The World Series has ended, which means that actual news and business can start trickling out as the hot stove season ramps up. The beginning of the offseason, at least, will be a busy one for the Orioles, with ten players set to become free agents.
Those ten players are Chris Tillman, J.J. Hardy, Wade Miley, Jeremy Hellickson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Seth Smith, Welington Castillo, Pedro Alvarez, Ryan Flaherty, and Craig Gentry. Miley and Hardy have team options for 2018 that according to Roch Kubatko of MASN Sports are likely to be declined and Castillo has a player option for 2018 that is also likely to be declined.
That is four of the starting pitchers from last season, the starting shortstop, the starting catcher, a platoon corner outfielder, and two of the bench players for the majority of the 2017 season. Assuming that most of those players do not return, there will be a number of spots on next year’s roster that are going to look different.
Kubatko notes in the same piece referenced above that Tillman is likely the only player of that bunch to return. That is only if he’s amenable to a one-year contract with the team, where he might be reestablish his value if he actually pitches well. My guess is he is able to get a bigger commitment from somewhere else.
Combine the four soon-to-be-gone starting pitchers with the fact that Buck Showalter recently said in an interview on the B-More Opinionated Podcast that he would like the organization to be eight or nine starters deep. That means that the Orioles are going to have be going out acquiring lots of starting pitching options this winter.
According to recent reports, we should be expecting some bargain bin hunting for starting pitching as well. The Orioles will probably bring in around ten new guys, throw them at the wall, and see what sticks. If you want to see how bad that can go, simply look back at the 2017 starting rotation.
The corner outfielder spots left by Smith and Gentry are likely to be replaced in-house. The emergence of Austin Hays on the scene gives the Orioles one intriguing outfield option that could not be predicted two years ago. The same is true after a solid rookie campaign out of Trey Mancini who is, of course, actually a first baseman.
If all goes well with those two players, the Orioles could finally have found a decent solution in their outfield corners. They haven’t managed to do this yet in several tries since letting Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz depart following the 2014 season.
The catching position is a bit less certain. The Orioles could give over the reins to their pretty good prospect Chance Sisco, or let Caleb Joseph take a stab at being a starting catcher once again. Joseph excelled at times in that role at the plate, but has always been good behind the plate at throwing out runners and framing pitches. For example, Joseph was 13.1 framing runs above average last year.
Sisco held his own at the plate in Triple-A Norfolk and in ten games at the major league level. Like many hitters, Sisco was much better away from Harbor Park, a .664 OPS at home and a .809 OPS on the road. Sisco also continues to struggle with lefties at the plate. Against left-handed pitching last season he hit to only a .552 OPS compared to a .778 OPS against right-handed pitching. A platoon between Joseph and Sisco seems somewhat probable at some point during the 2018 season.
Replacing J.J. Hardy, one of the best defensive shortstops ever, will obviously be Tim Beckham who will have a chance to play shortstop everyday, with no one behind that he has to be concerned about taking his spot.
For the bench, I am surprised that no word of Ryan Flaherty returning appears to be out there at the moment considering the organizational love for him ever since he was a Rule 5 draft pick in the early days of Dan Duquette’s tenure. The Orioles may look for in house candidates to replace Flaherty or to go out and get a utility man.
The fourth outfield spot that was toggled through many players such as Alvarez and Gentry may go to Anthony Santander to start the season as he needs about 45 more days on the Orioles 25-man roster in order for the Orioles to retain his rights and the ability to option him to the minors for more development time.
Add all of that together and you get to the point where the Orioles have a decent chunk of money to spend. However, they will need to bring in quite a few players to fill all the holes left by the—potentially, for now—ten pending free agents.
The focus will be starting pitching, because well, that’s obvious. Either way the Orioles are going to look different in 2018 and since it’s Manny Machado’s last year under contract, let’s hope it’s the good kind of different.