Trying to Devise a Sensible Offseason for the Orioles
After losing 115 games and gutting the team’s front office and field staff — not to mention trading the team’s franchise cornerstone, one of the best relievers in the team’s recent history, a former high first-round pick and a solid second baseman in addition to losing another stalwart in free agency — it’s hard to know where the Baltimore Orioles should go from here.
The truth of the matter is, it can really only go up from here.
A brief assessment of the roster shows perhaps more than one might expect — but it’s still pretty bleak.
(chat about this on the BSL boards here!)
How can this team start the process of rebuilding with the torched remains of 2018 still smoldering?
Let’s take a look:
Hire a manager (obviously)
This is No. 1 for a reason, and it’s because it’s hard to sell any sort of vision to any free agents — including coaches, even — without someone at the helm. Copying what the Detroit Tigers did with Ron Gardenhire might not be a bad idea. That is, finding someone who has been through the battles before, isn’t afraid to lose while going through the process of development and is good at helping young players.
The Baltimore Sun posted a list of 10 potential future managers in early October, and one of them listed is a man I’m very familiar with — Paul Molitor.
Molitor has a keen eye for details and managed his way out of a rough 2016 season (103 losses) with the Twins, and could be looking for a fresh start elsewhere despite Minnesota offering him a different position in the organization.
Would Molitor’s presence be enough to lure some other names as part of his coaching staff? There’s only one way to find out.
Determine who is worth building around, and what that timeline looks like
The cruel reality of a rebuild in today’s game is that it’ll take 5-to-7 years unless something happens like hitting the lottery on a No. 1 overall pick. For instance, the Washington Nationals did that two years in a row with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.
Could the Orioles do the same? Sure; at this point, it looks like prep shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. and Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman are the prohibitive favorites to go near that spot. But don’t forget, Brice Turang was widely listed as a possible No. 1 overall pick at this time last year — and he wound up going to the Milwaukee Brewers at No. 21 overall.
Regardless, it makes sense to err on the side of a long rebuild while being aware that the timeline can be sped up in multiple ways.
If that timeline is even on the short end of the timeline, very few of these current Orioles are going to still be around for the next potential division-winning club.
Now that’s not the same as saying tear it all the way down and trade everything that isn’t nailed down, but rather be aware of the landscape and move players when the time is right.
Should the team trade Trey Mancini? Probably not. But if someone may offer them an obscene amount of talent, there’s no reason to hang up the phone when his name comes up out of sheer habit.
To that end, I would say the players the team should be most interested in moving are Jonathan Villar, Tim Beckham and Mychal Givens.
With Villar, he’s already in his arbitration years, and we’ve seen the very good and the very bad with him — and that’s just in the last few years. He could be very helpful at second base in the short term, but shopping him now makes sense before the market heats up. There are a lot of second basemen available this winter, but few offer the added defensive versatility and speed that Villar has. He’s a premium flip candidate.
That time with Beckham was a year ago, when he hit .306/.348/.523 in 50 post-trade games and looked like he might finally be picking up steam as a late-bloomer. Of course, that ignores the fact that the O’s spent the offseason preparing for a 2018 season where they could be some kind of factor in the East.
That didn’t happen.
Now Beckham’s coming off a Schoopian .230/.287/.374 season, he’s less cheap than he was before and is another year closer to 30. You can’t burn everything down — you still have to dress 25 for every game, after all — but this is a name you should be floating past other GMs in passing.
As for Givens, he’s just a really good reliever who isn’t making a prohibitive salary and should actually bring back a fair amount in a deal. Maybe waiting until the deadline makes more sense, but you run the risk that his numbers take a hit — a la Brad Brach — as well.
Be aggressive, but understand that making a deal just to make one isn’t helpful
In a perfect world, another GM calls up and absolves the Orioles of the Chris Davis/Mark Trumbo deals.
This isn’t a perfect world.
But it’s not impossible that Trumbo regains his mojo and posts an 800 OPS. There could be a market for that at the deadline, when there’s only $5-6 million left on his deal. If picking up some of that brings back a better return, that shouldn’t be scorned.
Davis isn’t going anywhere with almost $85 million left on his deal, but if he looks anything like the hitter he’s been in great years, could someone be interested with a significant chunk of the deal paid down? It’s not impossible. Don’t hold your breath, but if you’re paying him to be on the roster, this is pretty much the only way to see light at the end of the tunnel with Davis on the books through 2022.
Smart executives will see that Alex Cobb had a nice second half, and might be willing to take a shot on him as an answer to the back-end of their rotation. That might be even truer if the pitching market this offseason skews high, as he’s owed a reasonable $43 million over the next three years. As much as this might have felt like a sunk cost at times last year, it’s truly not that bad. Dig your heels in here if someone tries to lowball you.
Andrew Cashner, on the other hand, might be a different story, but with just one year left on the deal it really doesn’t make sense to let him go somewhere else for nothing when he can give you 150 innings at the very least. Be proactive and move him if he gives you six great starts to open the season — and someone is desperate — but again, someone has to throw these innings.
As weird as it sounds, that’s all the real deadish money on the roster. The team is committed to $82.6 million already — which hurts when you see the lack of talent up and down the roster — but stem the tide and in 2020 that number is down to $35.2 million and just one million higher (Cashner option) the next.
You can work with that.
(Oh, and don’t be so quick to move Dylan Bundy, either. This would be the quintessential sell-low move, and would have huge disaster potential.)
Start scouring the minor-league free-agent market for potential diamonds in the rough
There are too many names to really dig in deep here, but the luxury of having a bad team with low expectations is that you can really dive headlong into giving 400 plate appearances or 80 innings to someone else’s failed top prospect who falls off the 40-man roster.
This is especially true for relievers, where guys like Jake Petricka and Zach McAllister are available for next to nothing. Another name to watch? Kyle Zimmer. He went fifth overall in the 2012 draft and has been nothing short of a disappointment, but who has more innings available to give to guys like this than the Orioles?
Do the same on the MLB side
We saw a lot of interesting free agents have depressed markets last offseason, but the truth is that every winter some players fall through the cracks. With few proven entities at the big-league level, the Orioles should be well-positioned to take on players who have any success even semi-recently.
That means maybe signing someone like Devin Mesoraco or Jonathan Lucroy to catch, or maybe Brad Miller to play all over as you try to hide his glove. There’s no market for Logan Forsythe? Sign him up! Alcides Escobar? Eww, no. You still have standards.
Don’t rule out interested free agents — especially older ones — because you aren’t winning anytime soon
This is kind of a tie-in to the last point, but it can be easy to shy away from 30-somethings in free agency since they’re certain not to be around when you win again. But with that said, you still need guys in the clubhouse and it’s still worth fostering a good — if not winning — environment for your young players to come up in.
To that end, guys like Jon Jay, Cameron Maybin, Carlos Gomez, Evan Gattis, Matt Holliday and many, many others shouldn’t be ignored if their markets fail to develop. Picking up guys and capitalizing on three or four months of solid play by dealing them at the deadline should not only be considered, but embraced.
(Don’t be afraid to bring back Jonathan Schoop if he’s non-tendered, either.)
Good luck, Orioles. This won’t be an easy rebuild, but with the right amount of creativity, you should be able to play some fun baseball in the meantime.
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.