesterday, the news appeared to break that the Orioles will now listen intently on what other teams are willing to offer him. The post will simply look at Machado's value and see how every other club would match up without really considering whether or not they want or could afford Manny. Machado is currently projected as a 6.9 WAR player, which is roughly worth about 56 MM in value. This is an underpriced value because a premium would be placed on a player that can give this level of performance while only occupying one slot in the lineup. That extra value probably ups his true Market price to around 70-75 MM.

However, Manny has to be paid and that cuts down the value of that 70 MM valuation. He is expected to earn 17 MM in arbitration, so that cuts his value down to 53-58 MM. It has been reported that the Orioles are asking for two starting caliber players, so that will be a major limitation on any deal. Anyway, here we go with this issue in which we focus on the NL East:

Philadelphia Phillies
J.P. Crawford, SS
Scott Kingery, 2B
Drew Anderson, RHSP
The Phillies have curiously been a name frequently connected to Machado. The club is populated with Orioles refugees, so they are well aware of the older parts of the system. However, they do not exactly seem ready to take on teams like the Nationals. Regardless, they could offer a few pieces. J.P. Crawford could step in now as a shortstop and Scott Kingery would be a potentially capable second baseman. Anderson is a viable pitcher who could be thrown into the fifth slot competition.

New York Mets
Ahmed Rosario, SS
Chris Flexen, RHSP
The Mets are not a great fit. Rosario would be an obvious choice, but then things fall apart from there. Perhaps they would seek out Chris Flexen and press him into a starter's role. Not sure what else would really make much sense. Maybe Brandon Nimmo if Mark Trumbo departs somewhere.

Miami Marlins
This one really seems like a waste of everyone's time.

Washington Nationals
Joe Ross, RHSP
A.J. Cole, RHSP
Carter Kieboom, SS
The Nats, after dealing out prospects left and right, no longer have many mid tier near MLB ready talents in their system anymore. For the Orioles to reach their two starters request, they would have to sink their teeth into the highly questionable pair of Ross and Cole who have delighted and tormented Washington fans. Some value would be left over, I think, where a fringe top 100 talent like low level SS Carter Kieboom would fit nicely in the Orioles' system, but be several years away.

Atlanta Braves
Kolby Allard, LHSP
Mike Soroka, RHSP
This would be a rough pair for Atlanta to give up. Perhaps add in Nick Markakis and maybe that primes the pump a bit. Allard and Soroka at potential top 50 arms and have done well in the upper minors. Neither of them are definitive mid-rotation mainstays, but they could be. The Orioles would likely be happy to have them both in the fold.

Suitors Are Lining Up To Trade For Manny Machado

The Orioles may have waited too long to put Manny Machado on the trade block, but several teams are jumping at the chance to acquire him now. According to Bob Nightengale, the O's have received more than a dozen offers and could be nearing a deal soon:
As reported from the start, the Cardinals remain interested in Machado and have apparently made a "strong offer" for him. While the Yankees, Phillies, and now Giants are among the interested teams, the White Sox, surprisingly, appear to have made the best offer.

As we've previously discussed, if the O's are not interested or are unable to re-sign Machado -- and that appears to be the case, since they incredulously haven't had serious extension talks for years -- then they must deal him now for the best possible return. Letting Machado walk via free agency and getting only the draft pick compensation would be a failure of epic proportions.

If or when Machado is dealt, as painful as it would be, others need to follow him out the door. That means entertaining offers for Zach Britton, Brad Brach, Adam Jones, Mychal Givens, and others. And yes, that even means Jonathan Schoop. With two years left on his contract and him coming off a career year, Schoop has a lot of value. The O's shouldn't make the same mistake they made with Machado; Schoop should be moved for the best group of players. Don't be surprised when more players aren't moved, though, with more mind-numbing logic like this.

None of this would be easy, of course. Watching a winning ballclub is fun! Losing all of the above players would lead to a not very good team in a strong division. But it's the best course of action for a team with an uncertain future and several important impending free agents (including both Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter).

One final run at least sounded interesting when it was assumed the O's would take upgrading their starting rotation seriously. Unfortunately, that is not the case, with ownership again souring on three- or four-year deals after the failed Ubaldo Jimenez experiment (or simply just using that as a convenient excuse). The upper tier starters are always off limits, but now so is the tier below them (Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn, and the already signed Tyler Chatwood).

Duquette may not like the word rebuild. Peter Angelos clearly doesn't like to rebuild, either. Well, that's too bad. The O's inaction put them in this position, and the only way to get themselves out of another looming stretch of futility is to put their trade pieces together and get the strongest return. Add as many intriguing players as possible and hope a few of them pan out. The O's should have already considered this and been proactive, but it's better late than never.

13 December 2017

How to Compete without Manny Machado (or not)

This time was to come. We all knew it would happen, eventually.  Good things always end and end more quickly for some.  Manny Machado was going to leave at some point, sooner or later.  Apparently, much sooner than later. 

Last year's increase in payroll led to dreams of a 160-180 MM roster.  The idea that a top ten payroll was indeed sustainable even though the Orioles market area is 25th out of 30 in all of baseball.  That the Baltimore area has not felt that rejuvenating economic jolt that other places have experienced.  That the club's owner demands the club pay for itself after his free wheeling mid-90s spending sprees.  That viewership and attendance has not performed as well as one would hope for a club like that Orioles who largely depend on revenue from those sources.  Perhaps, it was all a grand delusion.

So Manny is leaving, soon or sooner.

Using FanGraphs estimates, the Orioles are roughly an 81 win team (assuming a neutral division, which we know is an optimistic assumption).  Counting deferred pay and buy outs, the Orioles appear to be sitting with a payroll of around 115 MM with perhaps 15 MM in room to spend, so a 130 MM payroll limit.

Losing Manny and replacing him with a replacement level player would be a loss of 5 wins and payroll sinking to 98 MM.  If we assume that the Orioles strike gold and deal him for two cost-controlled 1.5 WAR pitchers, then the team will sit at a 99 MM payroll and 79 wins.

The club could fill in third base with Todd Frazier at around 12 MM a year and push the win total back to 81 wins.  Add in Jaime Garcia, knocking out some inferior pitching, for 12 MM to be at 83 wins.  Slide in Jarrod Dyson as a left handed outfielder in place of Joey Rickard and see the club sit at 84 wins and a payroll of around 128 MM.

Maybe you get adventurous and slip into a fever dream, finding a salary dump location for Mark Trumbo.  Trey Mancini moves into the designated hitter role.  Adam Jones sucks it up and moves to left field.  The club signs Lorenzo Cain for 15 MM a year.  That pushes the win total up to 86 wins.

86 wins.  That is where you can whisper playoff aspirations if everything hits right.  Oh, wait, maybe Buck is still worth about three wins a year.  So, 89 wins.  I am light-headed.

Maybe it all works out.

12 December 2017

The 29 Trades of Manny Machado (AL East edition)

Yesterday, the news appeared to break that the Orioles will now listen intently on what other teams are willing to offer him.  The post will simply look at Machado's value and see how every other club would match up without really considering whether or not they want or could afford Manny.  Machado is currently projected as a 6.9 WAR player, which is roughly worth about 56 MM in value.  This is an underpriced value because a premium would be placed on a player that can give this level of performance while only occupying one slot in the lineup.  That extra value probably ups his true Market price to around 70-75 MM.

However, Manny has to be paid and that cuts down the value of that 70 MM valuation.  He is expected to earn 17 MM in arbitration, so that cuts his value down to 53-58 MM.  It has been reported that the Orioles are asking for two starting caliber players, so that will be a major limitation on any deal.  Anyway, here we go with this issue in which we focus on the AL East:

Boston Red Sox
Eduardo Rodriguez, LHSP
Michael Chavis, 3B
The Red Sox have this left handed starting pitcher by the name of Eduardo Rodriguez.  He has had some health and performance issues in Boston with the club somewhat souring on him (the Orioles soured on him too before sending him there).  He would provide more stability to the rotation for four more years.  Michael Chavis is a solid bottom 100 prospect who can play either third base or second base depending on the Orioles needs.

New York Yankees
Chance Adams, RHSP
Miguel Andujar, 3B
Some of the chatter in National media like to say Gleyber Torres is the best player to target, but he is too good.  He is a top ten guy.  In order to get two starters, there needs to be lower level targets.  Chance Adams is a pitchability guys with a solid breaking ball.  He dominated AAA last year and would be an easy fit into the Orioles' rotation.  Andujar has a gun at third and an offensive skillset where you could hope something develops.  He held his own last year in AAA and could break open with an MLB club.

Tampa Bay Rays
Brent Honeywell, RHSP
Jake Bauers, RF
Don't ask me why the Rays would ever want him.  If they did, then going after one of the better starters in baseball prospect circles would be a good idea.  Honeywell will be pushing for the rotation with the Rays this upcoming year and would almost assuredly get a place with the Orioles.  Jake Bauers has some impressive tools that play well in right field.  Right field is not exactly a place of need, but could be worked out if Hays shifted to left and Mancini could DH.

Toronto Blue Jays
Anthony Alford, CF
Logan Warmoth, SS
Well, the two starters idea fell apart with this club.  Alford is an obvious get, but nothing much sticks out beyond him.  He would be a great heir apparent to Adam Jones.  Beyond that, the Jays system is thinned out in comparison to what they had in the past and is pretty much concentrated in low minors positional talent.

Trade the Pen: Rusty Trucks Do Not Need Shiny Rims

Let us get one thing quickly out of the way: the Orioles have a few interesting bullpen arms, but they no longer have an elite bullpen.  That good, but not great, pen backs up a starting rotation that currently is filled with craters, whispers, and tissue paper.  The club has announced they are looking for starting pitcher, two to be exact with one being left handed, and could not secure either Tyler Chatwood or Mike Fiers.  Yes, if we take things at face value, Mike Fiers was expected to be half of the starting rotation overhaul.  And, yes, it appears the solution to the fifth slot is internal. Somehow.

And that leads us to this: trade potentially extra weight in the bullpen for starting pitching elsewhere.  That really just boils down to once and potentially still great Zach Britton and once and still potentially very good Brad Brach.  Both can slide into a closer role or a set up job.  Darren O'Day last year effectively pitched to his contract after being a bit subpar in 2016.  With two years and 18 MM coming to him, it seems unlikely that he could bring back much.  Mychal Givens is someone who would be highly desirable to other clubs, but the Orioles still are trying to compete somewhat and that means to me that he remains and takes over the closer position.  Then again, Buck and Duquette are in their final contract years, so maybe they go for broke choosing Britton over Givens.  In this post though, we will assume that the Orioles are acting somewhat rational.

The suitors for Britton and Brach would be as follows.  The Cubs, Dodgers, and Rockies are known to have pinged the Orioles about Zach Britton.  The Mets are known to have inquired on Brad Brach.  The Cardinals are actively looking for late inning help.  The Diamondbacks and Astros are also looking for suitable pairings in their respective pens.  I think we can safely ignore the Nationals as a trading partner even though they are still looking for relief help.  So, who can the Orioles pry from each club?

The Britton Market
Chicago Cubs
The Cubs are said to be looking for another starting pitcher, which would make one think they would not have a player available in a trade.  Though it may also suggest that the club is willing to deal out someone like Eddie Butler or Mike Montgomery.  Both have shown promise at times and both are likely strong components of a 2018 bullpen that provide backup options in case they have trouble with a member of their starting rotation.  That said, adding Zach Britton may be a cause worth going after.  The team is often thought to be made of money, but often try to be rather prudent at times.  Britton's salary, along with his uneven 2017, might give some pause.  Brad Brach might be of interest, but the club would likely have to tack something on.

Los Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles has eight starting pitchers and a few in their pen capable of starting.  The obvious arms to be dangled would be Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Kenta Maeda, and even Julio Urias who is not held as tightly as he was before the season.  The Dodgers were one of the finalist last summer for Britton before the Orioles ghosted them and they turned their sites on Yu Darvish.  They still have a need for relief arm and have comparable salary ballast to exchange.  Pitchers like Kazmir and McCarthy have injury and physical concerns, so the Orioles might focus on Urias but then settle for Ryu.  Maeda would be a pie in the sky option who has pitched well despite having some potential shoulder concerns when he initially signed.

Colorado Rockies
The Rockies have called to check in with the Orioles and have been aggressively contacting closer arms in the market.  The two arms the Orioles would likely target are Antonio Senzatela and Jeff Hoffman, the pitcher who the Orioles tried to get from the Blue Jays when the Jays wanted Dan Duquette.  Of those two, the rumblings are that the Rockies have considerable doubts about Hoffman, so that could present him as a potential get.  The Rockies have the payroll space to acquire Britton's 12 MM salary, but would probably want the Orioles to buy down on it or to include someone else in the mix like Hunter Harvey or Tanner Scoot but more likely Cody Sedlock or Keegan Akin.

The Brach Market
New York Mets
The Mets seem to always be calling the Orioles about Brad Brach.  The really like him, but do not exactly love him.  So, the market is there, but the market may be somewhat limited in interest.  The Orioles, at this point, are also known to be inquiring on Matt Harvey.  Harvey, the once insanely promising starting pitcher, has fallen in the Mets doghouse on several occasions for reasons often not related to how dreadful he has been the past couple years.  The Mets value him, but seem to prefer to be in someone else's clubhouse while also getting something of similar value without the headaches.  A Brach for Harvey deal straight up seems to be a decent match between the two, but I imagine that the Mets also really like Givens and would try to pry him from the team.

St. Louis Cardinals
The front office seems to think that Oh's troubles last year spelled post season issues for the club, so they have been active in the closer market.  Looking at their starting pitching situation, they are not really filled with options.  The only one I see that could fit is the 23 year old Jack Flaherty, but I think that is a stretch.  He is a hard throwing righthander who has glided through the minors.  His ceiling is limited, but that is a good sixth or seventh option to have.  I figured you would need to see a Brach plus a prospect trade to pry him from the Cardinals and they would have to really want Brach, which is something I have not heard at all.

Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks are also looking to create an intimidating bullpen and have some cost concerns, so a pitcher like Brach fits right into their wheelhouse.  That said, there are not any easy matches here for the Orioles needs.  One interesting name would be Shelby Miller.  He had Tommy John surgery last May, but has experienced an accelerated rehabilitation and is already throwing well off flat ground.  It might be difficult for him to make opening day, but he may be an option for May.  Miller will make about the same as Brach in arbitration this year and has one more team controlled year for 2019.  This might make a lot of sense.

Houston Astros
Last summer, after a great deal of hemming and hawing over whether Zach Britton was really worth his deal, the Astros were in on him and were waiting for the deal to be finalized.  But, it was not.  In the aftermath, the portion of the front office that was against the move felt pretty vindicated yet they still recognize that the pen was a weakness that needs to be addressed.  Without copious amounts of money at their disposal, Brad Brach may look like a good match for them.  A piece supposedly in the deal was Francis Martes, who is a decent prospect who lost a bit of luster last season.  I could see a potential one for one deal on this or the Orioles would have to hand over an additional low minors lottery ticket.

What Happens?
I have no idea.  However, I think you could see a number of ways the Orioles could deplete their bullpen while securing starting pitching.  Doing so would likely decrease their payroll by an additional 10 MM or so, perhaps opening up space to sign one more starting pitcher or to find a few veteran arms in the pen.

Rolling the dice, let us say the Orioles were able to deal Zach Britton and maybe some international bonus pool money to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Julio Urias.  People will be shocked that Urias, who was recently a highly touted pitching prospect, would be gotten for only one year of Zach Britton.  However, the Dodgers figured Urias was not a major piece moving forward and that Britton would bring them closer to the World Series.  The Orioles then press their luck with Urias and hopes he is more than the frustrating late inning relievers some scouts are beginning to think he is.  He also ticks the box for a left hander.  On the Brach market, the Orioles trade contract for contract and acquire Matt Harvey from the Mets for a one year rental.  They see a lot to like, such as the low cost for a potentially useful starter, and figure he is worth the performance and injury concern for just one year.

Now, the club has a bullpen problem having dealt out two of their four best relievers.  However, they have an additional 12 MM from dealing Britton and a lot more from not having to sign a free agent starter.  What do they do?  To replace Brach, they sign Brandon Kinstler to a three year, 21 MM deal.  To replace Britton, they sign Tony Watson for two years and 15 MM.  At that point, they probably have enough money to sign someone like Andrew Cashner or Jaime Garcia.

OK, Duquette.  Do that.  Convert your potentially elite bullpen into a potentially decent starting rotation with some dependable arms.

11 December 2017

Pick One, Orioles: Trade Manny Machado Now Or Pay For Pitching

Last January, Jon did an excellent job of framing the Orioles' dilemma with Manny Machado and laying out the difficulties and possibilities. Of course, we know the O's have held on to Machado and now have him under control for just one more season, and that they're unlikely to sign him to an extension.

The Orioles have gotten off to a slow start this offseason to address their needs, and there's nothing surprising about that. Under Dan Duquette, the O's typically wait out the market while they search for potential bargains and players they feel have slipped through the cracks. Sometimes it works, and it seems to fit how O's ownership operates.

There are a few differences between the team's situation now and previous years, though. The O's clear weakness is starting pitching, and they currently only have two starting pitchers they can rely on for 2018: Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. There's nothing new about this deficiency, and there was no question that the Orioles absolutely, positively had to address this to have any chance to compete for a playoff spot in the upcoming season.

There's also the matter of the team's impending free agents. It's not just Machado, whose probable departure would be stressful enough on its own. There's also Adam Jones, Zach Britton, and Brad Brach who could be on the way out of Baltimore. Again, none of this is a new development. Duquette talked a couple months ago about the team's need to reload, not retool. Considering the weight of the roster decisions, then, you'd figure that would lead to some sense of urgency. It hasn't.

It's almost mid-December, and the O's haven't done anything to address the rotation. Tyler Chatwood seemed like a sensible target, and he signed with the Cubs on Thursday for three years and $38 million. The Cubs, apparently on a mission to destroy O's fans' dreams, also have strong interest in Alex Cobb to complete their rotation. There are other free agent pitchers out there who the Orioles could pursue -- Lance Lynn, Jhoulys Chacin, Jason Vargas, Jaime Garcia, Andrew Cashner, CC Sabathia, Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman, and others -- but Cobb and Chatwood are two of the better choices after the top two options in Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta, who the O's will avoid because they're going to command lots of money and plenty of years.

You're already hearing some of the same, old things from years past: that the O's "had interest" when someone signs with another team (Chatwood, Mike Fiers), and now that improving the rotation is going to be a challenge. This is the problem when the O's version of going "all in" is more or less the same way they operate in a typical offseason. How can you reload if you're going to sit out while the best starters go elsewhere? The O's don't just need to add a fifth starter or some maybe underappreciated, low-tier pitching option. They need multiple accomplished starters.

If the Orioles are not going to do everything possible to upgrade the starting rotation, including outbidding other teams for desired players, then why hold on to Machado, Britton, and others and pretend like they have any real chance to compete? The Yankees just added the reigning NL MVP in Giancarlo Stanton. The O's won't even pay for three or four years of Tyler Chatwood. Considering the full picture, why would anyone think this is going to end well?

The Orioles are not going to pay what it takes to keep Machado. It would be painful, but if they trade him right now, at the very least the O's could get a few valuable prospects in return. Machado is currently healthy and will be in demand for some team. The same goes for Britton, Jones, and Brach, just to a lesser extent. Don't want to trade Britton and hope that he re-establishes his trade value enough to deal at the trade deadline? Sure, whatever. The others have value, but Machado is the big piece.

One problem with this whole thing is the O's can't be trusted to rebuild in any meaningful way. A fire sale is not the organization's style under Peter Angelos. But besides that, they're not going to reverse course and start spending in the international market. They're not going to tear everything down in an effort to correct whatever has been wrong with their pitcher prospect development for years. And they're not going to get the most out of whatever promising pitchers are currently in the lower levels of their system. In that sense, maybe you can see why the O's would be stubborn and just roll the dice one more time. But how in the world can you expect to tangle with the rest of the AL East and come out on top when you're not going to give Bundy and Gausman some major help?

Scared of signing the next Ubaldo Jimenez? Not going to pay what real starter upgrades cost? Planning to count on Miguel Castro, Gabriel Ynoa, or Mike Wright to be meaningful rotation contributors? Trade Machado and co. right now and jump-start a possible rebuild. The Orioles had a wonderful run under Buck Showalter and Duquette, and it was a lot of fun. But those two might not even be in Baltimore after next season. It's time to stop punting and make some real decisions.

10 December 2017

Sunday Comics: Thank You, Mr. Halladay

After a lengthy hiatus for graduate school and weird library work hours, I'm finally back with art! I've missed everyone here and it's nice to be back working on baseball cartoons again.

Kevin Gausman's tweet about his uniform number change definitely made me emotional, so this week's drawing was to be expected.

07 December 2017

Baseball America's Orioles Prospects Top Ten

In years past, I would present my own top ten as well as composite top tens.  I do not really do that anymore.  I am a novice evaluator at games, but a pretty decent source aggregator.  It helps develop my view, but I think I should more tip my hat to those who are investing far more energy than I am into these lists.  One of the first things to remember with any list is that the ranking numbers do not represent equidistant distances in value between the players.  The space between a number 1 ranking and a number 2 could be narrower than 3 and 4.  It may well be that someone ranked 7th could easily be ranked 15th.  Things get jumbled, so try not to be so narrow in your focus.

The List

Jon Meoli of the Baltimore Sun is the messenger of news this year and it has been pretty refreshing.  He shows a great deal of inquisitiveness and really tries to nail down what we know or what we do not know.  Enjoy him.  I imagine he is going on to better things, so read it.

Major points:
  • Austin Hays has emerged as the best Orioles prospect.  It is good to remember that does nothing particularly well, so he snuck up on a lot of evaluators.  In general, average tooled players tend not to be able to keep all of their tools at level as they move forward.  Scouts like to see a loud carrying tool to serve as a bearer for the rest of the player.  That does not describe Hays.  That probably still follows him with his top 100 ranking which will be released next year.
  • Mountcastle also leapt over Sisco.  I have been a long pessimistic voice on Sisco.  His defense still aspires to be adequate behind the plate.  He has improved in framing and blocking, but his arm still looks simply passable.  If he gets pushed out from behind the plate, the suggestion is that he is stuck to left field.  My read on him is probably more pessimistic on his catching and more optimistic that he could play second or third where the bat would not need to carry him as much. Mountcastle though looks like a strong bat first player who should be able to hit enough to play any position.  I think finally people have stopped repeating the company line of him being a shortstop since the company finally moved on with what everyone with any knowledge of him had already concluded.
  • I think the top ten works in a couple ways.  Now, it is important to note that scouts' opinions can vary widely.  For the most part, you have a top tier of Hays, Mountcastle, and Sisco.  Harvey, for some, dips into that group. Scott, for some, does as well.  The next group are guys with lower ceilings or are a little bit further away with Harvey, Scott, and Hall.  All of these guys have some measure of high ceiling, but have distance ahead of them.  After that you have a list that probably jumbles back to 15 with names like Keegan Akin or DJ Stewart not present on the top ten, but likely there in the next five.
  • The club's minor league situation looks light years better than it was a few years ago.  The club has several good position player prospects and really a legion of interesting arms below that.  One of the deficiencies is that the pitching largely is located in the low minors, but it certainly seems more robust than it has been for the past decade or so.  It may have taken five or so years, but Duquette's group has really stabilized the minors to some extent.  That said, being handicapped in the Latin American market really hurts, but so far they have adapted well.  It is an impressive change of events to what things looked like in 2015 or 2016.