With the 2019 season mercifully coming to an end, the next phase of the Orioles rebuild is vastly approaching. Mike Elias, the Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations, has made it abundantly clear that this is going to take some time. Baltimore is going to take this thing step by step. The next step? Off-season roster moves.
The Orioles have plenty of holes to fill before they can boast a competitive roster. The most immediate need is, and will continue to be, pitching. Still, something tells me the Birds won’t solve that problem by locking down Gerrit Cole and Madison Bumgarner for the foreseeable future. Instead, the organization will take stock of the current roster, and decide how many of those players can help the Orioles moving forward.
All-Star hurler John Means has dominated the headlines this season, and rightfully so. The lefty settled down after a bumpy start to the second half, and he’s on pace to post a 3.50 ERA and a 1.130 WHIP. He may not take the ball on Opening Day in 2020, but he’s been head and shoulders above everyone else on the staff this season. He’s affordable, under team control, and going to be around as long as he continues to pitch anywhere near this level.
After Means, there should be four other starters. Instead, there’s just one giant question mark.
The Orioles made the decision to keep Dylan Bundy around past the trade deadline back in July. Sometime around the MLB winter meetings, Baltimore will ask itself once again whether it’s time to move on from the club’s top pick in 2011.
Our own Nick Cicere pointed out yesterday that Bundy hasn’t been as bad as you think this season. Cicere notes that even though Bundy’s average fastball has dipped to 92 MPH, and and his ERA sits above five once again, he may have been a bit unlucky this season. Bundy has thrown fewer four-seem fastballs this year (a wise decision with the lower velocity), and his whiff rate has hovered around a career high. He’s still throwing fastballs right down the middle, and still giving up homers because of it. Still, there’s been a few improvements that have not showed up in his 6-13 record.
The Orioles fetched a pair of lottery tickets for Andrew Cashner back in July, which leaves them with only Bundy and Alex Cobb left as veterans with anything close to a proven track record. Cobb made only three starts for Baltimore this season before having a season-ending surgery meant to relieve pain from a hip impingement.
Cobb, who pitched to a 3.66 ERA over 179 innings in his last season in Tampa Bay, struggled immensely during his first few months in Baltimore. However, he finished the second half of 2018 with a 2.56 ERA and 1.156 WHIP over his final 11 games. He carried a great deal of momentum into this season, only to have it cut short before the end of April.
Both Bundy and Cobb are under team control through 2021. While there’s a chance a team or two could be interested in the veterans, parting with either now would be selling extremely low. Potential will only carry a player’s value so far when a guy gives up homers at Bundy’s rate. Still, if Bundy never improves in Baltimore, his value will only decrease. Teams may be more likely to give something up for him now when they have more time to fix him.
Cobb not only has injury concerns, but he’s making a lot of money. Cobb will be entering the third year of a 4 year/$57 million deal. He’d have to show tremendous value in the first half for teams to even consider taking on that contract.
More than likely, both guys stay.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, the Orioles do need guys to actually take the mound next season. Entering the year with Means, Bundy and Cobb as the core really wouldn’t be all that much different than starting the year with a big three of Bundy, Cobb and Cashner. Of course, the goal is to improve from year to year, but the Orioles top pitching prospects are still a ways away. Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall will not be rushed to Baltimore.
Of the 16 players that started at least one game for Baltimore this season, those three figure to be the only sure things. Gabriel Ynoa will likely be back in the conversation, as could Asher Wojciechowski, Aaron Brooks or even David Hess. You have to squint pretty hard to see a big league rotation there.
The Orioles could explore the idea of signing a veteran to a one or two year contract. The team would not have to commit long term, and they would enter the deal hoping to flip the arm for a prospect or two down the road.
However, convincing a veteran to come play for a last place team in the AL East would take a legitimate offer. Will this team spend money on a player that might turn out, just to hopefully trade him for a few other prospects that could work out? They chose not to go this route last offseason, and there’s no way of knowing if they will alter the course this off season.
The Orioles will need to protect players from the Rule 5 draft this offseason, which requires a spot on the 40-man roster. This could chase anyone from Ty Blach, Wojciechowski, Brooks or other fringe starters from the roster. Keegan Akin could work his way into the rotation after a full year at Norfolk, but the Orioles high minors are extremely thin on arms.
There’s obviously no way of knowing what moves Baltimore will make this offseason. The Orioles will not be competing for the AL East title, but they’re reaching the point where they want quality Major Leaguers on the field. Without much help coming from the farm, the Orioles could find themselves in a similar predicament to this season.