One might be forgiven, with spring training now less than one month away, for having the impression that the Orioles don't quite know what they're doing this offseason. More than two months after the offseason began, not only have the Orioles not moved forward, the unfortunate injury to Zach Britton means that they have gone backward compared to where they were when the season ended.
The barrage of stories that recur across the Orioles beat crew only reinforce this idea. You can't sneeze without running into a story about converting some reliever to a starter, a genre of article that includes the likes of Jimmy Yacabonis, who has been exclusively a reliever in a professional career that dates to 2013.
With the Orioles having all of two spots of their starting rotation solidified, it would be good to know that they are aware of this fact and planning to do something about it. Miguel Castro may not be the answer. Yacabonis almost certainly isn't. With Dan Duquette apparently ruling out signing any starting pitcher who will get more than three years, it seems that the free agent market may not be, either.
Another name who gets tossed around sometimes, prospect Hunter Harvey, shouldn't be, though beat writers continue to signal that the Orioles may be tempted, despite Harvey never pitching above Low-A Delmarva and never throwing more than 87.2 innings in a professional season. It's almost unbelievable.
Add into that the way the Orioles blundered into the Manny Machado trade discussions, when they were apparently caught off guard by a few of the starting pitchers they were actually willing to sign instead signing elsewhere for more money than the Orioles expected them to receive.
For a brief few days, the Orioles appeared to see the writing on the wall and take calls about Machado, but those discussions went nowhere and have still gone nowhere. Taken all together, it is truly difficult to find the grand design in what they are going to do to get better this season.
It would be the pinnacle of folly to charge into the 2018 season with the team as it is currently constructed. Pretending that the Orioles might patch together a competitive rotation with the two guys they have plus a pack of unheralded pitchers is not OK.
Just imagine if the Orioles threw up their hands and walk into Opening Day with Gabriel Ynoa, Castro, and Rule 5 pick Nestor Cortes in their rotation. It is too farfetched to be real. Yet unless something changes over the next six weeks, that seems to be what the Orioles are planning to do. If that is their plan, Orioles fans are in for a miserable season, so we can only hope that's not the plan.
What is the plan for Orioles success in 2018? A number of smart people work for the Orioles, all of whom are surely smart enough to be aware about the state of the starting rotation and the disappointing high-priced sluggers.
There must be some plan beyond hoping that the things that were bad about last year's team improve while the things that were good stay the same... and even if that bad plan WAS their plan, it’s probably not enough for the Orioles to have a successful season anyway.
The Orioles are not alone in moving slowly with the free agent market this offseason. For a variety of reasons, most teams seem to be wary of locking up players to big dollar deals. The biggest-spending teams are trying to stay under the luxury tax. Teams are looking towards a more-talented free agent class coming next season. Nobody wants to be the idiot handing out five years and $110 million to the next Jordan Zimmermann.
It is little comfort that other teams are moving slowly. They are more able to do so. A team like the Red Sox can wait out J.D. Martinez because they just won the division and nearly everybody is coming back. There are a number of teams that already know they will be bad in 2018 so why spend money on a big-name pitcher when they won't even win in year one?
If the Orioles placed themselves in this category by trading Machado after their 75-win campaign in 2017, that would be a sad development, but an understandable one. Winning is always the best outcome. If you can't do that, though, you can trade the players who will be free agents soon and collect for future winning seasons.
With their demands for two starting pitchers for Machado, the Orioles are trying to do this. They're just not trying very hard. Again, we must conclude that they think they're going to try to go for it in 2018, even though, as yet, they have done nothing other than make three Rule 5 picks. They're just going for it while trying to wait out the market for the best bargains.
These are not always compatible ideas. It is true that you can wait around for the last unsigned free agent and lure him in for a "bargain," but when those unsigned free agents are Ubaldo Jimenez or Yovani Gallardo-caliber players, that's not actually helping the Orioles at all. They were worse off for signing both of those guys. When you sign the guy nobody else wanted, you get the guy nobody else wanted.
Is the Orioles plan to do that again? It’s not an encouraging plan, though it is at least a plan - as long as it happens at all. If the Orioles go down that road, it would not all come together until after spring training starts, so it’s a plan that won’t seem to exist until a late date. For now, for all that they have shown, they might as well have no plan at all.
Even if the wait and see plan is what the Orioles are going to do, it won’t make for an exciting end of winter for Orioles fans, and it might not make for an exciting spring, either.