The 2017 Baltimore Orioles are a team with some evident flaws. But when the club refused to sell their stars at the non-waiver trade deadline at the end of July, it became quite clear that they were preparing to re-tool for 2018. Several big contracts will be coming off the books this winter, allowing the O’s to dive into the free agent and trade markets full bore, right? Nah, probably not.
These are the Orioles’ players with contracts expiring at the end of this season:
-Jeremy Hellickson ($17.2 million salary in 2017)
-Ubaldo Jimenez ($13.5 million)
-Wade Miley ($8.917 million in 2017, $12 million team option for 2018, $500k buyout)
-Vidal Nuno ($1.125 million)
-Chris Tillman ($10.05 million)
-Welington Castillo ($6 million in 2017, $7 million player option for 2018)
-J.J. Hardy ($14 million in 2017, $14 million team option for 2018, $2 million buyout)
-Craig Gentry ($850k)
-Seth Smith ($7 million)
-Ryan Flaherty ($1.8 million)
-Pedro Alvarez ($2 million)
-Ruben Tejada ($1.35 million)
-Paul Janish ($535k, retired already)
*based on salaries from Baseball Reference and Spotrac
All told, that would potentially be $84.327 million coming off the books in terms of 2017 salaries without accounting for the cost of buyouts, which would max out at $2.5 million total. That’s a lot of dough, but as is always the case, a lot of that money will go right back into the current roster.
Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Kevin Gausman, Tim Beckham, Brad Brach, Zach Britton and Caleb Joseph are all arbitration-eligible. All of them will be offered arbitration by the O’s. And all of them will get substantial raises. More than half of the budget could possibly be spent right there. Adam Jones even gets a $1 million bump in salary for 2018.
Of course, the Orioles should be having discussions, realistic or not, about possible contract extensions with Machado and Schoop this winter. If either one of them signs, it would be in excess of $30 million annually for the former and $15 million for the latter. Putting pen to paper on a long-term deal should be viewed as a major win for the organization, but it does not improve the team. Rather, it stabilizes, which is fine, but the Birds still have some big holes to fill.
Chief among those holes is the starting pitching. As it stands, only Gausman and Dylan Bundy will be carrying over from the 2017 rotation to the 2018 version. That leaves three spots open, which seems like an almost impossible void to fill in one offseason.
All of the insiders seems to feel that Tillman could make a return to Baltimore after what has been a disastrous contract year. Wherever he ends up, it will likely be on a one-year deal worth no more than he made in 2017 and since he already knows the coaching staff with the Birds, a return makes sense. Even still, that leaves two spots open and relatively little depth at Triple-A Norfolk.
To fill the final two spots, the O’s can look internally or explore what free agency and other MLB teams have to offer.
Internally, the club has two relievers that have impressed, Richard Bleier and Miguel Castro, and could be worth stretching out in the spring. Or they could go into the minor league catacombs and try out the likes of Gabriel Ynoa, Logan Verrett, Alec Asher or Jayson Aquino, although none of them are particularly exciting options. However, when was the last time the O’s had an ideal five-man rotation? Odds are that one of that group will get a few starts at the beginning of the season.
Free agent starters **gulp**
That fifth and final spot could be where the Birds head into free agency. After being burned by Jimenez’s poor performances following his big deal, it’s unlikely that they search for a multi-year option here, instead choosing to give their minor leaguers another season of development while adding a stopgap starter at the bigs. The full list of free agent starters can be viewed at Sportrac, but it is an uninspiring list for the Orioles interest level.
Top level guys like Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta and Alex Cobb are out of the question. Beyond them, it is a solid class of starters, including Marco Estrada, Michael Pineda and Miguel Gonzalez. Someone who could be perfect for Baltimore is CC Sabathia. The left-hander had a bounce-back season in 2017 (3.99 ERA) but as a 37-year-old with some injury concerns in the past, he may be available on a one or two-year pact.
A returning core
There are few decisions to make away from the rotation. The infield is set with Machado, Beckham, Schoop and Chris Davis the certain starters. If Castillo returns, he could split duty with Joseph behind the plate. If not, Joseph would be a fine starter with Francisco Pena as the backup until Chance Sisco is ready.
Same goes for the bullpen. Even if Britton is traded, the Orioles have Brach or Mychal Givens to close. The rest of the ‘pen will form around that. As with every MLB team, the relief core is an ever-evolving beast.
In the outfield, Adam Jones will be back patrolling center field, Joey Rickard should be the fourth outfielder and Rule 5 pick Anthony Santander has to stick around if the club wants to hold onto him. Trey Mancini and Mark Trumbo figure in somewhere as hybrid DH, corner outfield, first base options. That still leaves at least one spot open. Austin Hays, D.J. Stewart and Cedric Mullins have all impressed at Bowie this summer. One of them could make the leap. Hays has been the standout and would be the logical move, but he is also the youngest and the team may want to move him to Norfolk first.
Once again, that leaves the O’s searching for a possible stopgap, major league proven corner outfielder in free agency. Oh joy. MLB Trade Rumors has the full list. J.D Martinez and Jarrod Dyson stick out as exciting options, but they may be better off with someone like Andre Ethier or Melky Cabrera, players that could be willing to take a one-year deal. Better yet, give that money to Machado or Schoop and let one of the youngsters have a shot.
Prepare yourselves, Orioles fans. All signs point to the front office looking to make another run at the playoffs in 2018. But that does not mean they will spend a ton of money on big-time free agents this winter. These are the same Orioles and the same decision-makers. Expect more of the same, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Birds have made the playoffs every even year dating back to 2012, which could mean good things next summer.