The 2017 Orioles season is finally over. The book is closed on them. They can lose no more. Now is the time to start reckoning with the disaster that engulfed them for the month of September. Although they could pretend otherwise from April through August due to weakness in the rest of the league, this was a failed baseball team. There’s no way to look at it any differently.
When everything was said and done, the Orioles MLB-worst starting rotation ERA clocked in at 5.70. They took a bad unit from last year, where their 4.72 ERA was third-worst in the AL, and added nearly a full run to that ERA while throwing 40 fewer innings. The extra work absorbed by the bullpen really showed at times this season.
The result of the season is that the Orioles wasted one of the two remaining years available to them before the great free agent apocalypse that will follow the end of next season.
A year from now, Manny Machado could have played his final game as an Oriole. The same is true for Zach Britton and Adam Jones, among others. After that, a dark time may be coming to Birdland. They really blew it this season.
The Orioles did not miss by a little bit, either. The 7-22 stretch with which they closed out the year put them ten games out of the second wild card spot at season’s end. They were 18 games out of winning the AL East and the O’s finished in last place in the division. This was not a case like last year, where the Orioles and fans could look back and lament a blown game or two. They ended the year a long way from relevance.
What’s striking about the way that this team sank to the depths is that they did so with the players they wanted to have on the roster. This was the starting rotation that Dan Duquette assembled.
Outside of Chris Tillman’s early season absence, which the team was able to largely ignore due to so many April off days and during which time the team went 19-10 anyway, they had the guys pitching who they had drafted, signed, and traded for to have them pitching for the O’s.
Bad luck injuries did not force them into a weak second or third string. No. It was the first string guys who were, as a unit, the worst. Since around the All-Star break, if not earlier, Duquette was giving media interviews left and right in which he would say, “I know that our veteran pitchers are capable of pitching better.” Perhaps he was right about that - but they weren’t capable of it in 2017 for the O’s.
What are they going to do about this? There are two pieces of good news. The first is that Duquette is aware that it was a problem. That’s a very, very small thing to praise, of course, akin to praising a child for not crapping in his pants. But if he crapped in his pants yesterday and he didn’t today, you’re getting somewhere. The only problem is if tomorrow ends up being like yesterday.
The second piece of good news is real good news. It’s been mentioned before and will be mentioned again as hot stove season approaches and kicks off. Four of the six pitchers who started the most games for the Orioles are about to be free agents, assuming that Wade Miley’s 2018 option is declined. Those four pitchers happen to be the same four who had the worst ERAs for the team this year.
Duquette appeared on the MASN broadcast early in the O’s final game of the season and addressed this elephant in the room. Although he engaged in some of his standard Duquettian question-dodging by talking up Gabriel Ynoa and Miguel Castro, he was as frank as he’s ever going to be in acknowledging the O’s need at least two starters from elsewhere, ideally one lefty and one righty.
The O’s don’t have to build a new rotation entirely from scratch. Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman gave plenty of reason to believe that they will be fine for next season. Adding or finding three starting pitchers is not an easy task, but as he pointed out on the air, it’s something the O’s have managed to do before in his tenure.
Consider the state of the starting rotation when Duquette arrived in Baltimore. We were all still operating under the Andy MacPhail-led delusion that arms would be grown and bats would be bought, and that “the cavalry” of Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, and Chris Tillman would be coming to save the Orioles.
Other luminaries who started 10+ games for the 2011 O’s included Alfredo Simon, Brad Bergesen, and Tommy Hunter. That’s what was here when Duquette took over. The 2012 O’s, the first where he was in charge, were able to find success despite Tillman being the only one of the cavalry to ever be a successful starting pitcher for the Orioles.
Duquette pulled this off with a series of under-the-radar moves. Wei-Yin Chen came over as a free agent from Japanese baseball. They found Miguel Gonzalez on the scrap heap. And let’s not forget about Jason Hammel, whom the O’s were able to acquire for Jeremy Guthrie in a move that was a head-scratcher at the time but worked out great.
When Duquette says they’ve done it before, he’s not wrong! That’s what he was able to do in an offseason where he didn’t have much in the way of financial flexibility. It was an impressive feat and one that deserves more credit than it currently receives.
That’s not to say that every Duquette move is a winner. After all, it was Duquette who signed Ubaldo Jimenez and Duquette who traded for Wade Miley and Jeremy Hellickson. What’s more, it was under Duquette that Zach Davies was given away for Gerardo Parra and Parker Bridwell was given away for nothing. He or someone he trusts arrived at the conclusion that these were good moves to make.
Each of the signings and acquisitions was a differing level of disaster. The 2017 O’s paid the price for that.
The O’s will have some financial flexibility to add to their pitching staff through the free agent market this offseason, but they’re going to need some better judgment than they’ve shown in recent years. If they don’t, then the 2018 Orioles will be headed towards the same failure - or worse - than this year’s team did.