What Happens If the O’s Add Exactly Who They Say They Will?
Dan Duquette has made it abundantly clear that the Orioles have some specific targets in mind for the remainder of the off-season. We know that they’re talking with a few players like Grant Balfour (EDIT: Balfour has been signed by the O’s), and have missed out on others they wanted like Colon or Floyd. Duquette has made it crystal clear that he wants to bring in three players:
– Left-handed bat
– Back of the bullpen reliever/closer
– Veteran SP(s)
This is something that has been discussed in various iterations throughout the offseason, and many O’s fans have begun to come to terms with the fact that the O’s might not go for a big ticket free agent.
(Discuss this post and what Balfour’s signing means for the O’s in 2014 on the BSL Forums here.)
First we’ll take a look at what options are out there, and the impact that signing these players would have on the club’s 2014 payroll. Next we’ll take a look at if those moves improve the team’s outlook. Finally we’ll wrap this analysis up by examining the roster as a whole, and what that might leave as next steps for the club.
Left Handed Bats
We’ll start by looking at the Left-handed bats available in free agency, since it’s difficult to identify one specific trade target the O’s would consider (though Andre Ethier might be a name to keep in mind). Here is a quick list of potential targets that will that LHH role courtesy of the BSL Forums with 2013 stats to the right:
You can see that some players should basically be removed from the conversation immediately. You can start with Chris Coghlan who posted an OPS of .641 against righties last year. That basically eliminates his utility as a platoon bat, which means he’d be a poor choice for the O’s to pursue.
The rest can basically be broken into two groups which I’ll call: Solid Lefty Bats and Pure Platoon Players.
Each group has a hierarchy within, but the main difference is that the Solid Lefty Bats (SLB) have similar lines against both right handed and left handed pitchers, while the Pure Platoon Players (PPP) show significant splits based on pitcher handedness. The guys in the SLB group are: Travis Hafner, Luke Scott, Raul Ibanez, Brennan Boesch, and Kendrys Morales. The PPP group is made up of: Eric Chavez, Carlos Pena, Lyle Overbay, Lance Berkman, and Wilson Betemit.
The optimal targets in the SLB group would be Raul Ibanez, Luke Scott, Kendrys Morales in that order. Morales is the best pure hitter of the group, but his stats are rivaled to varying degrees by Ibanez and Scott who will come on 1 year deals at very cheap salaries. They also don’t require forfeiting a draft pick.
The PPP group is headlined by Betemit, a guy who’s platooned for Baltimore before. He’s followed by Chavez and Berkman who had a very down year in 2013, but has a career line of .300/.421/.565 against righties. It’s doubtful he’ll hit that well next season, but I wouldn’t expect another .700 OPS either.
Let’s assume the O’s sign one of the four main targets I’ve identified: Ibanez, Scott, Betemit, or Chavez. Since it’s unlikely they’ll want to pay the significant premium it’ll cost to sign Morales, I think we can remove him. Berkman also seems like a dark-horse candidate given that he hit so poorly in Texas last season.
Any of those players can likely be had for a deal in the 1/$2.5MM to 2/$5MM range; so we’ll use $2.5MM as the AAV for the payroll calculation later. I’ll also use Wilson Betemit as the signed player for the example of roster construction below.
Back of the Bullpen Reliever/Closer
For weeks we’ve been hearing that the O’s are the favorites to land Grant Balfour, though no deal has come to fruition just yet. Supposedly the duration of the contract is the sticking point with the O’s holding firm at 2 years while Balfour wants 3.
Ignoring Balfour for a moment, it’s clear that the back end of the bullpen is a priority for the O’s. With John Axford signing in Cleveland the closer market appears to have 3 semi-legitimate options remaining in Balfour, Perez, and Benoit. There are cheaper or flawed options remaining like Andrew Bailey or Ryan Madson. It seems however that the O’s would prefer to have a veteran arm who can take over the spot immediately which leaves us with that group of 3 I previously mentioned.
Balfour has spent the last two seasons with the Oakland Athletics, amassing 62 saves over that time. In 2012 Balfour pitched over 70 innings while posting a 2.53 ERA. This was supported by a solid 3.03 FIP which showed that Balfour got lucky when it came to HR rate and BABIP. 2013 saw Balfour throw 60 innings, while posting a 2.59 ERA and notching 38 saves. His FIP rose to 3.49 though, and Balfour saw a significant increase in his strikeout rate as he improved to striking out more than a batter an inning.
Chris Perez threw 54 innings, notching 25 saves, and striking out exactly a batter an inning as the Cleveland closer last season. Perez’s 4.33 ERA wasn’t as solid as Balfour’s, but he has shown flashes of brilliance previously (1.71 ERA over 60+ innings in 2010). Perez gave up home runs at an astonishing rate last season (1.83 HR/9) which hurt his overall numbers. He’s a potential bounce back candidate, though some teams might take issue with his off-field activities.
Joaquin Benoit is a bit of an enigma, as he’s posted equally brilliant and average seasons over the past few years. Last year was Benoit’s first real foray into closing, as he saved 24 games while throwing 67 innings for Detroit. Benoit struck out over 9 batters per 9 innings, while walking fewer than 3 which helped him post an ERA of 2.01. Better yet, his FIP of 2.87 suggests it wasn’t a complete fluke. Benoit isn’t a stranger to low ERAs, despite a poor 2012 effort where it ballooned to 3.68. In 2010 posted a 1.34 ERA for Tampa Bay, which was followed by a 2.96 ERA in his debut with Detroit.
The pricing on these relievers will vary depending on length of the contract and who exactly they sign. Balfour has been the most consistent and has the most “closer experience” which means he’ll likely command the highest price. Perez and Benoit both have some issues which will hold back their ultimate salaries but it’s safe to say that the investment will be something in the $7MM per year range, especially if the O’s sign Balfour.
Editor’s Note: As noted previously, the O’s have reportedly signed Balfour to a 2 Year / $14MM deal. It includes $1MM in deferred payments which won’t count against 2014 payroll.
Veteran Starting Pitcher(s)
The Orioles have been tied to multiple starting pitchers this offseason who have gone on to sign with other teams. This includes the club having varying levels of interest in Gavin Floyd, Bartolo Colon, Scott Kazmir, and Tim Hudson to name a few. There are still plenty of names out there on the market, but the top end of middle rotation guys is mostly gone by now.
Still, here are a few names the O’s could inquire on: Bronson Arroyo, Scott Baker, Jason Hammel, Paul Maholm, etc. A full list of remaining free agents can be found at MLBTradeRumors here, if you’d like to see who else could be an option.
Regardless of who the O’s sign, they’ll be looking for a pitcher capable of throwing 170+ innings with an ERA right around 4. Bronson Arroyo looks like an ideal candidate given his profile, though not necessarily the commitment it would take to sign him.
What this strategy would do is allow the O’s to move one or more of their current starters to the bullpen, AND start Kevin Gausman in AAA. Obviously depth in the rotation is a good thing to have, and signing two starters would create a lot of depth for a relatively shallow rotation. It would undoubtedly have a positive impact on the bullpen as well which would be another added benefit for Dan Duquette and the O’s. There’s also some evidence to show that two mid-rotation starters might be better than signing an ace and a lottery ticket anyway.
For the sake of this argument I’m going to assume the O’s will sign one relatively expensive starting pitcher (for this group anyway) and one cheaper option. The two guys I’m going to name are Arroyo and Maholm, mostly because they seem to fit the mold of the type of pitcher the O’s would be looking for. Let’s say that their salaries come out to be roughly $8MM in AAV and $3MM in AAV for our payroll calculations.
Right now the payroll sits at roughly $85MM with the expected arbitration raises the players on the roster will receive. That also include Ryan Webb’s deal, as well as the handful of league minimum contracts the O’s have handed out.
Add to that Balfour’s $7MM, the $11MM it would cost to bring in two mid-rotation pitchers, and the $2.5MM a left-handed bat would cost. That leaves you with a projected payroll of roughly $105MM which would be the first time the O’s have ever passed $100MM for their payroll on opening day.
The 25-Man and Expected Performance
I’ve hinted at some of these moves, but let’s look at the likely 25-man roster this results in:
1. Chris Tillman
2. Wei-Yin Chen
3. Bronson Arroyo
4. Bud Norris
5. Paul Maholm
6. Zach Britton
7. Brian Matusz
8. Tommy Hunter
9. Darren O’Day
10. Ryan Webb
11. Miguel Gonzalez
12. Grant Balfour
13. Chris Davis
14. Ryan Flaherty
15. JJ Hardy
16. Manny Machado
17. Matt Wieters
18. Nick Markakis
19. Adam Jones
20: Nolan Reimold
21. Jemile Weeks
22. Steve Cleavenger
23. Danny Valencia
24. Wilson Betemit
25. Henry Urrutia
Some of the questionable ones above I feel that I should address. I went with Norris in the rotation and Gonzalez in the bullpen. I mostly did that because the O’s just traded for Norris and sticking him in the ‘pen now would seem like a waste of resources. I think they’ll give him a shot in the rotation first, then move him if he doesn’t perform.
I have Reimold as the starting left fielder, but he could be swapped out with Urrutia if you so desired. My DH would likely be a platoon of Betemit and Valencia, with one of those two an option to man third base if Manny can’t make the opening day roster.
Finally I went with Cleavenger over Monell for the backup catcher spot, but I’m not wedded to either guy so you could interchange them as well.
No doubt this is a better team than the one the O’s have today. I think that these moves would push them from a roughly .500 team on paper to an 84-87 win team on paper. The impact of adding reliable arms to the rotation can’t be understated, and I also think this bullpen is MUCH stronger than last year’s.
You’ll see solid production out of the DH spot, even if left field is a bit of a black hole depending on whether Reimold bounces back or Urrutia breaks out.
It will likely take some luck for this club to reach the playoffs, but they weren’t as bad as they seemed at times last year. A few win improvement over last year’s club could see this team back in fringe playoff contention again – likely battling for the second wild card.
One thing is for sure though, these moves would no doubt improve the team in 2014.
The O’s will likely still be looking at options on the trade market or free agency that can augment what’s currently on the roster. It’s possible that the O’s could inquire on Andre Ethier, or another outfielder to fill the left field spot if Reimold or Urrutia doesn’t produce at a level that the team deems acceptable.
Additionally, there’s always more opportunity to bring in more pitching, specifically back end of the bullpen arms or rotation options. It seems likely that Duquette would target some reclamation projects like Daisuke Matsuzaka or Mark Mulder to stash in AAA for some depth. Ultimately, the moves I detailed above would be the last major steps to building the 2014 roster. Any subsequent moves would likely be depth or minimal impact guys.
The biggest moves the O’s could make after these three might be to lock up some internal options to longer contracts. The O’s have reportedly already had talks with JJ Hardy about an extension, which makes sense given his contract status. The other obvious name, due to proximity to free agency, would be Chris Davis who will be a free agent after the 2015 season. It would behoove the O’s to talk extension now, as the price will only increase if Davis puts up another monster season.
The last extension that the O’s should pursue this offseason would be Manny Machado. Machado is a phenomenal talent, and it makes sense for the O’s to lock him down to an Evan Longoria-esque extnesion before he hits his arbitration seasons. Machado won’t be a free agent until 2019, but if the O’s could sign him through 2020 or 2021, it would be a shrewd move to improve the club’s long term outlook. Not only that, but it would also provide some cost certainty, rather than going through arbitration with the star third baseman.