Despite the disappointing summer and impending playoff couch-sitting Orioles fans are set to undergo, the end of the regular season means the piling of free-agent speculation.
Dan Duquette is a shrewd operator, one reason as to why the O's were AL East champions a season ago, and one reason why the Orioles were terrible, no good and very bad for most of the 2015 schedule. If there has been a lesson in 2015, it is capitalizing on production where expectations may be absent. The Steve Pearce's, Bud Norris's Delmon Young's and Zach Britton's of '14 were not brought into Opening Day on a pedestal, but their contributions were substantial. The Travis Snider's and Bud Norris's of '15, however, showed the domino effects of struggling role players on a team that consists of only 25 men.
Duquette is smart. He is the kind of general manager that fits well in Baltimore because he understands how to operate within his limits. The Travis Snider deal was praised by many geeks and bloggers alike leading into the '15 season. Snider's second-half numbers were promising, and his potential as a sneaky good defensive outfielder with a rising OPS and first-round talent seemed to make sense given the low fiscal commitment. It didn't pan out, but it was an educated attempt to replicate previous production. That's how Duquette has adapted into this new generation of baseball, and there isn't any sign he's going to stray from his blueprint.
Unlike last winter, the Orioles aren't going to be able to simply cruise through the cold months with fans thinking "Oh, they have a plan", because the plan failed. There has to be an intent, but most of Birdland is probably going to be disappointed when the likes of Yoenis Cespedes or Jason Heyward aren't patrolling Camden Yards. The good thing is, there is still plenty of value to be found.
Based on recent history, the current state of the Orioles and the sample size of Duquette's brand of general managing, here are a few guys that wouldn't riddle me shocked if they were donning the white and orange in 2016.
1. Matt Joyce
For Joyce, the move from Tampa to Los Angeles hasn't been the smoothest of transitions. After slashing .250/.342/.435 in six seasons with the Rays, Joyce's line in his only season with the Halos stands at an unholy .176/.275/.295, and along the way, has been out-platooned by the likes of David Murphy, Shane Victorino and others.
Throughout his career however, whenever Joyce has come to Baltimore, he's made himself at home, hitting .322/.407/.587 in 47 career games at Camden Yards, including 7 HRs and 27 RBIs in only 167 plate appearances. Granted, the pitching he's faced when playing the Orioles has never inspired awe, but unlike Bryce Harper, Joyce finds comfort in hitting in what is universally a hitter-friendly ballpark, especially for lefties.
|Matt Joyce Career Splits||AVG||OPS||HR||BB/K|
His righty/lefty splits are tremendously valleyed, but Buck Showalter understands how and when to utilize his roster in order to unlock that little extra something. At 31, Joyce isn't young, but he's certainly not past the point of reclamation. From 2011-13, Joyce had three consecutive years in which he knocked no less than 17 HRs, and from personal experience, I like the kind of player that Joyce is and may still be. Even better for the Orioles, Joyce is currently operating on low-risk, high-reward territory with the year he's had with the Angels.
2. Jaime Garcia
The Cardinals are facing the dilemma of giving Jaime Garcia an $11.5M option for 2016, or moving on from the oft-injured lefty with a $500K buyout.
In this hypothetical world, the steady Cardinals decide to move on from Garcia (a decision that will likely fly under the radar), and call on the services of a youngster, possibly Marco Gonzales or Tim Cooney. Garcia is certainly a risk for any team that would think of negotiating for his services, but his track record shows a pitcher that fits the Orioles needs.
In his career, Garcia owns a solid 3.32 ERA with a 1.26 WHIP, a BB% of only 6.8% and a GB rate of 56.5%. In 2015, the 29 year-old Mexican has sunk and tricked opposing batters to a 62.5 GB%, but with only 104.1 innings this year, he doesn't qualify among the league leaders, but if he did, his ground ball rate would be second among starting pitchers in all of baseball. Even the casual fan knows the importance of ground balls at a park like Camden Yards and with a defense that the Orioles are presumably ready to bring back in 2016.
The injury concerns are very real, considering Garcia only pitched 89 innings between 2013-14 because of a triad of left-arm issues, including Tommy John surgery, labrum and rotator cuff surgery and even thoracic acid output surgery. Perhaps out of hope or my readiness to move on, but I'm not so sure that Wei-Yin Chen will be back with the O's following the end of this season. Garcia has a leadership quality about him that makes him a slide-in candidate to pitch at an ace-level without the expectations, pretty much what he's done throughout his time with the Cardinals. Garcia's skillset, calm demeanor and possible middle-of-the-road value would fit in very well in the Orioles' clubhouse, while providing a solid lefty presence in the rotation.
3. Brett Anderson
On the topic of Jaime Garcia, there was a tidbit regarding his ground ball rate and that it would stand at second among starting pitchers had he qualified for enough innings. Well, there is one guy that sits ahead of Garcia. His name? Brett Anderson.
Anderson was picked up by the Dodgers as a flier, signing for $10M on a one-year deal after an injury-riddled few seasons with the Rockies and Athletics, and in '15, the 27 year-old lefty is making his mark once again.
The same rules apply for Anderson as it did with Garcia: injuries, redemption, ground balls, replacing Chen, etc. Anderson will probably come at a higher cost than Garcia, but the soon-to-be 28 year old is probably a less risky proposition. Whether or not the Orioles splurge on Anderson is a discussion for another day, but this year's starting rotation has made this a fairly one-sided argument.
4. Ross Detwiler
Detwiler looked special coming up through the minors and into the big leagues with the Nationals, a big 6'5 lefty with a power arm that had a knack for strikeouts. With an upward trending career trajectory, Detwiler looked like he was worth the sixth-overall pick in the 2007 Amateur Draft, especially in 2012 when he threw 164.1 innings with a 3.40 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and .263 opponent BABIP.
Those days are long gone.
Detwiler has battled shoulder and leg issues since rising onto the scene, and in 2015, his production has revolved into a mighty downwards spike. In 58.1 innings in '15, Detwiler has accumulated a 7.25 ERA, 2.02 WHIP and .369 opponent BABIP. He's gotten hit hard, and he's gotten hit often, but he seems like a tremendous bounce-back candidate come this winter.
He's a former first-round pick, something Duquette very much likes, and despite the ugly stat-line, there is still a mid-90's fastball with solid speed differential to his off-speed pitches, making him an easy choice to bring into Spring Training. Perhaps a foundation can unlock a pitcher that looks a lot like a poor man's Andrew Miller.
5. Justin Upton
Zach Davies for Gerardo Parra doesn't really sound so bad considering the price tag that had been on Justin Upton around the trade deadline. Upton had an Orioles-like June and July, slashing a combined .179/.266/.314 with only 6 HRs and 19 RBIs in 46 games. His summer decline has somewhat made folks forget about him, and for the most part, that's something the Orioles can only benefit from.
Since August, Upton has returned to terrorizing the opposition, hitting .272/.373/.530 with 8 HRs and 19 RBIs in 42 games.
|Justin Upton 2015 Splits||OPS||HR||ISO||wRC+||BB%|
Despite a couple of consecutively unfruitful months, Upton has pretty much been right where his career track says he should be, hitting .255/.340/.465 with 26 dingers and 83 RBIs in 139 games this season. His slightly-less-than-Adam-Jones stat line is the kind of output that the Orioles desperately missed in 2015, and if there is any player for Duquette to make an investment on, Upton is undoubtedly the guy.
A pair of teams are going to quickly act on Heyward and Cespedes, leaving Upton as the remaining corner outfielder in which a serious financial commitment would make sense. The former number-one overall pick is a brute force that you can plug in left field and anywhere from 3-6 in an everyday lineup, providing not only the slugging threat the Orioles need, but the actual power production as well.
Let's say the Orioles maneuver the budget around to not only pay Chris Davis and Gerardo Parra (who I very much like as a ballplayer), but Justin Upton as well. A one through six of Parra, Machado, Jones, Davis, Upton and Schoop would go a long way to offset what is likely to be an average rotation once again.
Upton is still going to command an AAV of around $20M, but if there was ever a time for Duquette to make a splash, it would most certainly make sense to try to reel in a 28 year-old slugger that would can provide the pure power numbers that helps make the Orioles, well, the Orioles.