When your biggest offseason move is re-signing a player who was released by the Pittsburg Pirates half a year ago, you probably had a really quiet and uneventful offseason. That is exactly what the Baltimore Orioles have done. Dan Duquette, after leading the Orioles to a surprising playoff appearance in his first season as the general manager, decided to stand pat with the current core and hoped for a repeat performance from the group in 2013. The only major changes the Orioles made this offseason include declining Mark Reynolds's option, letting go of Joe Saunders, signing Jair Jurrjens, claiming Alexi Casilla off waivers and re-signing Nate Mclouth.
Declining Reynolds's option came down to a choice between Wilson Betemit and Reynolds. If Reynolds was retained, he would be the primary first baseman with Chris Davis serving as the DH. Now that he is gone, Davis will move to first base while Betemit assumes the main responsibility of the DH with Danny Valencia or Nolan Reimold platooning against southpaws. Offensively, the Orioles probably improve with the platoon at DH. Reynolds had an OBP of .335 and a SLG of .429 last season which are roughly in line with his career numbers, though his power was down from previous seasons. Betemit hit .302/.357/.502 (with a high BABIP of .388) against right-handed pitchers last season and has a career line of .282/.349/.475 against them. Combine Betemit's numbers with Valencia's career line of .316/.359/.472 (albeit in a small sample of 301 at-bats) against left-handed pitchers and the Orioles seem to be able to replicate the offense Reynolds provided with a platoon at DH. Defensively, Reynolds remade himself into a capable first baseman last season, though he was still below average according to UZR and DRS. Davis has also been below average at first base through his career, and DRS was especially harsh on him at first base last season. However, I expect Davis to be no more than five runs worse defensively than Reynolds, and this difference can be compensated by the gain in offense.
Joe Saunders has been an innings eater his entire career, starting at least 28 games for the last five seasons. What he provides in quantity, however, does not come with high quality. He was about league average last season, and that was his best season in FIP over his career. The Orioles have plenty of depth in the rotation, with Tommy Hunter, Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Steve Johnson, Tsuyoshi Wada (missed the entire 2012 season due to Tommy John surgery) and the newly-signed Jurrjens fighting for the last spot in the rotation behind Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez. This depth rendered Saunders unnecessary as the Orioles should be looking for quality innings, not sheer quantity that many of the pitchers mentioned above can provide. As for Jurrjens, he was a promising young pitcher as recently as 2011. Then a series of injuries and underperformance led to the Braves' non-tendering Jurrjens this offseason. His fastball velocity has declined by more than two mph over the last two seasons, and he was terrible in both the major league (6.89 ERA, 5.64 FIP with the Braves in 11 games) and the minor league (4.98 ERA, 4.62 FIP with AAA affiliate in 14 games) last year. However, a minor league contract for a once-promising prospect is pocket change for a major league team, and it never harms to have more pitching depth.
Talking about pitching depth, this is the one area where I have been upset with the Orioles' offseason. No, I am not asking the Orioles to have more depth. What I am upset about is the notion that at least some of the depth would turn to provide at least average innings. Yes, the thinking is correct, but what is difficult is identifying which of these pitchers can do that. Last year, the Orioles gave Arrieta, Hunter and Matusz 54 starts before they realized the need for a change. This can easily happen again this season. The Orioles lost a chance to add more quality to the rotation this offseason. One move that I really hoped the Orioles did is signing Shaun Marcum. He is not very durable and does not throw hard, but he has been an above-average pitcher on the field ever since he is a full-time starter. He only received a $3.5 million contract for a year from the Mets and I wish the Orioles signed him even at $5 million.
Another disappointing aspect of the Orioles' offseason is the failure to find a competent second baseman. Brian Roberts has not been able to stay healthy for the last three seasons, averaging less than 40 games a year. Moreover, when he played last season, he had a batting line of .182/.233/.182, continuing the trend of his decline over the last three years. Overall, the Orioles' second basemen collectively hit .212/.273/.312 last season and ranked last among 30 teams with a -2.5WAR according to fangraphs. The free agent market for second basemen was extremely thin this offseason, but the Orioles could have explored the trade market using their once-promising pitching prospects who have become merely rotation depth on the team. Instead, the Orioles claimed Alexi Casilla, coming off a .241/.282/.321 season with the Twins. He has hit a little better over his career with a line of .250/.305 /.334, but that is not something to be excited about. Both DRS and UZR rated him favorably on the defensive end last season, but he has been an average defender over his career according to these metrics. Overall, it seems that Casilla is most likely a one-win player and an improvement over what the Orioles received from their second basemen last season. However, the Orioles missed a golden opportunity to drastically improve their team at their weakest position last season.
The most significant move the Orioles actually made this offseason is the signing of Nate Mclouth for $2 million for one year. He batted .268/.342/.435 in 55 games with the Orioles in 2012 after struggling for the last two and a half seasons. It seems premature to expect that he would revert to his all-star level with the Pirates based on a sample size this small, but a fourth outfielder who can start is necessary on a team with the injury-prone Nolan Reimold. Mclouth and Reimold will compete to be the left fielder. One reasonable solution is a platoon between them, since Mclouth has hit much worse against left-handers both last season and over his career. However, this seems to be wasting Reimold's health when a right-handed pitcher is on the mound, as Reimold has not shown a significant platoon splits over his career. They are similar batters over their careers, but Reimold has shown more power. Both are about average defensively in left field according to UZR and DRS. I do not believe Mclouth will repeat his numbers with the Orioles last season, and will probably hit about .241/.314/.380, his batting line over the entire season with both the Orioles and the Pirates in 2012. Given their recent history, I will give the starting job to Reimold until he loses it or gets injured again. The presence of Mclouth ensures that the Orioles don't have to rely on Endy Chavez in that case.
The Orioles decide not to change their team this offseason. This may be Duquette's decision that nothing on the market is worth spending or a lack of budget to sign any significant free agent. It should be noted that the Orioles' payroll has increased significantly this year due to increases in salary through arbitration. I do not know of the budget Duquette is working with, so I cannot blame him for the lack of action. While retaining essentially the same team that made the playoff last year is not a terrible decision, I certainly wish that the Orioles could have brought in another mid-rotation starter and a second baseman. These holes that Duquette fails to address this offseason may turn out to be the difference between a repeat playoff appearance and an early finish to the season.