As the trade deadline approaches and the Orioles reckon with whether or not they are going to sell or buy (or both!) the mind can tend to wander. This season has been stuck in a malaise since early May and though the team has shown recent signs of life, it is more like a snake with no head twitching one last time.
In times like these I think about what could have been if some different decisions were made along the way. These are usually decisions that at the time seemed defensible, but right now seem like very poor choices.
According to Baseball Reference and their WAR calculation (bWAR) the triumvirate of Darren O’Day, Chris Davis, and Mark Trumbo have combined for a total of 1 bWAR thus far in 2017. That is $35.5 million of the Orioles payroll sucked up by three players who have combined for a total value of one below average player. It's even higher depending on how you calculate the deferred money in the Davis contract.
Well, the Orioles did not have to sign those three players. They could have instead re-signed three other of their free agents and had better results. Let’s say instead of O’Day, Davis, and Trumbo the orioles resigned Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller.
Those three players as of now in 2017 have combined for 4.2 bWAR. They are signed in 2017 for a grand total of $34.25 million, or $1 million than the three the Orioles did sign. That team is decidedly better than the current 2017 Orioles.
Could the Orioles have actually pulled this off?
This is the most important question for any counterfactual thinking we may find ourselves in. It’s fun to think about how much better the Orioles would be if they had better players, but if you want to get into specifics you have to figure out what it would have meant for the team at the time.
The biggest hurdle is that Davis and O’Day were free agents after the 2015 season and Trumbo was a free agent after the 2016 season. Cruz, Miller, and Markakis were all free agents after the 2014 season. Their combined salaries of $34.25 million would have ballooned the $118 million Opening Day payroll.
If the Orioles were going to re-sign those three players they would have had to made cuts elsewhere. Of course, there were many players on that 2015 team who had little to no positive impact, including Bud Norris ($8 million), Alejandro De Aza ($5 million, Tommy Hunter ($4.65 million), Steve Pearce ($3.7 million), Everth Cabrera ($2.4 million, Delmon Young ($2.25 million, Travis Snider ($2.1 million). All of the above players were off the team before the 2015 season ended.
However, realistically, all of them would not have been kicked out if the Orioles had only re-signed the three players people wish they had re-signed now. In my estimation, De Aza, Hunter, Cabrera, Young, and Snider all would not have been acquired or resigned if the Orioles resigned Miller, Cruz, and Markakis. That is only $16.4 million of 2015 salary.
However, let’s not give up our hopes yet. The next season, the Orioles resigned O’Day and Davis and their payroll jumped to nearly $148 million from the $118 million it was at in 2015. So, it is plausible that the money was around for a slightly larger payroll in 2015 than what the Opening Day roster constituted.
If you cut those five players salaries, replace them with minimum salary guys, and put Miller, Cruz, and Markakis on the 2015 Opening Day roster if comes out to a payroll of $135.85 million. Again, a plausible number considering the Opening Day payroll in 2016.
What would the team have looked like going forward?
Well, the 2015 team certainly would have been better if you cut off all of the bad parts of the roster and kept the good ones. O’Day and Davis would have still been around and in their free agent years. In 2015, Cruz posted 5.2 bWAR, Miller 2.2 bWAR, and Markakis 1.9 bWAR. They would have replaced basically the dreck on the 2015 roster. That’s possibly another division winner.
The 2016 team would have looked different without O’Day and Davis. It is unlikely they would have been able to resign either after arbitration raises to other players on the roster and Miller, Markakis, and Cruz on the roster.
It is still possible that the Orioles could have acquired Mark Trumbo. He was paid only $9 million in 2016 and seemed to be the replacement for Davis before Davis re-signed late in the off season. Davis and O’Day did not do much in 2016, so that team would have likely been much better as well.
The 2017 team, as already stated, would have certainly been better and likely without Trumbo because again of the arbitration raises to some players and the salaries of Markakis, Cruz, and Miller. This would have left a spot open for Trey Mancini to play first base everyday rather than being thrust into the outfield. The starting pitching on this team probably still dooms them, but the team is certainly of a higher quality.
The Cold Water
The truth is though, this scenario, while rosy, would not have played out as outlined. The repercussions of one move, let alone three, changing three years ago would have untold effects on the roster. It is fun to think about, fun to consider, but ultimately fruitless.
We are stuck with the Orioles we have and for our sake they better start playing a hell of a lot better if this season is going to be any more fruitful than all those words you just read.