22 February 2018

The Orioles Aren't Rebuilding, But They're Not Reloading Either

It's a normal response to frequently ask what the Orioles are doing. They don't operate like other teams, and they don't often do what you want them to. Sometimes that's good, and it has led to wonderfully unexpected things in the Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette era. Hopefully you didn't overlook the return to relevancy.

Regardless, this offseason has been a disaster for the Orioles. The O's weren't open to trading franchise player and soon-to-be-free-agent Manny Machado, but then soon after the Yankees acquired Giancarlo Stanton, that changed. The O's entertained offers, but they never received one that was enticing enough to pull the trigger. They were also at least willing to discuss a trade for Zach Britton. In late December, Britton ruptured his right Achilles' tendon and will miss a chunk of the season.

There's a lot more, of course. Important players are entering the final year of their deals. Contract extensions are not being discussed. Showalter and Duquette are also working on expiring deals. There is almost no part of this team's future that is set in stone other than knowing it's going to be frustrating.

Did you want the Orioles to sell early and get a head start on rebuilding? Too bad. And, well, if you wanted them to go all in -- or, to use Duquette's own word, "reload" -- that ship seems to have sailed. The very reasonable goal heading into the offseason was to inject some life into the starting rotation and add a competent left-handed outfielder to help balance out the lineup. The Orioles have kinda/sorta added to the rotation while also hoping fans will talk themselves into Colby Rasmus or Alex Presley (added on minor league deals).

The Orioles could have done almost anything to their starting rotation and it would have been viewed as a modest upgrade. Still, instead of tackling the deficiencies head-on and at least meeting last year's payroll, the O's have opted to only move the needle in minor and relatively inexpensive ways.

So far, the Orioles have signed two noteworthy starting pitchers. The first, Andrew Cashner, is fine. He's a No. 4 or (preferably) No. 5 starter, and he signed a two-year deal with a club option. The hope is he's not the next Yovani Gallardo. With the second signing, Chris Tillman, the hope is that he's healthy and doesn't pitch the way that Chris Tillman pitched just last season. The O's signed Tillman to a major league deal, for $3 million guaranteed and a bunch of incentives, while a couple other teams were interested in inking him to a minor league deal. Again, while not an amazing option, he's fine. With so many unknowns also in the fold, Tillman has had past success in a tough division.

Added to a very good rotation, Cashner and Tillman could round it out as long as they aren't being counted on to perform better than adequately. But Cashner and Tillman aren't joining a great or even above-average rotation. That's not a knock on Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy; it's just the way it is. Those two guys need more help, and the kind of help they need is more than Cashner and Tillman.

One hope all along is that the O's are just waiting in the weeds to sneak in and sign Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn. (There's no way they sign Jake Arrieta.) But, well, Roch Kubatko doused those hot stove dreams on Tuesday morning:
The Orioles checked on Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb, determined that there wasn’t a financial match and moved on from the trio.
That's pretty much been the report all along, unless the prices for those two drop significantly and they accept a short-term deal. Without them, the O's are still surely going to bring in another starting pitcher. The need (more want) for a lefty starter won't go away. And they could always bring in someone like... Scott Feldman, apparently.

The O's plans under Duquette always involve waiting, but what does waiting around do now if the O's don't intend to use any of their assumed payroll room? And yes, it's assumed. Right now, the O's are around $130 million spent, and in 2017 they spent about $165 million on their 25-man roster. What a truly bizarre time this would be to shrink payroll. There's no guarantee that even adding Cobb or Lynn would make the O's playoff contenders, but at the bare minimum the O's need more help to have any chance to flourish this season. That help also includes the ever-present need for actual MLB-quality outfielders who can do things like field and run, and yet two years and $7.5 million for Jarrod Dyson is apparently too risky? Yikes. There is no move that is completely without risk. The Orioles know this, but maybe they want you to think otherwise.

The O's might not be bad in 2018, but they surely don't seem primed to contend for a playoff spot. There are things they could do or could have done that would move them closer to contention while also keeping an eye on not sacrificing the future. But they aren't doing them. That isn't the Orioles' style. They'll only do the things they're comfortable with, and it'll make Showalter and Duquette look even more like miracle workers years down the road.

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