The Baltimore Orioles are coming off a 2016 season that saw them reach the playoffs, but not for long. After finishing the regular season with an 89-73 record, the Orioles went on to face AL East rivals the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Wild Card Game. The Orioles would fall to the Blue Jays 5-2 in an 11 inning game, ending the team’s season.
On that night the O’s 2016 season came to its conclusion and had fans and members of the front office thinking about 2017. The 2016 iteration of the club was built on power, as Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis, and Manny Machado all slugged over 35 home runs. The team was not built on speed and athleticism, however, as they combined for just 19 stolen bases over the course of 162 games.
The pitching can be split into two parts. Their starting rotation was mediocre at best, while the bullpen was one of the best in the league. Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman provided some hope for the starting staff, but after that, there is just a group of sub-par talent in guys like Yovani Gallardo, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Wade Miley. The pen was anchored by closer Zach Britton, who had a career year, as well as Brad Brach, who excelled in the set-up role.
Moving into 2017, the team is going to have a few holes to fill, and not necessarily a ton of budget unless they really want to increase payroll. While the infield is pretty set, catcher is a question mark if Matt Wieters does not return. He is a fifty-fifty choice for receiving a qualifying offer, which he did accept the last offseason. Trumbo is a free agent, making DH plus both corner outfield slots open for an upgrade. Hyun-Soo Kim proved he is worthy of a platoon at least, meaning a right-handed hitter to pair with him can fill one of those slots.
Rotation wise, there are essentially six names for five slots. But three of those names, Gallardo, Miley, and Ubaldo, could be on the trading block. It will be interesting to see what the team does with the rotation, given they could use upgrades, but will also look to get rid of some of their current dead weight. All-star closer Zach Britton may or may not be available, given his rising arbitration price. The team dealt Jim Johnson three years ago, and a similar move would clear salary, but would also hurt the team’s strength in the pen.
Below we take a look at the team’s impending free agents, possible trade chips, what they need and finally five possible moves the club could make this winter.
Impending free agents: Mark Trumbo, Matt Wieters, Pedro Alvarez, Steve Pearce, Michael Bourn, Tommy Hunter, Nolan Reimold, Brian Duensing, Paul Janish, Drew Stubbs
Possible Trade Chips: Wade Miley, Ubaldo Jimenez, Yovani Gallardo, JJ Hardy
Potential Needs: Catcher, Designated hitter, Corner Outfielders, Starting Pitcher(s)
1) Sign Ian Desmond
While the Orioles may not have a ton of room in the budget this coming season, they really do not have many commitments for the future. So why not go out and land one of the top free agents who can play multiple positions, and they can just backload the deal. Desmond would bring the team some extra versatility, as he could play either corner outfield position, give Adam Jones a day off in center or give JJ Hardy a day off at short.
Desmond would bring the 20/20 type of athleticism this team is in desperate need of. They can afford to let Trumbo walk, as he will demand a big deal since the team has plenty of big time power bat already. Desmond has power, but will also provide the team with some on-base ability. Desmond alone stole 21 bases for the Texas Rangers in 2016, which is more than Baltimore’s entire team.
He becomes a fixture in the lineup every day and locks down one of the corner outfield slots. Sure he is not going to hit home runs at the rate a Trumbo did, but this team needs to change a few things if they want to move farther in the playoffs going forward. Swapping out Trumbo for Desmond would be a solid first step.
2) Sign/Trade for Cameron Maybin
Cameron Maybin is currently sitting in club option limbo. The Detroit Tigers have the option to pay Maybin nine million dollars in 2017, or they can cut him loose to be a free agent. Since the club is looking to shake things up this offseason, I see Maybin as one of the several players to leave Motown this winter. Whether that is by declining his option, or picking it up and trading him, Maybin is likely a goner from Detroit.
And he just so happens to fit the mold of what Baltimore needs this coming season. He is a right-handed outfielder who is athletic and can steal some bags. He has steadily improved against lefties over the years, so he does not necessarily have to platoon with Kim. But the team use that option if they wish. Or they can deploy him in left field on his own, and let Kim platoon with someone else at the DH position.
3) Sign Jason Castro
The team will have to wait on final word from Matt Wieters before deciding on what they need to do at catcher. The first question is should the team offer him a qualifying offer or not. They did the last offseason and he accepted, which came as a surprise. Given he is the best catcher available this winter, he may be inclined to test the market. But if he were to accept a potential qualifying offer, the team would be out over 17 million dollars, and probably could not afford someone like Desmond.
So if Wieters ended up not accepting a qualifying offer, the team would need to search for a catcher. Sure they could re-sign him, but I am going to guess he will be out of their price range. That means the team likely resorts to someone like Jason Castro. Castro is not exactly a force with the bat, but that is alright. The team will have plenty of offense, and will simply be looking for a cheap defensive minded catcher.
Castro should be able to be had relatively cheap. A two-year pact should be able to get the job done as well, and if they really needed to, they could extend that to include an option. Their main catching prospect, Chance Sisco is still young. So adding someone like Castro would give the team an option to hold down the slot for a season or two until Sisco is MLB ready.
4) Trade for Drew Smyly
The starting pitching free agent market is extremely weak this offseason. The market is essentially filled with the type of pitchers the team already has. So if the Orioles wish to add a starting pitcher into the mix for a possible upgrade, they need to look for someone who is in his prime years, and maybe coming off a down season, since the club is not exactly loaded with trade resources. One candidate, Drew Smyly of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Smyly is a 27-year-old arm who is coming off an injury-plagued season that saw him struggled quite a bit in 2016. This plus the fact that the Rays are likely looking to cut cost means Smyly should come at a relatively low price. He is a left-handed pitcher, who has struggled to stay healthy to this point in his career. But he does have talent, and likely not the best of that talent. So this serves as a buy low type of option, that may not pan out. But it also could pay off rather nicely if Smyly can prove to be healthy.
It is your typical low risk/high reward acquisition. The Orioles can deal from their bullpen surplus to bring Smyly, who is familiar with the division, to Baltimore. He has two seasons of arbitration left, and those will be his age 27 and 28 seasons. Given the free agent options out there, taking a stab on someone like Smyly may be the best route for Baltimore.
5) Sign/Trade for Jason Hammel
Another starting pitching option comes in the form of an old friend, Jason Hammel. Hammel has a club option with the Chicago Cubs this winter. He was left off the World Series roster, as the team has no room for him in their rotation. So like Maybin, Hammel’s current club may decline his option, or pick it up and look to deal him. Either way, Hammel could find himself back in an Orioles uniform in 2017.
Hammel pitched for Baltimore in the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Since leaving the Orioles, Hammel has had some of his better seasons in a Cubs and Athletics uniforms. He is going to be 34 this coming season, so his best years are likely behind him. But that does not mean he is a bad option for the Os. He could provide average performance that should keep the club in the games he pitches as long as the offense does their job.
He is not a guy that will break the bank either, and that is what the team needs. If his option is picked up, he will be owed 10 million dollars in 2017. If his option is declined, he will likely make less than that, especially if given several years. Like Smyly, he is no ace, but an arm that could serve as an improvement over some of their current options. The Orioles will not be acquiring any aces this winter, as they will simply be out of the team’s price range. So look for one or two guys like Hammel to be brought in, with at least one of Miley, Gallardo or Ubaldo being dealt.
So what do you think the Orioles should do this winter? What moves do you think they should make?
Also be sure to check out five potential off-season moves for the Boston Red Sox.