The Orioles are, to put it kindly, not in an enviable position heading into the 2016-17 offseason. Thanks to the massive contract of Chris Davis and the lesser, but still ill-advised contracts given to players like Yovani Gallardo, there isn’t nearly as much money to throw around as there was a year ago.
There’s a little over $30 million coming off the books next year, primarily from the trio of Matt Wieters ($16.8 million), Mark Trumbo ($9.1 million), and Pedro Alvarez ($5.75 million). That sounds nice, but as we discussed on Tuesday, most of that will be going toward arbitration raises.
That doesn’t leave much money to spend. The O’s would have to increase their payroll significantly over last year even just to bring back those three guys, especially considering someone out there will throw a boatload of money at Trumbo after his 47-homer career year.
So, should the Orioles bring back the exact same team in 2017? That’s not the most exciting idea. Trumbo is unlikely to repeat this year’s performance, and much of the team’s core, including Wieters, will be on the wrong side of thirty.
Instead, the O’s should take a long look at letting Wieters and Trumbo sign elsewhere. Tyler already wrote about how letting Trumbo walk would be a good idea, and I agree with him. Rather than tie up most of the remaining budget on Matt Wieters, the Orioles should consider letting him go too.
Rather than attempt replace those guys with cheaper veteran versions of themselves (remember how that worked with the outfield in 2015?), it may be time to turn over the reins to the team’s top two, and practically their only two, offensive prospects: Trey Mancini and Chance Sisco.
For any good team to sustain success, they have to be able to replace outgoing free agents with homegrown talent. Look at the teams in the playoffs this year: nearly all of them have at least three or four young, cheap position players in their lineup.
Otherwise, you have to keep spending more and more. That’s the problem the Orioles are running into. Aside from Manny Machado (EDIT: and Jonathan Schoop, whoops!), the team hasn’t graduated a single decent position player to the majors in nearly a decade. That needs to change.
Sure, Sisco may not be ready to be a major league catcher, but there’s only one way to find out. What’s the alternative? Taking money away from a potential Machado extension by signing Wieters to a 3-year-deal that goes through his age-34 season? Starting Caleb Joseph or Francisco Pena?
The best course of action for the O’s may well be to pencil Sisco and Mancini into regular roles and see what happens. Use the money freed up by Trumbo and Wieters to bring back Pedro Alvarez, and sign a right-handed outfielder who can actually get on base and hold his own with the glove.
Relying on two completely unproven players is a risk, and it might backfire. On the other hand, it might give the O’s the payroll flexibility to actually get better instead of remain stagnant.
The window for this version of the Orioles to compete will be closing in a year or two, unless the team can accomplish two things: extend guys like Manny Machado and Kevin Gausman, and actually get meaningful contributions from some homegrown players.
Putting Chance Sisco and Trey Mancini on the opening day roster could help the O’s accomplish both. At the very least, it’s worth a shot.