I think most of us Orioles fans can agree that this off-season has been at best underwhelming. However, the 2013 version of the Birds was a decent team and did not lose anyone of significant value. Also, the off-season is not over.
What follows is an idea of what the team as current constructed can be expected to do in 2014 and more importantly what realistic roster moves can make the Orioles a real postseason contender.
2014 Baltimore Orioles ZIPS Projection for WAR (My favorite projection system with playing time adjusted according to my own opinions with a total of 700 PA per position)
Player - Estimated Plate Appearances - ZIPS WAR adjusted to est. PA
Matt Wieters - 575 - 3.8
Steve Clevenger - 175 - 0.1
(I think Brian Ward or Caleb Joesph will get some ABs but not enough to make a big difference)
Chris Davis - 650 - 3.4
Steve Pearce - 50 - 0.1
Ryan Flaherty - 350 - 0.8
Jemile Weeks - 250 - 0.2
Jonathan Scoop - 100 - 0.3
J.J. Hardy - 600 - 3.3
Jonathan Scoop - 50 - 0.1
Ryan Flaherty - 50 - 0.1
Manny Machado - 500 - 3.3
Ryan Flaherty - 150 - 0.3
Jonathan Scoop - 50 - 0.1
Henry Urrutia - 325 - 0.0
Steve Pearce - 250 - 0.3
Matt Wieters - 75 - 0.0 (not valuable when not playing catcher)
Chris Davis - 50 - 0.3
David Lough - 550 - 1.2 (I used a Steamer projection because I couldn't find ZIPS for him)
Henry Urrutia - 150 - 0.0
Adam Jones - 650 - 3.2
David Lough - 50 - 0.1
Nick Markakis - 650 - 0.8
Steve Pearce - 50 - 0.1
Player - Estimated Innings Pitched - WAR Projection
Chris Tillman - 200 - 2.9
Wei-Yin Chen - 160 - 2.3
Miguel Gonzalez - 180 - 2.5
Bud Norris - 140 - 1.8
Kevin Gausman - 100 - 1.3
Relief Pitchers (includes pitchers making spot starts)
Zach Britton - 110 - 0.6
T.J. McFarland - 100 - 0.2
Tommy Hunter - 70 - 0.3
Ryan Webb - 70 - 0.2
Darren O'Day - 70 - 1.0
Brian Matusz - 60 - 0.6
Troy Patton - 40 - 0.2
Kelvin De La Cruz - 40 - 0.1
Steve Johnson - 60 - -0.2
Alfredo Aceves - 90 - 0.0 (used Steamer projection)
Edmer Escalona - 40 - -0.1
Total Position Player WAR - 21.9
Total Pitcher WAR - 13.7
Team WAR - 35.6
47.7 is the amount of wins projected for a replacement level team according to Fangraphs, so when you add projected Team WAR of 35.6 to 47.7 you get 83.3.
(A disclaimer on projections: A projection is the average outcome basically meaning that if the 2014 Orioles played 100 seasons, their average win total would be pretty close to 83.3. )
Projected Team Wins - 83.3
So we have a winning team, but not a playoff team. According to the win curve below, the Orioles chances of making the postseason as currently constructed is less than 5%. In order to make that chance increase to 50% the Orioles need to find 6 more wins.
From Fangraphs (hat tip to Jesse Wolfersberger)
Getting 6 more wins: A how-to guide
So the Orioles need 6 more wins to have a reasonable shot (50/50) of making the playoffs. How do they achieve this? Short of trading for a Mike Trout, getting 6 wins is going to take more than one transaction. Let's take a look at possible moves/scenarios and how they would impact the team in 2014.
(I use Steamer projections for Free Agents)
Sign AJ Burnett for 1 year 14 million - WAR increase = 3.7
This is the move the Orioles need to make, Burnett's projected 190 IP at 3.4 WAR would bump Bud Norris or Miguel Gonzalez to the bullpen and hopefully replace the 190 innings of negative .3 WAR currently given to Escolona, Aceves and Steve Johnson. They can overpay here to convince Burnett to pitch in the American league, even 17 million would still leave payroll at about 100 million.
Sign Ubaldo Jimenez for 3 years 40 million - WAR increase = 2.8
This would work the same way as with Burnett. Jimenez is projected for 190 IP worth 2.5 WAR. This is not as desirable because it would cost the Orioles their 1st round draft pick. I don't mind the 3 year commitment because I think Jimenez has upside and is relatively young.
Takes the bulk of the DH at bats and pushes Henry Urrutia or Steve Pearce off the 25 man roster. Adds a strong OBP presence in the line-up. Rodriguez is a high price to pay but with Bundy and Gausman ahead of him and Wright, Berry and Harvey on his tail, it would be an acceptable price IMHO.
Trade for Gerardo Parra - WAR increase =2.2 (adds about 4 million in salary and cost Eduardo Rodriguez and another mid-level prospect or two
Takes over CF and pushes Adam Jones to LF where his defense would be a plus also pushes Lough to 4th Outfielder. Could cost more than Billy Butler in prospects because Parra is controlled for much less than Butler with similar on the field value. Parra is expendable for the D'backs because they have 4 starting level outfielders.
Manny Machado is young and fully recovered from his injury and does not regress - WAR increase 2.4
Manny produced 6.2 WAR in 2013, projection systems expect him to regress (rightfully so). However Manny is very young and players who break into the majors so young often defy normal projections. If Manny can produce at the same level as 2013 for 650 plate appearances, the O's get a big boost.
Henry Urrutia is recovered from his Haitian ordeal and shows more power - WAR increase ???
Henry is projected for 0 WAR, so if he can hit like he did in the AFL (small sample size alert) or even like he hit in AAA he would provide a lot of value as a platoon DH and LF.
In conclusion, if the Orioles are serious about competing they need to...
1. Sign one of the top pitchers left on the market (Ervin Santana would work too, but I like Jimenez better)
2. Make a trade to bolster the outfield, DH or 2B positions (trading for Brandon Phillips could work as well although it might be too much salary to take on if the O's also sign one of the pitchers) preferably during spring training or early in the season.
3. Have young players break the projection mold, Gausman having a big season would work too.
All three need to happen for the Orioles to go into the season as true contenders, let's make it happen Dan!