You don’t need me to tell you that the soundtrack to this Orioles offseason so far has been a big “whomp, whomp” trombone noise.
The “big market/small market” team divide has never felt greater. The Mets will pay $111 million—about twice the Orioles’ entire payroll—in luxury tax penalties after their splurge this offseason. The Yankees dropped $360 million on Aaron Judge and $162 million on Carlos Rodón in the same offseason. And although next season’s schedule will be more balanced, so that the Orioles only play their AL East foes 14 instead of 19 times in a season, it’s hard not to look sideways and feel like everyone is getting nice things … but us.
“Liftoff” may still be coming—this team already has a really talented core—and there have been no obvious missteps. But is the team materially better as a result of free agent signings? Let’s see:
Additions: RHP Kyle Gibson, 2B/OF Adam Frazier, RHP Mychal Givens, C James McCann
Losses: RHP Jordan Lyles, 2B Rougned Odor, C Robinson Chirinos (probably)
After the Orioles stunned the baseball world last season with 83 wins and an above-.500 finish, all with a bottom-three payroll, it was natural for fans to expect more this offseason. So interest was piqued, to say the least, when general manager Mike Elias said in early October, “We are going to have the flexibility to invest in the major league payroll in a different way than I have done since I’ve been here.”
Since? Mostly quiet. Basically the team has just replaced the Odor/Lyles/Chirinos trio, while adding a valuable arm to the bullpen. (As of 11:30 pm last night, they added veteran catcher James McCann for a PTBNL.) Other than the veteran Mychal Givens (who I’m psyched to see back in black and orange), calling these “replacement-level” signings is about exactly right:
· Kyle Gibson’s $10 million per season is Jordan Lyles’ $11 million expected club option for 2023 minus the $1 million buyout. Per Bleacher Report, from 2019-22, Gibson logged a 4.60 ERA; Lyles managed a 4.86 mark.
· Meanwhile, Adam Frazier on a one-year $8 million deal replaces “glue guy” Rougned Odor, who slashed an unimpressed .207/.275/.357 last season. With Seattle this season Frazier for Seattle was better but hardly earth-shattering, at .238/.301/.311.
Based on 2022 bWAR (counting Givens, although it’s not clear whose slack he’s picking up), that’s good for a +1.6 net difference.
Now, what about the rest?
Additions: RHP Kenley Jansen, OF Masataka Yoshida, RHP Chris Martin, LHP Joely Rodriguez, 3B/DH Justin Turner
Subtractions: SS Xander Bogaerts, RHP Nathan Eovaldi, LHP Matt Strahm, DH J.D. Martinez, OF Tommy Pham, RHP Michael Wacha, LHP Rich Hill
Net Swing (WAR): -9.6 (assuming they lose Wacha + Eovaldi + Hill)
Perhaps the best thing that can be said about the Orioles’ offseason is that it’s not the Red Sox’s offseason. People have praised them for signing former Orix Buffaloes slugger Masataka Yoshida on a five-year, $90 million deal. Also inking Justin Turner to a two-year deal to replace J.D. Martinez is nice, even if Turner is 38, and Martinez took less money to go elsewhere.
But outside that, this is a team that finished last in the AL East last season and so far this offseason, they’ve failed to resign Xander Bogaerts (he is off to San Diego), Rafael Devers (no progress on an extension), and they still haven’t filled the gaping holes in a starting rotation right now consisting of … Nick Pivetta?
The Sox will sign somebody to their rotation. But still, what they stand to lose is more than what they’re plausibly gaining in return.
New York Yankees
Additions: LHP Carlos Rodón, RHP Tommy Kahnle, OF Aaron Judge, 1B Anthony Rizzo
Subtractions: OF Andrew Benintendi, RHP Jameson Taillon, LHP Aroldis Chapman, DH Matt Carpenter, RHP Miguel Castro
Net Swing (WAR): +12.2 (+2.2 if you don’t count Judge as an addition)
The big baddies, the Evil Empire, the Death Star. Basically if the Yankees had done nothing but keep Aaron Judge (10.6 WAR all by himself last season), they would have still won the offseason. Instead, they kept him, brought back Anthony Rizzo (2.3 WAR), and signed one of the best starting pitchers on the market (Rodón). A starting rotation made up of Rodón, Gerrit Cole, Nester Cortes, Luis Severino and Frankie Montas is… enviably good.
The good news, for a fellow AL East competitor, is that the Yankees haven’t done much to upgrade a lineup that went freezing cold over stretches last season, and they’re still possibly short a corner outfielder. And that the Orioles went a decent 7-12 against a Yankees team already featuring Aaron Judge in the middle of one of the greatest offensive seasons ever.
Additions: RHP Zach Eflin, RHP Santiago Suarez (prospect) RHP Marcus Johnson (prospect), OF Tristan Peters (prospect), LHP Keyshawn Askew (prospect)
Subtractions: RHP Ryan Yarbrough, RHP Corey Kluber, C Mike Zunino, OF David Peralta, OF Kevin Kiermaier, RHP JT Chargois, INF Xavier Edwards (prospect), INF Brett Wisely (prospect), LHP Brooks Raley
Net Swing (WAR): -1.3
The Rays haven’t exactly made a splash in free agency this offseason, but then again, it’s just not in the Rays’ DNA to make splashy free-agent signings. This winter, they inked Zach Eflin for three years, $40 million (a pretty big deal for this franchise), cut ties with a few key faces (pitchers Ryan Yarbrough and the Klubot, catcher Mike Zunino, outfielder Kevin Kiermaier), and traded Chargois and Raley for prospects. Technically, this leaves them in the red, as far as bWAR goes. It also does little to improve a lineup that had real trouble scoring runs last year.
But it’s the Rays, so don’t underestimate the team’s ability to turn over a roster and sustain a high level of performance with a new crop of prospects. Besides, their rotation should be in good shape now, with Tyler Glasnow and Shane Baz expected to be healthy after missing large parts of last season, alongside Eflin, Drew Rasmussen, and breakout stars Shane McClanahan and Jeffrey Springs.
Tampa Bay still needs to acquire a bat or two, but they haven’t really lost a step.
Additions: RHP Chris Bassitt, OF Kevin Kiermaier, LHP Adam Macko (prospect), RHP Erik Swanson, RHP Anthony Bass
Subtractions: RHP Ross Stripling, OF Raimel Tapia, OF Jackie Bradley Jr., OF Bradley Zimmer, OF Teoscar Hernández
Net Swing (WAR): +3.3
The losses of Ross Stripling and Teoscar Hernández—the latter worth 2.8 bWAR last season, shipped off to Seattle for relief pitcher Erik Swanson and a pitching prospect—is the biggest hit to Toronto’s core. Kevin Kiermaier (a one-year, $9 million deal) isn’t a Hernández replacement. But other than that, the Blue Jays have improved on what they already had, signing former Mets starter Chris Bassitt (3.2 bWAR, 3.42 ERA in 181 innings), and re-signing Anthony Bass, solid in relief for them last season.
Add better pitching options to a rotation featuring a healthy Hyun Jin Ryu, and complement it with an offense led by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (it’ll be interesting to see if he has a bounceback 2023 after a lackluster year), and Toronto is, on balance, slightly more dangerous than they were before.
The AL East has been, and continues to be, scary, a study in team contrasts and extremes. But there’s probably been more sound and fury about all the other teams’ free agent signings than is warranted. The big additions boil down to basically three starting pitcher deals: Rodón to the Yankees, Eflin to the Rays, Chris Bassitt to the Blue Jays. Meanwhile, the small-market Orioles have taken a few tiny steps forward with a trio of small but solid signings. For all the quiet in Baltimore and the excitement elsewhere, for now, the AL East figures to look a lot like it did in 2022.