Where do the Orioles go from Here — Personnel-Wise?
The primary storyline surrounding the Baltimore Orioles this winter has been how they started the offseason not only without a manager — not all that uncommon, really — but also without any sort of power structure in the front office.
Both of those things have been remedied, and slowly but surely those people are getting up to speed while the team still has yet to make much noise this offseason — outside of selecting shortstop Richie Martin from the Oakland A’s with the first pick in the Rule 5 draft.
(Add your thoughts about this article on the BSL boards here!)
Call it whatever you want, but the slow offseason has actually benefitted the Orioles in this respect. Baltimore wasn’t likely to be in on too many of the high-end players who have already signed, and the market skewing toward shorter deals and leaving some players available who could use a good year to bounce back might allow the O’s to jump into the fray and add some proven MLB talent to fill their roster out.
Here’s how we see things right now:
C- Chance Sisco
1B- Chris Davis
2B- Jonathan Villar
3B- Renato Nunez
SS- Richie Martin
LF- DJ Stewart/Joey Rickard
CF- Cedric Mullins
RF- Trey Mancini
DH- Mark Trumbo
The bench is largely a fluid situation, but will have Rickard, Rio Ruiz, Hanser Alberto (out of options), Drew Jackson (Rule 5) and perhaps a few others in the mix in addition to whatever else happens behind the plate with Austin Wynns/Sisco.
The pitching side of things might be where the most improvement can be made, as the current rotation as MLB.com’s Joe Trezza sees it is Dylan Bundy, Andrew Cashner, Alex Cobb, David Hess and Yefry Ramirez.
The bullpen will most certainly have Mychal Givens and Richard Bleier, but beyond that, there are lots of question marks. We can probably safely assume Austin Brice and Mike Wright Jr. — both out of options — will be in there as well, but there is still ample room to comb what’s left in free agency and make some headway.
And let’s be honest — there’s still plenty available in free agency. It’s not as though the Orioles are planning to spend the $70 million left in the difference between last year’s Opening Day payroll of nearly $150 million and the current mark of $78 million and change (per Cot’s Contracts).
And I get why it’s beneficial for the Orioles to lose from the standpoint of asset collection, but I also can’t really embrace the idea of tanking in baseball. First of all, when many teams are tanking, it’s truly hard to bottom out to get that elusive No. 1 overall pick, which the Orioles have this year.
Secondly, I also think once you invite the culture of losing into the building, it’s very difficult to get out. Finally, I still think teams have an obligation to the fans to do what’s right. One of my long-held theories of baseball is “If you can’t be good, at least be interesting.”
So how can the Orioles be interesting? Bringing up “the kids” is always a step in the right direction, and with Wynns, Sisco and Mancini, they’ve managed to do a pretty good job on the offensive side. Pitching is a different story, but it has been that way in the Orioles organization for quite some time.
Another way to be interesting is to be the springboard for stalled careers of players who were previously good. Detroit has embraced this role this offseason with Tyson Ross and Matt Moore — both of whom have been solid in the past but have a lot to prove.
And to that end, they also take pressure off the kids in that it’s not criminal negligence to let Moore rack up 140 innings with a 5.50 ERA if he can’t get back on track. On the other hand, rushing a prospect like Matt Manning before he’s ready can also result in a 5.50 ERA — in fewer innings and with the risk of ruining the pitcher for good.
But Moore should at least be interesting, and so should Ross. I had a front-row view to a team that did things differently — the Minnesota Twins.
When things were not going well five years ago for the Twins, they supplemented with guys like Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correa, rather than someone like Joe Blanton, Brandon McCarthy or even bringing back someone like Scott Baker at the time.
So let’s take a look at some of the Orioles’ openings and who might fit.
The Orioles don’t need much in the way as far as corner bats, at least not in the infield. Someone like Logan Morrison would have made a lot of sense if not for the existence of Trumbo, but in all honesty, it’s 50/50 between who’ll put up the better of those two this season anyway.
A player like Marwin Gonzalez makes sense for every team, but seems like more of a luxury for the Orioles than an actual necessity. Still, a stable veteran infielder who can move around might not be a bad idea.
To that end, players like Wilmer Flores, Brad Miller, Logan Forsythe, Yangervis Solarte and Derek Dietrich make sense.
It really depends on what kind of fit the O’s are looking for. Forsythe will probably be the cheapest, but is the furthest removed from success. Dietrich would be the most useful, but it’s possible he gets a shot with a team closer to winning after spending a lot of time with the Marlins. Solarte and Miller don’t have a ton of positional flexibility — Miller had more earlier in his career — but should also be fairly cheap.
Finally, Flores is pretty young (27) and can move around a bit defensively, but is limited as a utility guy because he can’t play short. He is, however, coming off three straight years of a 100 or better OPS+ — something the O’s should not scoff at.
An outfielder could make some sense as well, especially in the corners like Carlos Gonzalez — someone I thought would look good in Baltimore for a while — or Melky Cabrera. Cameron Maybin, Gerardo Parra and Denard Span are also potential fits.
But how about this for an idea — bring back one of Adam Jones or Nick Markakis?
Markakis or Jones might sell a few more tickets — and it’s hard to know if that really matters — but what’s likely is not having to sell either of them on Baltimore. They were already here for a long time and know the city, the ballpark and the fans.
But if reunions aren’t a priority, each of the previously listed guys can play a fairly capable left field, with Span and Maybin able to at least fake it in center as well. That matters a bit with the unproven Mullins and the better-suited-off-the-bench Rickard in the mix.
On the pitching side, there are quite a few starters who’ve got potential to bounce back in Baltimore. Just a few to come to mind — in order of preference — would be Gio Gonzalez, Clay Buchholz, Ervin Santana, Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano.
Gonzalez’s market has been so weird to this point, though it’s likely he’s waiting for the Dallas Keuchel situation to shake out. He’s probably looking at a two-year deal in the vicinity of $20 million — less than he’d have been paid in previous markets for sure. He also might be wishing to sign with a contender, and that’s no big deal. It’s easy enough to move on to Buchholz, Holland and the others.
Buchholz has found a quiet market after a strong run with the Diamondbacks last year — 2.01 ERA, 3.47 FIP — and might need a little more time to show he’s legitimate after a few years of stagnancy.
Santana missed almost all of last year with a mysterious finger issue, but when he’s healthy he’s a nice No. 3 who would have a lot of value at the trade deadline if he signs a one-year deal — which I fully expect him to.
Finally, Estrada has pitched a ton in the AL East — with the Blue Jays — and is the kind of guy who has his warts, but simply knows how to pitch. If Anibal Sanchez can have the sort of revitalization he did in Atlanta, it’s certainly possible Estrada can, too. And if not, again, those innings are being eaten by a proven vet and not a kid whose psyche has to be managed more carefully. As for Liriano, he’s a lefty with good stuff who has been kind of a mess since leaving Pittsburgh. Here, it’s nothing wagered, nothing lost to see if he can give you a spark or maybe be rebooted by the new coaching staff/structure in Baltimore.
And if not, he can easily be DFA’d.
As for the bullpen, you could honestly throw a line out and see what you hook. Tony Barnette, Brad Boxberger, Erik Goeddel, Shawn Kelley, George Kontos, Ryan Madson, Zach McAllister, Drew Storen, Alex Wilson, Hunter Strickland and a few others come to mind.
Here’s a quick synopsis of each:
Barnette – Sneaky good last year — 2.39 ERA, strikeout per inning, no walks/homers, great GB rate — 35 years old
Boxberger – Only 30, lots of strikeouts, still looking to recapture Tampa Bay magic
Goeddel – Very under the radar, big K numbers, some grounders, 15.8 percent whiff rate
Kelley – Biggest gripe is GB rate (30.2 percent), otherwise huge return to form last year, 35 in April
Kontos – Quietly good, but not great for the Giants his whole career, 3.10 career ERA, value tumbled due to HR issue last year.
Madson – Numbers beyond ERA were terrific, will be cheap due to age as well
McAllister – Possibly overworked by Cleveland, but is just one year removed from 9.5 K/9, 2.61 ERA
Storen – Missed 2018 with elbow issue, at his best was very good, still just 31
Wilson – Steady, but not standout contributor for the Tigers over the last four years
Strickland – Only 30, was very steady for the Giants before 2018 bump in the road
So how would you handle it if you were Mike Elias and his cohorts? Would you stick with the plan internally, and only add very small parts and just see what happens? Or would you roll the dice a bit, and hope for a respectable 72-90 season rather than something like 62-100?
I’m interested to hear what the BSL community thinks here.
Warne is a Minnesota Twins beat reporter for 105 The Ticket's Cold Omaha website as well as a sportswriter for Sportradar U.S. in downtown Minneapolis. He also contributes to FanGraphs / RotoGraphs.