Alex Conway's Offseason Plan: Defense First
I want to win. This team has a short window of contention left and I am squeezing every last bit of life out of it.
The 2016 offseason could be interesting, but likely will not be. The Orioles have a core that is largely returning and while a decent amount of money is coming off of the books, the arbitration raises for that core are going to eat into a lot of that.
The issue that I believe can be addressed the easiest this offseason is that of the Orioles’ outfield defense. It was atrocious in 2016 and it cost the Orioles games and exposed the starting pitching and those guys did not need any help exposing themselves. Furthermore, getting someone in here to hit some left-handed pitching would also help, but it is of a lesser concern to me.
Without further ado, let’s get to the nitty-gritty.
Arbitration-eligible players - tender or non-tender
With ten arbitration eligible players the Orioles have a lot of money tied up in somewhat uncertain territory. However, six of those ten are no-brainers. Zach Britton ($11.4 million), Manny Machado ($11.2 million), Chris Tillman ($10.6 million), Kevin Gausman ($3.9 million), Jonathan Schoop ($3.4 million), and Brad Brach ($2.9 million) are all integral to the 2017 Orioles.
After that I am also tendering contracts to Ryan Flaherty ($1.7 million) and Caleb Joseph ($1 million). Flaherty’s versatility wins me over every time I think about getting rid of him. Playing Flaherty every day is a mistake, but having him on the bench is a true asset.
Joseph gets a contract as well because I like his glove enough to give the bat a chance. I could see shopping him around for some depth because he is a much better player if he can play every day.
I am not tendering a contract to either Vance Worley ($3.3 million) or T.J. McFarland ($700,000). Worley was a nice bullpen piece last season, but I do not like him at that price. I am cutting McFarland mostly because he’s bad and I do not want him on the roster.
With the rest of the players already signed to contracts and the few players the Orioles have pre-arbitration that leaves me with around a $145 million payroll and about $15 million to play with. Not great, but not nothing.
Pending free agents: To QO or not to QO
The Qualifying Offer system is very team friendly and still terrifies me. The only realistic options are Matt Wieters and Mark Trumbo. First, I would extend the qualifying offer to Trumbo. He had a career year, hit for a ton of power, and struggled against left handed pitching which he should not do going forward giving him the slightest bit of upside. Any team that needs a DH or first baseman has to be interested in Trumbo in the relatively thin free agent market.
Second, I would not extend a qualifying offer to Wieters. He had a down year and I simply cannot justify it. Last off season I was all about being aggressive with the qualifying offers. But, now that some players, including Wieters himself, have accepted the offer it makes it all the more terrifying. If Wieters saddled the Orioles with another one year contract it would cripple any chance at improving the roster this offseason. For that reason, I cannot take the chance that he would accept it.
As for the other free agents, Pedro Alvarez and Steve Pearce do not necessarily fit into my defense first platform for the offseason. Michael Bourn might make some sense, but he is not my first option out of the gate.
Other free agents
As for players outside of the organization, Rich Hill jumps to mind. However, he also jumps to mind for all other teams and with the current triumvirate of Wade Miley, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Yovani Gallardo sucking down three spots and over $30 million I don’t really see how the Orioles could afford him.
My colleagues have highlighted Jon Jay and Jason Castro and both of those players are good targets. I will focus your attention to Michael Saunders.
Saunders has had health issues plague him, but he was able to play in 140 games last year. He posted a 115 OPS+ and has been an average defender in left field for his career.
Believe it or not, average is an enormous upgrade to whatever the Orioles had playing in the corner spots last season. Saunders has pretty even splits for his career so he can play everyday as well. I’d bet something around the two year $16 million range would get it done for Saunders. I’d be willing to go even a bit higher.
As far as under the radar signings go I’ll go with Franklin Gutierrez. His career was ravaged by injuries as he was becoming a budding young star. He managed to play in 98 games last year and posted a 112 OPS+.
Gutierrez has been a great defender in his career, one of the best, he may have lost a step, but he could certainly play in one of the corners. He also mashes left handed pitching with a 134 career OPS+. I’d be willing to give him a flier.
First and foremost I would love to trade one of Jimenez, Gallardo, or Miley to free up some payroll space. Maybe even a bad contract swap. Maybe Toronto is already tired of Melvin Upton? However, I see it being somewhat difficult to make those deals work for the Orioles. My guess is they roll with “six starting pitchers” and hope five of them somehow stick and I’ll do the same.
Also, I understand the inclination to trade Zach Britton. But, as our fearless leader has said, that’s loser talk and I will not have any of it around here.
As far as targets on another team go I’d look to Jarrod Dyson. He’s only set for about a $2.5 million salary in 2017 and is a superb defender who at the very least hits right handed pitching well. He’s got a good eye at the plate (7.7 percent walk rate) and makes contact.
Dyson also can steal a base which according to the rules of baseball, and I checked this, teams are allowed to do. This is his last year of arbitration and the Royals are looking to cut salary so I think he could be had for not too much.
The positions in question thus far are: Catcher, Right Fielder, Left Fielder, and Designated Hitter. For catcher, I am trusting Chance Sisco. He is a great hitter and I believe in the Orioles ability to develop defense at the major league level. They have done it with Wieters, Joseph, Schoop, and Macahado turning all of them into plus defenders even though none of them were thought of that way coming up from the minors.
In left field I am putting Michael Saunders. In right field I am platooning Jarrod Dyson and Joey Rickard. This shores up my outfield defense and gives the pitchers a glimmer of hope that a ball hit in the air may actually be caught by an outfielder.
At designated hitter I am platooning Hyun Soo Kim and Trey Mancini. Kim’s outfield defense makes my eyes bleed. Kim and Mancini would make a great tandem at DH and both of them have some marginal ability to play the field if absolutely needed.
All other position players are the same as 2016. The rotation and bullpen also stay the same with the bullpen having some optionable spots at the back end to give the roster some flexibility.
I think the team I assembled has a decent chance to replicate 2016. Saunders and Dyson provide some skills the 2016 team lacked and the boosting of the defense should help the rotation. The rotation obviously remains a big question mark as does the offense’s ability to not disappear mid season. This team has a chance to compete in the Orioles ever tightening competitive window and that’s all I really wanted to do.