The time is now for the Orioles to make their move. They may actually have a gap, where they indeed could become competitive again. The Yankees and Red Sox look like some of those huge contracts are finally catching up to them, either in player age or effectiveness. When you look at the Ray's and Jay's farm systems, you realize its only a matter of time before both teams become perennial powerhouses. It may be a little harder for the Rays to sustain due to their payroll constraints, but the Jays should have no problem upping the payroll.
Enough praising these teams, let's move on to the Orioles and how they can improve their on field product....
Before we look into the free agents and trades we can make let's get a few things out of the way first. Starting with non tendering Jo-Jo Reyes, and Luke Scott. Reyes production could be replaced very easily, at a fraction of the cost. Scott on the other hand is a much more complex case. He unlike Reyes has actually proven to play the game of baseball, thus we'll re-sign him at a lower rate than he is currently eligible for.
Luke Scott- 1 year/ $4mm(base salary of $3mm, with incentives based on plate appearances). We risk losing him to a team like the Rays, who are looking for production at a cheap rate. But I couldn't justify paying him the $6mm he was likely to receive in arbitration.
Rich Harden- 1 year/$2.5mm(base salary of $1.5mm, with incentives based on appearances or games started). Harden is a guy I would have liked to seen in an Orioles uniform sooner. When healthy he's been a very effective pitcher, who can miss some bats. Major injury history with him, but he should be able to hold a roster spot until someone like Matusz can figure himself out in the minors. If he stays healthy, you can simply move him to the bullpen, or leave him in the rotation while effective.
Joel Zumaya- 1 year/$2mm(base salary $1mm, with incentives based on appearances). Guy I would love to take a flier on. Suffered an injury to his throwing elbow in 2010, that caused him to miss the entire 2011 season. He's capable of missing bats, and dialing up the heat in a given situation. According to pitch f/x his fastball averaged 99mph between 2009 and 2010. Still only 27, so he should recover from injury fine.
And onto the big fish.......
Yoenis Cespedes- 5 years/$60mm. A lot of you are gonna think I'm insane for offering a contract this large to an unknown quantity, but hear me out. While the Orioles aren't the Yankees or Red Sox, they also aren't the Tampa Bay Rays. We have the money to spend, and its about time we did something with it. I'm tired of the Vlad Guerrero's and Derek Lee's of the world. It's about time to not only make a splash, but an international one. A lot of scouts believe this kid is the real deal, and I'm a firm believer. We also have some contracts(Roberts and Gregg) coming off the books within the next 2 years, so if this doesn't work out, we aren't necessarily hamstrung.
My preference would be to go for the known quantity in Fielder, who's around the same age, and has shown he is a star in this league. But I'm not willing to pay the 25mm annual it's gonna take to get him here. It would be nice to watch him hit moon shots off the warehouse, but it just isn't realistic. Cespedes is also in far superior condition, at least to the naked eye, and has also shown above average defense from what scouts have said.
I thought of 3 possible trades to bring in starting pitching, but in the end I settled on one. The first trade I examined was for Gio Gonzalez, but i quickly realized that there's no way we're getting him without Schoop plus. So I moved onto my next idea, and that was Francisco Liriano. There's no doubt Liriano has the ability to be a TOR starter, but he's struggled with consistency and health the past couple years. Onto the next one, who happens to be......
John Danks- He isn't the flashiest guy, but he's consistent and he can miss some bats. In order to acquire talent, you have to give up talent. So I proposed a Danks for Reimold, Tillman, and Schrader trade. Acquiring Reimold allows the Sox to Unload Carlos Quentin, and have a cheap player with a few years of control. Tillman is a guy who desperately needs a change of scenery, where he can try and figure things out. Schrader is a guy that has some upside, but pitching prospects flame out all the time, so give me Danks. May have to swap out Schrader with Bridwell to get this trade done.
I hate having to give up Reimold in any trade, but with the addition of Cespedes, and the fact Reimold doesn't get a fair shake, I found him expendable. The big plus in this trade is that while Danks only has one year of team control left, he'll only be 27 at the start of the season. He's also already put up 16.3 WAR over his 5 major league seasons, and he's entering his prime years. His K/9 usually sits around 7, and his BB/9 is usually below 3. Not a bad combination.
Line up on Opening Day
1. Brian Roberts-2B
2. Nick Markakis-RF
3. JJ Hardy-SS
4. Adam Jones-CF
5. Matt Wieters-C
6. Mark Reynolds-1B
7. Luke Scott-DH
8. Chris Davis-3B
9. Matt Angle-LF
We'll go with 12 position players to start the season. Andino and Antonelli should be capable of backing up all the infield spots minus 1B. Scott can back up 1B if needed, with davis or reynolds switching to DH. Andino can also back up Angle in LF, and Angle could switch to either of the two OF spots if Markakis or Jones need rest. You'll notice I've omitted Cespedes from this list. I've done this so he can start the year in Double-A, and get acclimated to the league. Most scouts compare the cuban league he currently plays in to A level talent, so Double-A should be a perfect place to see if he's ready for the show.
2. John Danks
3. Jake Arrieta
4. Zach Britton
5. Rich Harden
SU-Pedro Strop, Joel Zumaya
MR- Zach Phillips, Kevin Gregg(unfortunately), Darren O'day
LR- Troy Patton, Tommy Hunter
Thanks to the versatility on the offensive side of the ball, I was able to go with an 8 man pen, giving Buck more options. I think we have the makings of a pretty solid rotation, at least in Orioles standards. Two Workhorses at the top of the rotation, capable of piling up the innings. While neither is really a true #1 pitcher, they are definitely serviceable atop the rotation. I would expect close to 200 IP for each, with an ERA near or below 4. Then we have Arrieta and Britton who have both flashed a good deal of upside, especially Britton. They round out a pretty good top 4. Then at #5 we have a high risk/ high reward guy in Harden. Harden has big injury issues that accompany him, but he also has pretty filthy stuff, that at 30 years old he should still be able to dial up. In case of injury, which is pretty likely, we have anohter capable starter in Tommy Hunter waiting in the pen.
Even though our bullpen looks like a cast off of a rangers dating show, there's still some good potential. Our 8th and 9th inning situation looks pretty set with Johnson, Strop, and Zumaya. As much as I would love to omit Gregg from this list, I can't with the $5.8mm he's owed in 2012. We have a couple lefties in the pen to match up with, one in Patton(If he really exists) who can give you several innings if needed.
If I've done my math correctly, the payroll should be a little less than $95mm. That represents roughly an $8mm upgrade over last years payroll. The Line up to me looks pretty stout, and can definitely compete. Especially when you replace Angle in the line up with Cespedes, granted he performs well in Double A. A huge key to that line up is gonna be Roberts, if healthy I expect our line up to produce a ton of runs. If not I would rely on Ryan Adams, he can't lead off but his bat definitely plays at the position. I can easily see this lineup producing 5+ runs a game.
The most important thing is gonna be the pitching as we all know. And with expected progression from the young guys, and continued performance from the vets, this pitching staff could shave up to a run off its ERA from last year. Everyone knows the key to winning is scoring more runs than the other team, and I could finally see this orioles team making a name for themselves.
Worst case scenario, we aren't in it at the all star break, and we can have a mini fire sale. I'd imagine Guthrie, Danks, and possibly Harden, and Zumaya could all be hot commodities by the trade deadline.
Dare I say .500.....Or maybe even wildcard.......We'll see.........