- The Orioles’ coaches will see their contracts run out at the end of the month, but the team still hasn’t made a final decision on Buck Showalter’s staff for next season, according to Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com. If Showalter has his way, all of his assistants – including beleaguered pitching coach Roger McDowell – will return, per Kubatko. However, general manager Dan Duquette didn’t rule out changes when speaking to reporters on the final day of the season. “All those things with the coaches and the staffing, all those things need to be addressed, and I think you have to look carefully at them when you don’t have a strong year and see if there are some adjustments that you can make,” Duquette said.
- With a 7.84 ERA and minus-1.o fWAR across 93 innings, right-hander Chris Tillman was among the worst pitchers in baseball this year, but Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com doesn’t sense that the Orioles have moved on from the free agent-to-be. Both sides are comfortable with each other, Kubatko writes, which could lead to Tillman staying with the starter-needy Orioles on a one-year deal in an effort to rebuild his value. Tillman gave Baltimore’s rotation respectable production from 2012-16, but the shoulder issues he dealt with toward the end of last year disrupted his offseason routine and likely played some part in his difficult 2017. A more typical winter and spring could make Tillman a bounce-back candidate next year, then.
- What can the Orioles expect from shortstop Tim Beckham in 2018? Jon Meoli of the Baltimore Sun takes an interesting look at Beckham’s two months in Baltimore, explaining that Beckham no longer consistently made high-quality contact and reverted to his high-strikeout ways after his outstanding performance in August. All in all, Meoli sees signs of optimism despite Beckham’s inconsistencies. For a team with other significant needs, especially in the rotation, there’s probably little choice but to roll with Beckham — whose deadline acquisition still looks like an excellent move — and hope for the best.
This is the first entry in MLBTR’s 2017-18 Offseason Outlook series. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for entries on every team in baseball.
With several key figures entering their final year under contract, 2018 could mark the end of this era of Orioles baseball. In order to go out in a blaze of glory, the O’s will need to address their rotation first and foremost, though other holes exist around the roster.
- Chris Davis, 1B: $115MM through 2022
- Mark Trumbo, DH/1B/RF: $26MM through 2019
- Darren O’Day, RP: $18MM through 2019
- Adam Jones, CF: $17MM through 2018
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via MLB Trade Rumors)
- Zach Britton (5.158) – $12.2MM
- Brad Brach (5.063) – $5.2MM
- Manny Machado (5.056) – $17.3MM
- Jonathan Schoop (4.027) – $9.1MM
- Kevin Gausman (3.151) – $6.8MM
- Caleb Joseph (3.145) – $1.4MM
- Tim Beckham (3.134) – $3.1MM
- Non-tender candidates: None
- J.J. Hardy, SS: $14MM club option for 2018 ($2MM buyout)
- Wade Miley, SP: $12MM club option for 2018 ($500K buyout)
- Welington Castillo, C: $7MM player option for 2018
- Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, Jeremy Hellickson, Seth Smith, Ryan Flaherty, Pedro Alvarez, Craig Gentry
While the rotation has gotten much of the blame for the Orioles’ disappointing 75-87 record, it was far from the team’s only problem. The lineup hit a lot of home runs, but no club walked less or stole fewer bases than the Orioles. They also played below-average defense: Baltimore posted minus-17 Defensive Runs Saved and only the A’s had a lower UZR/150 than the Orioles’ minus-4.7 number. Even the O’s vaunted bullpen, such a strength in recent years, delivered just middle-of-the-pack results in most categories. Zach Britton’s injury problems were the culprit here, as Britton not only missed time but didn’t dominate nearly to the extent he did from 2014-16.
It all added up to a last-place finish in the AL East and a looming sense that it could be now-or-never for the Orioles in 2018. This could be the final season in Baltimore for Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Brad Brach and Britton. It’s worth noting, too, that both executive VP of baseball operations Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter are entering the last years of their contracts. By this time next October, the Orioles franchise could be moving in a completely new direction.
Until then, however, the O’s are intent on returning to contention next year. One plus for Duquette is that he’ll have extra money to work with thanks to a number of big contracts coming off the books. Between guaranteed deals ($66.95MM) and projected arbitration figures ($55.1MM), the O’s have roughly $122MM committed to 11 players in 2018, and they still have six more expected contributors (Dylan Bundy, Trey Mancini, Mychal Givens, Miguel Castro, Richard Bleier and Donnie Hart) on pre-arb deals. That works out to 17 players for approximately $125MM, so if the Orioles look to match their $164.3MM payroll from Opening Day 2017, Duquette has around $39MM in spending capacity.
Let’s start with the rotation, as the Orioles are looking to add two new starters to slot alongside Bundy and Kevin Gausman. Youngsters Castro and Gabriel Ynoa have been cited as rotation candidates, so let’s pencil in one of that duo (or maybe Alec Asher, Chris Lee, or Tanner Scott) for one of the three open spots. You could also see a veteran in the mix as a low-cost depth signing, potentially even a familiar face. While it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Baltimore move on entirely from the veteran quartet of Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, Wade Miley and Jeremy Hellickson (combined fWAR in 2017: -0.3), I could see the O’s bringing back Tillman as a nod to his long-time status as a reliable innings-eater prior to his disastrous 2017 season.
Jimenez’s four-year, $50MM contract was the largest deal the O’s have ever handed out to a pitcher, and since Jimenez failed to produce in three of those four years in Baltimore, it’s fair to wonder if owner Peter Angelos will ever again be convinced to make such an investment in a free agent arm. Given Duquette’s recent comparison of this winter’s pitching search to the 2011-12 offseason (when the club signed Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez), one would suspect that the O’s will indeed eschew big spending on pitching and rather seek out more modestly-priced options.
Duquette mentioned that left-handed starters were a priority, so names like Jason Vargas, Jaime Garcia, C.C. Sabathia or Miley stand out as potential targets. Other mid-tier pitchers like Tyler Chatwood, Andrew Cashner, Jhoulys Chacin, Trevor Cahill, or old friend Gonzalez are also available. A Jimenez-sized commitment wouldn’t be necessary to sign any of these arms. That said, several have significant injury histories, which will surely be of concern to a franchise that puts particular emphasis on pitcher health. Baltimore could also look to the major foreign professional leagues for a veteran, as it has quite a few times in the recent past (see, e.g., Chen, Tsuyoshi Wada, Suk-min Yoon, Hyun Soo Kim, and Logan Ondrusek). Japanese superstar Shohei Otani is the primary potential target, though he’d fit quite well on just about every team in baseball and we haven’t heard of the O’s being connected to him in particular. More likely, perhaps, the club could look at some of the other players that are under consideration for a move stateside after quality performances abroad, such as former big leaguer Miles Mikolas.
Duquette has frequently waited until later in the offseason to make notable moves during his Orioles tenure, so he could again be patient to see if any of these pitchers’ markets fails to develop, in order to swoop in for a bargain signing in February. It’s still possible, of course, that the organization could be more aggressive than usual — especially if Duquette feels his job is on the line and/or Angelos authorizes a different approach to take advantage of the remaining window of the club’s current core. The new rules regarding free agents who have rejected qualifying offers could also provide a wrinkle, as teams no longer have to surrender first-round draft picks for such signings. Losing international bonus money is hardly a deterrent to a team like Baltimore that doesn’t seem to care about the int’l market, so the Orioles could potentially be more willing than usual to spend on free agents.
Adding some big names and showing a long-term desire to contend could also help entice Machado into a long-term extension. Machado’s future is one of the major subplots of this Orioles offseason, as the star third baseman is on pace to land a $300MM+ contract in the ensuing winter (even in the wake of a somewhat disappointing 2017 season). As we’ve seen with Jones, Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo and Darren O’Day in recent years, the Orioles have been willing to spend big to re-sign their own talent, though a Machado contract would be in another stratosphere of financial commitment.
The $161MM Davis contract is already looking questionable just two seasons into a seven-year deal, so it remains to be seen if the O’s are even willing to take another dive into the spending deep end. Jones is also the only one of the aforementioned re-signed quartet that was extended prior to actually reaching free agency, and the wait-and-see tactic probably won’t work with Machado given the large amount of interest he is expected to generate from some of the game’s biggest spenders. Of course, Machado himself may want to wait and see what happens with the Orioles’ front office and manager situations before locking himself into the team for a decade or more.
One option that isn’t on the table is a trade of either Machado or Britton. An injury-plagued season and a projected $12.2MM price tag would’ve limited Britton’s trade value anyway. Brach will again be a popular figure in trade talks, and it could make some sense for the Orioles to move one of their increasingly-expensive bullpen arms to free up a bit more payroll space. Britton’s health may make Brach too valuable for the O’s to move, though the team has shown a willingness to trade from its bullpen depth in the past (i.e. the Jim Johnson trade in 2013), plus some of the young pitchers that fall out of the rotation mix could be used as relievers.
Baltimore is definitely in need of some left-handed bats to balance out a heavily righty-swinging lineup, though they’re is pretty set at most positions around the diamond. Right field and catcher are the only true question marks since Seth Smith is unlikely to return and Welington Castillo is likely to decline his player option in search of a multi-year deal elsewhere. The O’s could decide that top prospect Chance Sisco is ready for regular big league action and platoon him with Caleb Joseph behind the plate, though a veteran could also be signed on a one-year stopgap deal if Sisco needs more time in the minors.
Right field could also theoretically be addressed internally, if Jones was to be moved over from center. Over the last two seasons, Jones ranks within the bottom six of all qualified players in baseball in terms of UZR/150 (-12.1) and DRS (-22). If Jones is open to a position shift, Baltimore could then sign a left-handed hitting center fielder — Jon Jay or Jarrod Dyson seem like good fits — to a short-term deal until top prospect Austin Hays is ready for regular action. Hays has already made his MLB debut and could be argued as a candidate for the 2018 lineup already, though since he has yet to play at the Triple-A level, it would be an aggressive move for a would-be contender to rely on such an unseasoned player out of the gates.
If Jones stays in center, then free agents Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson stand out as left-handed bats that could represent options. Granderson would require a shorter deal than Bruce, who is six years younger and will probably be looking for at least a four-year contract.
Beyond free agents, the Orioles could also fill their holes through trades, though dealing prospects seems unlikely given Baltimore’s less-than-overwhelming farm system and upcoming need for new core talent in the majors. A more inventive solution could be found in using some of that extra payroll space to take on a larger starting pitching or outfield contract from a rebuilding team.
While the Orioles might like to deal away some of their own larger contractual commitments, that’s likely easier said than done. Davis’s contract is one of the most problematic in all of baseball. Trumbo, meanwhile, is coming off a sub-replacement year and is owed $25MM through 2019, so the O’s could have to eat some money to deal him, or take on another highly-paid player coming off a poor season. Moving Trumbo would greatly increase roster flexibility, freeing up the DH position and opening a 25-man roster spot for a player with more defensive value, but at this point the Orioles will likely need to hang on to him and hope for the best.
The Orioles are a fascinating team to watch this offseason, as they possess a fair amount of payroll and roster flexibility for a team that is ostensibly in its last ride with this core group of talent. The emergence of Jonathan Schoop and Mancini as big lineup threats certainly provided a needed boost that offset down years from Davis and Trumbo, and provided hope that the O’s may not be as far away from contention as their last-place finish would indicate. Still, without some creativity in fixing the pitching staff, Baltimore’s longstanding rotation problems threaten to spoil another season.
- With the Orioles looking for pitching help this winter, MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko lists Jason Vargas, Doug Fister and Andrew Cashner as likely targets given that the team has been interested in all three in the past. Former Oriole Miguel Gonzalez is also a good bet, since Baltimore tried to re-acquire the right-hander in August before the Rangers outbid the O’s in trade talks with the White Sox. Since the Orioles have a stated need for left-handed starters, Jorge De La Rosa could be another option since the O’s were also interested in his services a few years ago, though Kubatko notes that de la Rosa worked exclusively out of the bullpen for the Diamondbacks in 2017.
In a strongly worded piece, Evan Drellich of NBC Sports hammers the Red Sox ownership for being too strict regarding the luxury tax threshold. According to Drellich, many in Boston believed that Edwin Encarnacion would be the replacement for franchise icon David Ortiz. Instead, the Indians got him on a contract that many consider to be a bargain. Meanwhile the Red Sox finished 27th of 30 major league teams in total home runs, and 20th in wOBA. That hasn’t changed in the postseason, as they’ve been outscored by the surging Astros 16-4 so far in the ALDS. Now the Red Sox are in an 0-2 hole heading back to Boston for Game 3, and their offense faces a daunting task in trying to defeat Houston in three straight games. “The Sox’ greatest stumble this year might have been over a pile of cash,” Drellich writes. The article provides a harsh criticism of the Red Sox ownership and is certainly an interesting read.
More from around the AL…
- The Baseball America Twitter account took us back in time this morning by tweeting out an article J.J. Cooper wrote about the Royals back in 2011. With Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas all set to hit free agency (among others), it’s fair to wonder whether Kansas City’s window of contention has closed, so it’s certainly fun to take a nostalgic look back at BA’s assessment of a farm system that was stacked with so much talent. The Royals, of course, ended up going to the World Series in both 2014 and 2015, coming away with a title in the latter year.
- Twins center fielder Byron Buxton left the Wild Card game early with an injury that was initially described as “upper back tightness”. But according to Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press, Buxton was trying to play through a cracked rib. Berardino’s source tells him that the injury is unlikely to affect Buxton’s offseason training program. Buxton hit .300/.347/.546 with 11 homers and 13 stolen bases in the second half, and is under team control through the 2021 season.
- The seven-year, $161MM contract given to Chris Davis has been disappointing for Orioles fans so far, Rich Dubroff of pressboxonline.com writes. Indeed, Davis missed significant time in 2017 with an oblique strain and was barely above replacement level when he was in the lineup. Dubroff points out some absolutely horrific stats, such as Davis’ 42.8% strikeout rate and that he went 1-for-53 after reaching an 0-2 count, striking out in 42 of those at-bats. A resurgent Davis would certainly be helpful to a Baltimore club that plans to contend next year, so the O’s will surely be hoping he can return something closer to his 2013 and 2015 production.
- The Angels initially tried to acquire Parker Bridwell from the Orioles last year before finally landing the right-hander in April for what Heyman describes as “just a small amount of cash.” This minor deal at the time ended up being a steal for the Halos, as Bridwell delivered a 3.64 ERA over 121 innings, starting 20 of his 21 appearances for Los Angeles.
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.
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic runs down the big league managers that could be on the hot seat (subscription required and strongly recommended). Rosenthal lists Braves skipper Brian Snitker as an immediate candidate and notes that Red Sox skipper John Farrell, too, could be on the hot seat if the Sox are bounced in the ALDS for a second straight season. Farrell was inherited rather than hired by president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. While Orioles owner Peter Angelos isn’t likely to dismiss Buck Showalter, the tension between him and GM Dan Duquette continues to loom large in the organization. Rosenthal also covers several other managers on shaky ground that could find themselves in jeopardy with poor team showings in 2018.
A bit from MLB’s dugouts around the league…
- The Royals and pitching coach Dave Eiland reached a mutual agreement to part ways, reports FanRag’s Jon Heyman. The 51-year-old Eiland spent six seasons as the pitching coach for manager Ned Yost in Kansas City, helping the team to consecutive World Series appearances in 2014-15 and, of course, a World Series victory in the latter of those two seasons. He also spent 2008-10 as the Yankees pitching coach, so Eiland’s considerable experience should get him some type of opportunity with another organization, even if the Royals’ pitching staff as a whole underperformed in a disappointing 2017 campaign. Rustin Dodd and Pete Grahoff of the Kansas City Star, meanwhile, report that bench coach Don Wakamatsu, bullpen coach Doug Henry and assistant hitting coach Brian Buchanan are also expected to be dismissed. Kansas City has since announced that Eiland and Wakamatsu will not have their contracts renewed.
- Angels manager Mike Scioscia will be back with the team in 2018 — the final season of his 10-year contract as skipper of the Halos, tweets Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register. Scioscia hopes to manage the Angels beyond the 2018 season, Fletcher notes, but he’s content heading into the final season of his contract without signing an extension. The 58-year-old Scioscia is Major League Baseball’s longest tenured manager, as he’s been skipper of the Angels since the 2000 campaign. The Halos were in contention for the American League’s second Wild Card spot up until the final week of the season despite a slew of injuries that decimated their pitching staff for much of the year.
- Braves president of baseball operations plans to meet with manager Brian Snitker to discuss his future “as early as today,” tweets MLB.com’s Mark Bowman. The Braves will have a decision on the coaching staff at some point midweek, per Bowman. Notably, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweets that Hart said today’s sudden resignation of GM John Coppolella in the wake of an MLB investigation isn’t likely to impact the decision one way or another (Twitter links). O’Brien guesses that the option on Snitker will be exercised, though it seems that a formal decision has not yet been made.
Speaking with reporters Sunday, Orioles general manager Dan Duquette confirmed that the team will attempt to return to contention, not rebuild, in 2018. That means neither third baseman Manny Machado nor reliever Zach Britton will be on the trade market in the offseason. Both players are scheduled to become free agents after next season, but Duquette unsurprisingly revealed that the Orioles will consider trying to extend Machado over the winter. Given that Machado’s a year from potentially collecting a record contract on the open market, it’s difficult to imagine the 25-year-old re-signing in the coming months. From a team standpoint, the positive contributions of Machado and other position players largely went to waste this year on account of poor pitching. With that in mind, Duquette said that the Orioles will focus on improving their rotation in the offseason, adding that they’ll have the ability to upgrade via free agency (Twitter links via Rich Dubroff of PressBoxOnline.com, Roch Kubatko of MASNSports.com and Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun).