The Orioles’ 2017 season came to an end on Sunday, as they finished dead last in the AL East with a 75-87 record. But although they finished 12 games below .500 with a -98 run differential this season, the O’s have a lot of talent still in place, and will gain some financial flexibility as a few big contracts come off the books. Before game 162, Baltimore GM Dan Duquette revealed some of the organization’s offseason plans, as Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com writes.
Duquette said that the Orioles will shed a significant amount of payroll. He candidly told Kubatko: “We do have a number of players that have played their last game with the Orioles. I don’t know exactly who those players are, but there are a lot of contracts that are coming off.”
That’s no exaggeration; Jeremy Hellickson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Seth Smith, Chris Tillman, Ryan Flaherty and Craig Gentry were paid a combined $39.3MM this year, and are all set to become free agents. Welington Castillo made $6MM and is unlikely to exercise his player option. J.J. Hardy made $14MM in 2017, but his 268 plate appearances in 2017 fell well short of the 600 required for his $14MM 2018 option to vest. The Orioles are likely to pay him a $2MM buyout. Wade Miley, meanwhile, made about $9.4MM, and is likely to have his $12MM option declined in favor of a $500K buyout. If all of these players sign elsewhere, the Orioles would clear about $66.2MM in payroll space.
[Related: Baltimore Orioles payroll outlook]
The Orioles plan to reallocate some of that payroll towards their pitching staff, although Duquette admits that the market for pitching is a “thin market, and that’s an expensive market.” Duquette likes what he saw from Gabriel Ynoa, and believes Miguel Castro could be a starter as well (one would assume that Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman will also keep their jobs). Duquette’s focus this offseason will be on acquiring a left-handed starter. Based on a quick look at the free agent market, the top available options include Jason Vargas, Jaime Garcia, Miley, Francisco Liriano and CC Sabathia.
Duquette compares his “shopping list” for the offseason to a similar list he had in 2011, when the Orioles signed Miguel Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen. Chris Tillman also emerged as a viable option that year, so it seems as though the Orioles will hope that one of Ynoa or Castro can follow that pattern as the Orioles try to improve their rotation after allowing 841 runs in 2017, good for second-most in the AL.
If there had been any doubt, Duquette ends the interview by making it clear that the Orioles intend to try and win in 2018 even within a tough AL East. They will certainly face tough challenges against offenses like the Yankees and Red Sox, so it would take an enormous improvement to the rotation for the Orioles to make a run at the playoffs.