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The Orioles must improve their defense to give young starters a fair shake

Baltimore has two open rotation spots to be filled by the organization’s young pitchers. To give the starters the best chance of success, they must sure up their defense.

MLB: Houston Astros at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Now that one of the largest free agent chips has fallen, the baseball world has a better understanding of what the top of the pitching market looks like. The Nationals have signed starter Patrick Corbin to a six-year, $140 million deal.

The price Washington had to pay for the 29-year-old All Star has turned some heads, but absolutely no one was surprised that Baltimore wasn’t in the mix. The Orioles will not be making a big splash in free agency, and they might not dip their toes into the pitching pool at all.

Dylan Bundy, Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb are the only certainties for the 2019 starting rotation. Baltimore may kick the tires on a veteran arm or two, but the club will be turning over a significant number of starts to young, developing arms.

Road bumps are to be expected, but Baltimore wants to learn everything about the pitchers that it already has in place. The only way to accomplish that task is to cut them loose and see what they bring to the table.

Executive Vice President Mike Elias and his staff will certainly be tweaking whatever pitching development strategies were already in place, but they need to find out if it’s too late for the players already at the big league level. Is a guy like David Hess an adjustment or two away from being a reliable option in the back end of a rotation, or is he a lost cause? We’re going to find out.

New coaches and applied analytics could make a difference for the young crop of starters, but the Orioles need to do everything they can to aid guys like Hess, Yefry Ramirez, Miguel Castro and any others. This starts with improving the defense.

Baltimore declined to tender Tim Beckham a contract, and have at least one hole to fill in the middle of the infield. Tyler Young recently broke down the Orioles shortstop situation, and you can check that out here.

Jonathan Villar can play the position, and do it justice, but the Birds may be penciling him in at second base. If the Orioles choose to take another route, they absolutely must higher an above average defender.

Free agent Jordy Mercer has provided a steady glove in Pittsburgh for the last seven seasons. His career .256 batting average won’t generate a lot of excitement, but his 2018 on base percentage of .316 rates well above Beckham’s .287. He won’t break the bank, and will not require a long term commitment.

Young also mentions Jose Iglesias, Freddy Galvis and Adeiny Hechavarria. Any of the group would be an upgrade.

While non-tendering Beckham did not come as a shock, it was a bit surprising that the Orioles did not bring back catcher Caleb Joseph. MLB Trade Rumors predicted it would take $1.7 million to retain Joseph’s services. Apparently, that was too rich for the Birds’ blood.

A veteran, defensive minded catcher would go a long way for a few young pitchers still looking to establish themselves. Joseph, who has been known for his defense, seemed to fit that mold. However, his numbers took a dip in 2018.

Joseph’s defensive runs saved fell to -1 last season, and he only threw out a third of potential base stealers. His perfect fielding percentage in two games at first base wasn’t enough to keep the Nashville native in town.

First base brings attention to the Chris Davis/Mark Trumbo/Trey Mancini log jam that everyone is familiar with by now. There’s no way of knowing how the Orioles will tackle that situation, but there should really only be one of the three on the field at any time.

The Orioles have a plethora of young outfielders approaching the major leagues, and they should be able to piece together some decent defenders. With Adam Jones tenure coming to a close, Mullins will patrol center. If Mancini stays in left field, the Orioles must sure up right field. If the Orioles take the free agent route, John Jay continues to play above average defense at a reasonable rate.

There’s a high chance that the Orioles try to stick it out with players already in the organization. They certainly want to evaluate fringe position players as well. Has Chance Sisco’s defense improved behind the plate? How does DJ Stewart’s glove look over a full season? The Orioles need the answers to these questions too. But if the results aren’t what they hope for, Baltimore’s young starters could pay the price.