- Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com wonders whether the Orioles could get creative with the increasingly expensive, but also increasingly dominant lefty Zach Britton. The club seems set to hold onto Britton and maintain his role as the closer in 2017, notes Kubatko. But he suggests the team could consider a trade, an extension, or even a return to the rotation for the 28-year-old. That last option would come with considerable upside, but also quite a bit of risk. Britton didn’t succeed in the majors until he moved to the pen — following a roughly similar trajectory to Andrew Miller — and Kubatko adds that the team has some questions about his durability in a rotation role.
- Dealing Britton or star third baseman Manny Machado wouldn’t make sense for the Orioles, Steve Melewski of MASNsports.com opines. While the club has only two years of control remaining over these two elite players, and could surely obtain an impressive haul of prospects for either, Melewski argues that the roster is set up to keep pushing to win over 2017-18.
- An Orioles official tells MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko that he doesn’t believe any of Wade Miley, Ubaldo Jimenez or Yovani Gallardo is well-suited to handle a bullpen role. Kubatko writes that while it’s something of an overstatement to imply that the O’s have a surplus of rotation arms, the team could consider dealing one of that trio this offseason. Each is a change-of-scenery candidate after struggling greatly this year, and Baltimore only has two open rotation spots behind Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy.
MLBTR is publishing Offseason Outlooks for all 30 teams. Click here for the other entries in this series.
With some key position players hitting free agency and a still-unsettled rotation, the Orioles are looking at another busy offseason.
- Chris Davis, 1B: $138MM through 2022
- Adam Jones, CF: $33MM through 2018
- Darren O’Day, RP: $25MM through 2019
- J.J. Hardy, SS: $14MM through 2017 ($14MM club option for 2018, $2MM buyout)
- Ubaldo Jimenez, SP: $13.5MM through 2017
- Yovani Gallardo, SP: $11MM through 2017 ($13MM club option for 2018, $2MM buyout)
- Wade Miley, SP: $8.75MM through 2017 ($12MM club option for 2018, $500K buyout)
- Hyun Soo Kim, LF: $4.2MM through 2017
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via MLB Trade Rumors)
- Chris Tillman (5.113) – $10.6MM
- Ryan Flaherty (5.000) – $1.7MM
- Zach Britton (4.158) – $11.4MM
- Vance Worley (4.112) – $3.3MM
- Brad Brach (4.063) – $2.9MM
- Manny Machado (4.056) – $11.2MM
- Jonathan Schoop (3.027) – $3.4MM
- T.J. McFarland (3.007) – $700K
- Kevin Gausman (2.151) – $3.9MM
- Caleb Joseph (2.135) – $1.0MM
- Non-tender candidates: Flaherty, Worley, McFarland
- Mark Trumbo, Matt Wieters, Pedro Alvarez, Steve Pearce, Michael Bourn, Tommy Hunter, Nolan Reimold, Brian Duensing, Paul Janish, Drew Stubbs
It’s probably safe to assume that the Orioles aren’t going to drop another $243MM on free agents this offseason. Last winter’s club-record splurge may have been more or less a one-time-only expenditure, as most of that spending went towards keeping a cornerstone piece (Chris Davis) in the fold.
That being said, it would be unusual for owner Peter Angelos to close the wallet altogether just a year later, especially since the O’s made it back to the postseason (albeit just as far as the wild card game). With a number of roster holes that need to be addressed, executive VP of baseball operations Dan Duquette will likely need some cash to again dip into the free agent market, or be creative on the trade front given the Orioles’ lack of attractive minor league trade depth.
The O’s have just under $96MM committed to only eight players for 2017, plus a projected $50.1MM to their ten-player arbitration class. Even if you shave off the salaries of the possible non-tenders, so Baltimore is looking at over $141MM (almost the size of its 2016 Opening Day payroll) for 15 players. In short, the Orioles will surely set a new franchise high for payroll, unless they free up some money in trades.
Given the near-historic weakness of this year’s free agent pitching market, it’s not out of the question that the O’s could shop Ubaldo Jimenez, Yovani Gallardo or Wade Miley. All three starters are under contract only through 2017, so it’s possible another club could take a one-year (or longer, since Gallardo and Miley are under club options for 2018) flier on any of the pitchers.
Of course, Baltimore wouldn’t be selling high on any of the three since Jimenez, Miley and Gallardo are all coming off rough seasons. Jimenez was briefly removed from the rotation in August but pitched quite well down the stretch once he got his starting job back. Miley’s advanced metrics hint that he pitched better in his 11 starts as an Oriole than his 6.17 ERA would indicate, though he is still waiting on that breakout season. Gallardo’s first year in Baltimore was essentially a disaster, punctuated by two trips to the DL, a 5.42 ERA and just 0.6 fWAR over 118 innings.
Kevin Gausman and Chris Tillman are locked in the top two rotation spots, so it seems like the O’s would have to move one of their other three veterans to create room for Dylan Bundy. Returning after missing three full MLB seasons to injury, Bundy worked mostly out of the bullpen in 2016 but showed glimpses of his potential when shifted to the rotation later in the year. Bundy’s health history could keep him on an innings limit, but the Orioles are going to give their former first-rounder every chance to stick in the rotation. Jimenez, Miley and Gallardo could be fighting amongst themselves for the last two starting jobs, with the loser going to the bullpen (though none are seen as ideal candidates to do so) or perhaps to another team in a trade.
Then again, dealing a starter may not be a great idea for a team that is itself looking for pitching upgrades. Could the Orioles look into adding a free agent pitcher? It isn’t a great winter to be looking for starters, so barring a trade, it’s more probable that Baltimore hangs onto its own mid-tier rotation options rather than sign another one. That said, the O’s waited until pretty late into the offseason to sign both Jimenez and Gallardo, as both pitchers saw their markets hampered by the qualifying offer. That tactic probably won’t work this winter (Jeremy Hellickson is likely to be the only free agent starter who receives a qualifying offer), though it wouldn’t be surprising to see Duquette check in on any notable starters still lingering on the market in February.
The other end of the pitching equation has far fewer issues, as the Orioles fielded one of the league’s best bullpens. Even with longtime setup man Darren O’Day battling injuries for much of the year, the relief corps still posted excellent numbers thanks to workhorses Brad Brach and Mychal Givens, and the all-timer of a season delivered by closer Zach Britton.
With Britton’s value at an all-time high and the closer projected for a hefty $11.4MM arbitration salary, Britton himself recently discussed the possibility that the O’s could trade him as they did ex-closer Jim Johnson when Johnson’s price tag got too high. With so many other star relievers (Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon) available in free agency and the Royals potentially considering a Wade Davis trade, the closing market is already pretty crowded this winter. On the other hand, big spenders like the Dodgers, Cubs, Nationals, Giants, Rangers and Yankees will all be looking for bullpen upgrades and at least some of those teams will be left empty-handed in the free agent frenzy and the Davis sweepstakes.
The issue with trading Britton, of course, is that the O’s would be weakening their clearest strength. The bullpen’s dominance helped account for a lot of flaws around the roster — the middling rotation, a below-average defense and even a lineup that relied too much on the long ball. Baltimore hit a league-best 253 homers last season but managed just a .317 OBP. While an above-average club on the basepaths as per Fangraphs’ BsR metric, the Orioles combined for just 19 steals in 2016, easily the fewest of any team and fewer than 28 individual players.
The infield core of Davis, Jonathan Schoop, J.J. Hardy and superstar Manny Machado will remain intact, and long-time franchise stalwart Adam Jones will return in center field, even if his glovework in center took a big step backwards. Hyun Soo Kim went from looking overmatched in Spring Training to delivering a very solid first season in the majors, but he didn’t record a hit in just 22 plate appearances against southpaws. He will return as the lefty-swinging side of a platoon in either left field or potentially designated hitter. (Rookies Trey Mancini and Christian Walker are both right-handed bats that could platoon with Kim at DH, and Walker is a possible option in left as well.)
That leaves lots of room around the diamond for the Orioles to add speed, athleticism and better all-around batting. If the O’s would still prefer pure power over these attributes, however, they could look to re-sign Mark Trumbo. The slugger hit .256/.316/.533 with a league-high 47 homers over 667 plate appearances, though aside from all this thump, Trumbo brought little else in average, OBP or defensive value. He also slumped badly in the second half and had unusual splits (.932 OPS against right-handers, .608 OPS against lefties) for a right-handed batter whose numbers against all pitchers had been pretty even entering 2016.
Trumbo’s big power year will ensure that the O’s issue him a qualifying offer, so the team will be in line for a first-round draft pick as compensation if he signs elsewhere. It’s hard to let 47 homers walk out the door, though on a team with so much pop already on the roster, Trumbo seems somewhat expendable. The O’s could collect a much-needed draft pick and replace Trumbo with a more well-rounded player in right field.
Of the other Oriole free agents, Steve Pearce or Nolan Reimold could be fits as platoon partners for Kim, with Pearce potentially serving as an everyday option given how well he has hit both lefties and righties in two of the last three seasons. Pearce isn’t a defensive whiz at any position but he is versatile, seeing time at first, second, third, left and right with the Rays and Orioles in 2016. Pearce is liable to receive a lot of free agent attention despite the fact that his recovery from forearm surgery could stretch into Spring Training, though one could assume that his familiarity with Baltimore could give the O’s something of an edge over most other teams. Late-season addition Michael Bourn impressed the team and is open to a return, though that would likely mean setting up another platoon situation in right field.
Extension talks with Pedro Alvarez went nowhere in September, so while a reunion could still occur, Alvarez is another power-only player that the O’s may feel comfortable letting go — particularly since he, too, is mostly limited to facing right-handed pitching. If both Alvarez and Trumbo depart, the Orioles simply look to obtain the next Alvarez and Trumbo — players with big power and whose defensive shortcomings could be masked in the DH role. Between Alvarez, Trumbo and Nelson Cruz, the O’s have had great success in recent years in acquiring productive sluggers at relatively low prices.
With both corner spots and the DH spot essentially open aside from Kim, the Orioles have lots of options in a free agent market deep in all three areas. They could sign a pure platooner like Rajai Davis (who also brings sorely-needed base-stealing ability) to pair with Kim in left, then go after an everyday right fielder like longtime division rival Jose Bautista. Signing a versatile player such as Ian Desmond could check off a number of boxes — he could be shifted to right field for his regular position, while occasionally spelling Jones in center or Hardy at shortstop.
As I mentioned earlier, the Orioles aren’t likely to break the bank in free agency again, but perhaps they could afford to sign one big-ticket player and one mid-range free agent to fill some of these holes. Adding Desmond, Bautista or other free agents who reject qualifying offers would require the Orioles to surrender their first-round pick. Giving up what is currently the 23rd overall pick might not be a big concern since Baltimore could be getting two compensatory picks back for their own QO free agents in Trumbo and Matt Wieters.
Of course, the Orioles probably thought they had an extra pick coming their way last year before Wieters surprised many by actually accepting his one-year, $15.8MM qualifying offer. Wieters’ attempt at boosting his stock with a big platform year in 2016 didn’t entirely work out, as he managed to stay healthy but hit only .243/.302/.409 with 17 homers over 464 PA. Wieters may still be in line for a solid multi-year deal as the top free agent catcher available in the wake of Wilson Ramos’ knee surgery, or he could again choose to stay in a familiar spot and accept a large (if one-year) payday in the hopes that 2017 will be that long-desired platform year.
MLBTR’s Steve Adams recently outlined the pros and cons of issuing another QO to Wieters, as the Orioles have to weigh the risk of paying $17.2MM for a catcher who looked pretty average (or even on the decline) last season against the benefit of adding a draft pick if Wieters rejects the qualifying offer and departs. This one decision will have a big impact on the rest of Baltimore’s offseason moves; the club will have much less to spend on other needs if $17.2MM in payroll space is being used on Wieters.
If Wieters does leave, the Orioles will have a big vacancy to fill behind the plate. Caleb Joseph was tentatively set to be the 2016 starter before Wieters accepted the QO, though Joseph is no longer a regular option following a desultory season. Joseph hit a measly .174/.216/.197, recording such astonishing offensive lows as a 6 wRC+ and zero RBI over his 141 PA. At the very least, Joseph did provide good framing and defensive numbers, so he’s still in the mix as the backup.
Top catching prospect Chance Sisco may be ready to make his big league debut in 2017, though he’s still quite young (Sisco turns 22 in February) and still something of a defensive question mark. There’s no guarantee the O’s can count on Sisco even for Opening Day 2018, so they could need more than a one-year stopgap to start ahead of Joseph. The O’s could focus solely on defense by signing someone like Jason Castro, essentially punting on offense from the catcher’s spot since the rest of the lineup is so strong. Former Oriole Nick Hundley is another possibility, though Hundley is a defensive liability.
Longtime utilityman Ryan Flaherty could be non-tendered despite a pretty modest $1.7MM projected arbitration salary, as the O’s could probably re-sign Flaherty at a lower price. If Flaherty isn’t brought back, the Orioles will need a new backup infielder, though Machado’s ability to play both third and short gives them some flexibility.
Speaking of Machado, it seems likely that Duquette will again broach the idea of an extension with the 24-year-old this offseason. Duquette was rather circumspect when discussing extension negotiation plans with Machado, Tillman, Britton or Schoop, though of that group, there’s little question that locking up Machado is Baltimore’s biggest long-term priority. It would likely take well over $250MM to make a Machado extension happen given his age and spectacular track record, and that kind of expenditure could obviously impact how much the Orioles plan to spend on new talent this offseason. The O’s have quite a bit of future payroll flexibility, however, as Davis and O’Day are the only players committed money beyond the 2018 season. Like most extensions, a Machado deal may not occur or begin to be negotiated until after the rest of the offseason business is done, so we may have to wait until Spring Training for more news on the that front.
Beyond just helping to score a wild card berth, the Orioles’ spending spree of a year ago showed that Angelos is again ready to pay top dollar to retain and obtain talent. Baltimore doesn’t have as many key pieces hitting free agency this winter as it did in 2015, so this offseason’s most notable moves could consist of bringing some new faces to Camden Yards. The Orioles’ mixture of innings-eating starting pitching, sluggers and great bullpen work only got them so far in 2016, so some further roster maneuvering is still needed to keep the O’s in the playoff hunt.
Forty-nine weeks ago, Matt Wieters became the second player to ever accept a qualifying offer from his team (following Colby Rasmus, who accepted a day prior). The move came as somewhat of a surprise at the time, as despite a lackluster season that was slowed by injuries, Wieters was poised to hit the market as the top available catcher. The former No. 5 overall pick and agent Scott Boras elected to instead take a one-year, $15.8MM offer, however, which afforded Wieters with the chance to further reestablish his health. While he succeeded in that effort to some extent, the 2016 season came with mixed results overall.
Wieters, 31 next May, tallied 464 plate appearances over the life of 124 games. While that’s a low total relative to his most durable years, the Orioles shielded Wieters early in the season from playing on consecutive days and were cautious in building him to the point where he would even catch on three consecutive days. Wieters did just so for the first time this past season in June, and by September he’d built up to the point that he at one point drew starts behind the plate on six consecutive days. In that regard, Wieters was able to demonstrate that he’s physically capable of handling a notable workload behind the plate — something he was unable to show in 2016 when he caught back-to-back games on just four occasions. Certainly that show of durability improves his free agent stock this winter.
On the other hand, Wieters’ overall production at the plate deteriorated this season. He saw his average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage all decrease along with his walk rate, and while he improved his strikeout rate from 23.8 percent to 18.3 percent, Wieters also nearly doubled his infield-fly rate. After popping up just four times in 282 PAs last year, Wieters popped out 17 times in this year’s 464 PAs — and those infield flies are every bit as detrimental as a strikeout, as they’re effectively a wasted at-bat and a guaranteed out. Park-adjusted metrics OPS+ and wRC+ agreed last season that Wieters’ bat was roughly league average (101 — or one percent above the league average), whereas this season he was markedly below the league average (88 wRC+, 87 OPS+ or 12 and 13 percent below average, respectively). He did belt 17 home runs, but he hit just 17 doubles and overall managed a pedestrian .243/.302/.409 batting line. That’s about league average for a catcher, but as noted before, it’s a far cry from average relative to the entire league.
On the defensive side of things, Wieters threw out 35 percent of opponents trying to steal against the Orioles’ pitching staff while he was behind the plate — an encouraging outcome for a catcher that had Tommy John surgery in 2014 and dealt with elbow tendinitis last year — but he once again drew poor marks in the eyes of pitch framing metrics. Baseball Prospectus rated him as below average in that regard for the fourth consecutive season, while StatCorner.com has been giving Wieters a below-average framing grade for five straight years.
Wieters has accepted a qualifying offer once before and would bring his two-year tab with the Orioles from 2016-17 to $33MM if he received and accepted another this year. That’s certainly nothing to scoff at, but if Boras and Wieters feel that the improved durability in 2016 will lead to a multi-year deal on the open market, then they’ll surely think he can earn more. And, the fact that Wilson Ramos suffered a horribly timed knee injury that will weigh down his free-agent stock only makes Wieters look more appealing relative to the remainder of the market. In that respect, it’s easy to see why the Orioles might feel comfortable making the offer.
The other side of the coin for the O’s, though, is that they opened the 2016 season with a franchise-record $147MM payroll and currently project to have an even larger $155MM payroll next season, as Jason Martinez lays out on the Orioles’ payroll page over at Roster Resource. That figure doesn’t include Wieters at all, so penciling him in at an additional $17.2MM would cause the team’s projected payroll to balloon to $172.2MM next season before even addressing any of the other needs that face the Orioles’ roster — namely adding some rotation help and a corner outfielder. Considering the fact that Wieters has already surprised the team by accepting once before, Orioles GM Dan Duquette may not wish to make that kind of gamble a second time.
There’s an argument to be made for either side, so let’s open this one up to the public for debate (link to poll for Trade Rumors mobile app users)…
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Behind 7 1/3 innings of two-hit, shutout ball from right-hander Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs defeated the Dodgers, 5-0, on Saturday to take the NLCS in six games and advance to the World Series. To knock out the Dodgers and win their first pennant since 1945, the Cubs had to overcome baseball’s best pitcher, left-hander Clayton Kershaw, who yielded five runs (four earned) on seven hits in five frames. Among those hits were solo home runs from catcher Willson Contreras and first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Chicago will now take on Cleveland in a battle of the majors’ longest championship droughts. The Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908, while the Indians’ latest title came 40 years later in 1948. The long-suffering franchises will meet Tuesday in Cleveland for Game 1.
More on the NL champs and the rest of the majors:
- Brilliant trades by the Cubs’ Theo Epstein-led front office have been integral to the team’s success, as Tyler Kepner of the New York Times details. Since Epstein took the reins in 2011, the Cubs have swung deals to land the likes of Hendricks, Rizzo, Jake Arrieta, Addison Russell and Dexter Fowler without surrendering any crucial pieces. The Cubs picked up Rizzo from San Diego, where two Chicago executives – general manager Jed Hoyer and senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod – were before Epstein hired them. Their familiarity with Rizzo helped spur the 2012 trade that sent him to the Cubs for righty Andrew Cashner. “Having intimate knowledge of who he is as a person, on top of what we felt he was going to be as a player, played a huge role,” McLeod told Kepner. Epstein offered some insight to Kepner on the trade process, saying, “It’s best not to think about winning or losing trades anyway, because the best ones work out for both teams. But, as a rule, if you’re the team that’s selling — if you’re out of it and you’re trading with a team that’s in it — you usually have the pick of just about their whole farm system, with a few exclusions. You should hit on the guys that you get back.”
- In his latest column, Joel Sherman of the New York Post outlines why league executives expect an active trade market during the offseason. One reason is a lack of quality free agent starting pitchers, leading Sherman to wonder if any of Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Jeff Samardzija or Ian Kennedy could end up on the block. Sherman opines that the Astros are in dire need of an ace and have a big-time trade chip in young infielder Alex Bregman, who would perhaps be able to land a front-end starter in return. On the position player front, Sherman observes that new Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen might consider trading first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. Meanwhile, recently minted Twins executive vice president and chief baseball officer Derek Falvey has a potentially interesting trade candidate on his hands in slugging second baseman Brian Dozier.
- If Orioles GM Dan Duquette decides to shop any veterans, right-handed reliever Brad Brach might carry the most appeal, writes Rich Dubroff of CSNMidAtlantic. Dubroff contends that the Orioles should deal Brach if they’re able to acquire help in the leadoff spot or behind the plate. That could be a tall ask in either case, though the soon-to-be 31-year-old Brach is under team control at affordable rates over the next two seasons and has been particularly effective since 2015. Over the past two seasons, Brach has combined for a 2.58 ERA, 10.29 K/9 and 3.58 BB/9 in 158 1/3 innings. Brach underwent knee surgery earlier this month, but it was a minor procedure that shouldn’t affect his 2017 availability.
- In separate pieces for FanGraphs, Dave Cameron and Jeff Sullivan argue for and against a rebuild for the Blue Jays. Re-signing just one of Edwin Encarnacion or Jose Bautista – both of whom are set for free agency – would push the Jays up against their budget, limit their ability to address other needs, and further age a roster that already includes several 30-somethings, writes Cameron, who suggests shopping shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, catcher Russell Martin and right-hander Marco Estrada. Moreover, in Cameron’s view, not committing to a short-term rebuild could hinder the team’s ability to keep third baseman Josh Donaldson for the long haul (the reigning AL MVP is under club control for two more seasons). Conversely, Sullivan still expects Toronto to contend even if Encarnacion, Bautista, Michael Saunders and Brett Cecil leave as free agents, citing the rest of the club’s talent.
The Blue Jays are expected to pick up the team’s $3MM option over righty Jason Grilli, Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca notes in his breakdown of the team’s upcoming offseason plans. That’s hardly a surprise now, though it probably is one if you backtrack all the way to May 31, when he came to Toronto via trade. As MLBTR’s Steve Adams explained at the time, it was possible to see the potential for a rebound from the veteran, with the Jays only accepting a minimal amount of salary obligations. The 39-year-old ultimately delivered just what Toronto hoped for, contributing 42 innings of 3.64 ERA pitching with 12.4 K/9 against 4.1 BB/9. He’ll enter the 2017 as a key set-up option for the Jays, with his affordable option locking up one bullpen spot at a reasonable price.
Here’s more from the AL East:
- Several notable Blue Jays players may well end up heading to other organizations, of course. As Davidi writes, it appears rather likely that veteran knuckler R.A. Dickey will be among them. Dickey did not commit to continuing his playing career, but says he’ll listen to any opportunities as they arise this winter after taking some time away from the game. He spoke fondly of his four seasons in Toronto, over which he turned in 824 1/3 solid innings but was never quite as dominant as hoped when the club parted with significant talent (including then-prospect Noah Syndergaard) to acquire him after three outstanding years with the Mets.
- David Ortiz’s unbelievable final season with the Red Sox may have been more remarkable than most of us truly realized as it unfolded. As WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford writes, the aging slugger was fighting through lower-leg and foot issues that were far more serious than was known publicly. Widespread problems meant that Ortiz “was essentially playing on stumps,” in the words of coordinator of sports medicine services Dan Dyrek — the man who helped him hang on as long as he did. Boston fans, in particular, will want to read the entirety of this piece, in which Dyrek breaks down the immense challenges faced by Ortiz and the team’s medical staff dating back for several seasons.
- Orioles outfielder Joey Rickard never returned to action after tearing a thumb ligament on July 20, but the hope is he won’t need surgery to address the issue, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com reports. More importantly, highly paid slugger Chris Davis is set for doctors to check out his hand after dealing with discomfort throughout the year. Though Davis battled through the injury all year, he didn’t quite perform as hoped, and the team wants to double check that some kind of offseason procedure isn’t necessary.
- Orioles righty Brad Brach recently underwent knee surgery, as Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com reports. It seems there’s little reason for concern, though, as the brief procedure simply repaired a minor tear to his meniscus. Brach said he pitched through the injury late in the season, and it certainly didn’t tarnish an outstanding campaign. Over 79 frames, Brach recorded a 2.05 ERA with 10.5 K/9 against just 2.8 BB/9, finally putting it all together in time for his second season of arbitration eligibility. MLBTR projects his upcoming salary at $2.9MM.
- Orioles closer Zach Britton is very cognizant of the fact that the team traded former closer Jim Johnson when Johnson’s salary reached a level that Britton is projected to surpass this winter, he tells Dan Connolly of BaltimoreBaseball.com. “You saw it with Jim Johnson, once the salary got up to a certain point, he got traded,” said Britton. “I think I’m kind of approaching there. So I don’t know how long I’m going to be here. You see how many relievers are on the move nowadays. But it’d be nice to stay here.” Britton says he’s open to a contract extension and has enjoyed his time in Baltimore since being drafted as an 18-year-old but added that much of the onus to bring those talks about lies on the team. As Connolly writes, the O’s have been reluctant in the past to negotiate with players on the heels of career years, and Britton’s 2016 season was not only the best of his career but one of the best of any reliever in recent history. In 67 innings, Britton posted an unthinkable 0.54 ERA, averaging 9.9 K/9 against 2.4 BB/9 and recording a ridiculous 80 percent ground-ball rate along the way.
We’re just a few months away from this winter’s Rule 5 draft, so it makes sense to take a look back and see how things shook out from the 2015 selections. Several organizations found useful players, even if the most recent class didn’t include an Odubel Herrera-esque breakout sensation. Some of the most recent draftees have probably locked up MLB jobs again for 2017, though others who stuck on a major league roster all year may head back to the minors for further development. (Once a player’s permanent control rights have been secured, his new organization is free to utilize optional assignments as usual for future years.)
Here’s a roundup of the 2015 draft class with the 2016 season in the books:
- Tyler Goeddel, OF, kept by Phillies from Rays: The 23-year-old struggled with the aggressive move to the big leagues, carrying a .192/.258/.291 batting line in 234 trips to the plate, but showed enough for the rebuilding Phillies to hold onto him all year long.
- Luis Perdomo, RHP, kept by Padres (via Rockies) from Cardinals: It didn’t look good early for Perdomo, but he showed better after moving to the rotation and ended with a rather promising 4.85 ERA over twenty starts. Though he struggled to contain the long ball, and only struck out 6.4 per nine, Perdomo sported a nifty 59.0% groundball rate on the year.
- Joey Rickard, OF, kept by Orioles from Rays: After opening the year with a bang, Rickard faded to a .268/.319/.377 batting line on the year but held his roster spot in Baltimore. He ended the season on the DL with a thumb injury, though, and may end up at Triple-A for some added seasoning.
- Joe Biagini, RHP, kept by Blue Jays from Giants: The only Rule 5 pick to appear in the postseason, Biagini was a great find for Toronto. He ended with 67 2/3 innings of 3.06 ERA pitching, with 8.2 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9, and now looks like a potential fixture in the Jays’ relief corps.
- Matthew Bowman, RHP, kept by Cardinals from Mets: Bowman rounds out a trio of impressive relievers. He contributed 67 2/3 innings with a 3.46 ERA and 6.9 BB/9 against 2.7 BB/9 to go with a monster 61.7% groundball rate.
Retained By Other Means
- Deolis Guerra, RHP, re-signed by Angels (who selected him from Pirates) after being outrighted: Guerra was in an unusual spot since he had previously been outrighted off of the Bucs’ 40-man roster when he was selected, meaning he didn’t need to be offered back. Los Angeles removed him from the major league roster and then brought him back on a minor league deal, ultimately selecting his contract. Though he was later designated and outrighted by the Halos, Guerra again returned and largely thrived at the major league level, contributing 53 1/3 much-needed pen frames with a 3.21 ERA on the back of 6.1 K/9 against just 1.2 BB/9.
- Jabari Blash, OF, acquired by Padres (who acquired Rule 5 rights from Athletics) from Mariners: Blash’s intriguing tools weren’t quite ready for the majors, but San Diego struck a deal to hold onto him and was surely impressed with his showing at Triple-A. In his 229 plate appearances there, Blash swatted 11 home runs but — more importantly — carried a .415 OBP with a much-improved 66:41 K/BB ratio.
- Ji-Man Choi, 1B, outrighted by Angels after Orioles declined return: The 25-year-old scuffled in the bigs but was rather impressive at the highest level of the minors, where he walked nearly as often as he struck out and put up a .346/.434/.527 slash with five home runs in 227 plate appearances.
- Jake Cave, OF, returned from Reds to Yankees: After failing to crack Cinci’s roster out of camp, Cave impressed at Double-A but slowed at the highest level of the minors (.261/.323/.401 in 354 plate appearances) upon his return to the New York organization.
- Evan Rutckyj, LHP, returned from Braves to Yankees: Sent back late in camp, the 24-year-old struggled in limited action on the Yanks’ farm after missing most of the season with elbow issues.
- Josh Martin, RHP, returned from Padres to Indians: In his first attempt at Triple-A, Martin posted 66 frames of 3.55 ERA pitching with 8.2 K/9 against 3.1 BB/9.
- Daniel Stumpf, LHP, returned from Phillies to Royals: Slowed by a PED suspension, Stumpf was bombed in a brief MLB stint with the Phils but dominated at Double-A upon his return to K.C., posting a 2.11 ERA with 11.0 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9 in 21 1/3 innings.
- Chris O’Grady, LHP, returned from Reds to Angels: Sent back in late March, O’Grady compiled a 3.48 ERA over 95 2/3 innings in the upper minors, though he performed much better as a Double-A starter than he did as a Triple-A reliever.
- Zack Jones, RHP, returned from Brewers to Twins: The 25-year-old was out with a shoulder injury for most of the year, and ended up being sent back to Minnesota in late June, but has shown swing-and-miss stuff when healthy.
- Blake Smith, RHP, returned from Padres to White Sox: Smith ended up making a brief MLB debut upon his return to Chicago, but spend most of the year pitching well at Triple-A Charlotte, where he ran up a 3.53 ERA in 71 1/3 innings with 9.5 K/9 against 3.0 BB/9.
- Colin Walsh, INF, returned from Brewers to Athletics: After struggling badly in his major league stint with the Brewers, Walsh went to Oakland’s Triple-A affiliate and put up a .259/.384/.388 bating line over 245 plate appearances.
- The Orioles should issue a qualifying offer to Matt Wieters, CSNmidatlantic.com’s Rich Dubroff opines. Though Wieters had another below-average offensive year, Dubroff figures that he will still look to land a multi-year deal in free agency, especially now that Wilson Ramos’ injury has made Wieters the top catcher on the open market. There’s a chance Wieters could again accept the QO, and while $17.2MM is a high price tag for a catcher who has produced as little as Wieters has in recent years, Dubroff could see Wieters and Caleb Joseph providing a one-year bridge until prospect Chance Sisco develops as the longer-term answer behind the plate. If Wieters leaves, Dubroff suggests that the club could sign former Oriole Nick Hundley to team with Joseph.
- The Orioles should pursue an extension with Zach Britton rather than consider a trade, MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko writes. Britton’s price tag will continue to rise through his final two arbitration years so there is some logic in dealing him now to both save money and sell high in the wake of Britton’s excellent season. On the flip side, Britton has been so tremendous as Baltimore’s closer that he could lock down ninth innings for the O’s for years to come.