Only a week or so away from pitchers and catchers flying south for the spring, baseball’s new favorite tradition of predetermined disregard for the Orioles is well underway.
Baseball Prospectus’ recognized and reputable PECOTA projections have pinned the Orioles for 74 wins in 2017, two wins above the Royals for the title of the American League’s second-worst team. Fangraphs’ Steamer model calculates the Orioles current roster as good enough for 79 wins, a respective 15 and 10 win deduction from 2016.
Not only do the formulas tabulate the Orioles will stink, but actual human people say it’s most to do with the Orioles complacent activity during the offseason.
Sports Illustrated wrote yesterday the Orioles “needed to make a bold move and instead treaded water”, while Bleacher Report gave the O’s a C+ for failing to plug enough holes. Even ESPN griped with the organization’s unwillingness to embrace a closing window of contention.
And you know, all of that is fine and reasonable.
It’s true the Orioles didn’t really do too much. In terms of splurging, the much anticipated 3-year, $37.5M re-signing of Mark Trumbo qualifies as the lone cannonball. Swapping Seth Smith for Yovani Gallardo was a nice move. Good, not great. Even so, thrift shopping a once-proven starter such as Gallardo does have its risks. Welington Castillo, with embraceable deficiencies, is a solid 98 wRC+ that answers with decent pop at a position asking too much of any man.
In Dan Duquette fashion, the front office didn’t bust out the driver on a risky par four, instead settling for the reliable three wood, nestling into the fairway. As seems to be forgotten far too often, the Orioles aren’t, and weren’t trying to make up for lost ground. They’re playing with a lead.
The Orioles are a good baseball team that happened to enter the winter months without many major gripes to be compromised. Replacing Matt Wieters, outfield defense, starting rotation depth and lineup versatility sat atop the offseason waiting list. As legitimate as such concerns are, the Orioles were never in a position to attack such needs with careful concern. Duquette never had the money to do anything, really.
Prior to any initial spending, the Orioles were already hampered by $96M in guarantees. MLB Trade Rumors projected the O’s arbitration-based spending to hover around $47M, putting a projected sum without any sort of move being made at over $143M. At such a premium, any deal Duquette would find himself contemplating was always going to punch through a budget ceiling the Orioles continue to break with caution.
So, with spots at catcher, in the outfield and designated hitter sought to be found, Duquette and an intimidating payroll had to be creative. Savvily and stealthy, Duquette succeeded.
Essentially a payroll trade for two players in the final year of their respective deals, Smith’s acquisition for Gallardo didn’t necessarily solve the defensive worries in right field, but added the kind of claim of annoyance only Hyun Soo Kim currently embraces. Granted he’s only going to play against righties (or better yet should), but Smith is a tough out.
Over the past three years, Smith has averaged a 123 wRC+ versus righties, and as an added bonus, Smith’s walk rate hasn’t wavered. His 11.5 BB% has maintained steady levels of consistency the Orioles have rarely benefitted. Rather than striking down any immediate sense of a player’s faults, Smith is a veteran player that brings a little bit of everything. Even as he’s aged.
Trumbo was expected to bring in more than his agreed upon 3-year, $37.5M after hitting 47 home runs a season ago, but he didn’t. Sensing blood, Duquette finally delivered what seemed to be a preconceived notion that Trumbo would be back all along. With reports of Trumbo’s demands gradually declining from $80M to around $50M before settling just under $40M, Duquette not only coaxed baseball’s reigning home run king back to Baltimore, but Trumbo may even have room to improve.
His first-half 143 wRC+ shielded his second-half 98 wRC+ shortcomings, but as our main man Alex Conway wrote, never has Trumbo struggled so mightily versus left-handers. While we can expect Trumbo to casually regress to some degree, an expected bump against lefties almost has to happen. At an average annual value of $12.5M, even a lack of defense won’t hamper Trumbo’s dollar value.
While some may point to Chris Carter’s recent 1-year, $3M deal with the Yankees as a counterpoint to Trumbo’s hardy contract, Carter isn’t guaranteed to see the same number of plate appearances as Trumbo. Carter also makes Trumbo look like Joey Votto in the strikeout department, so take that as you will.
The Orioles trust Trumbo to man the primary DH spot, and if the Orioles have any hopes of continuing to score runs, Trumbo was a must. Even if some of us, including myself, would have said no to the proposition only months ago.
As for Castillo, he’s essentially turned into Matt Wieters without being named Matt Wieters. At only $6M for a slightly better than league average offensive catcher, Castillo’s presence is a practical substitute. Though his framing metrics aren’t ideal, his abilities to block and throw have always stood up. Like I said, he’s Wieters without being able to hit left-handed.
Again, we aren’t talking about world-burning acquisitions. But were we ever really expecting anything of the sort? Really? Like, are you sure? If anything, this offseason honed a focus on the idea that the O’s, as the old saying goes, like their guys.
Manny Machado is the best player I’ve seen in my adult years wear an Orioles uniform, and we’re looking at a player who accounted for a 129 wRC+ in spite of a 58-point drop in wOBA over the second half of last season. Chris Davis played most of the 2016 season with a dislocated left thumb, and still played in 157 games with 38 home runs. It’s safe to say his 111 wRC+ would have been a bit higher had the more important hand on the bat not caused pain after every swing and contact of the baseball.
Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy won’t be able to singlehandedly carry whatever Ubaldo Jimenez and Wade Miley show up on any given day. But it isn’t hard to figure Gausman is deserving of more recognition (and I’m tired of writing about it), while Bundy’s promising pitch tunnel numbers from Baseball Prospectus should help solidify his narrative.
The Orioles didn’t do much because they didn’t really need to do much. We can nitpick at certain things, but under the constraints of money and realistic attainment, Dan Duquette delivered good baseball players to an already good team. I’m excited, more so than a season ago.
Psssh. And we didn’t even mention Robert Andino...