The Orioles entered the offseason with more questions than they had answers. Currently the Orioles only have 2 starting pitchers on their roster, Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman (4 if you look at their depth chart, but they are fillers at the moment). The way their pitchers performed last year, you could argue that those 2 are all they had anyway. This offseason will have a major impact on the franchise as they have to decide whether it is time to tear down and start a rebuild or to slightly reload and make a serious push to become a contender. The severity of this decision is buried deep in the fact that after this upcoming season the following members of the Orioles will be no longer under contract: Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Zach Britton, Brad Brach, Buck Showalter, and Dan Duquette. That is their starting center fielder and heart and soul of the team, their starting third baseman and superstar, their dominant closer, their strong set up man and backup closer, Manager, and General Manager. This leaves the Orioles with a decision; do they rebuild or keep trying to contend? We got a peek into their mindset this past season when faced with a similar decision at the trading deadline, when they elected to buy and not sell by acquiring Jeremy Hellickson and Tim Beckham. Let’s take a look at both options in regard to how the Orioles can have a successful offseason in which ever path they choose.
If the Orioles wish to have a successful offseason that will set themselves up for contention, they need to focus foremost on a few things. They need pitching, pitching, pitching, and more pitching. They ranked 27 out of 30 teams last year in team ERA with a 4.97. The combined ERA of just their starting pitching was 5.70. The Orioles relievers ERA was a combined 3.93. We know where the main issue lies. If the Orioles wish to be taken seriously as contenders next season they need to spend money on quality starting pitching and not bargain bin shopping at the start of free agency for the leftovers. They do not need to sign Yu Darvish or Jake Arrietta to have a successful offseason, and based off their past history, it is almost a given they will not even try to. Instead they need to sign at least 2 of the starting pitchers in the second tier, such as Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn, Jason Vargas, Tyler Chatwood, Jamie Garcia, or Andrew Cashner. Any of those pitchers would be a vast improvement over anyone the Orioles trotted out there last season. For the fifth spot, expect the Orioles to kick the tires again on Chris Tillman on a 1 year deal to see if last year was an outlier or if that is the new normal for Tillman. A Miguel Gonzalez reunion could be a nice way to round out the rotation as well. They could always test out Miguel Castro in a starting role after he came up and performed admirably in the long man role in ‘17.
One other area of concern the Orioles should try to improve on in the off season is plate discipline. Overall the team ranked 8th in the league in batting average but when it came to OBP (on-base percentage) the Orioles ranked 27th out of 30 teams with an OBP of .312 which was below the league average of .324. This could go a long way towards making their offense more imposing, as they ranked 5th in home runs but just 16th in runs driven in. An increase in men on base will lead to more runs which could help relax a pitching staff that has been struggling. The offense last year struggled with the strikeouts, striking out the 8th highest amount of times while they walked the second fewest (2 more walks than the Royals). Let’s compare the strikeouts and walks to the two teams who were just in the world series. The Astros as a team struck out less times than any other team while leading the league in OBP. The Dodgers were walked more times than any other team. Odds are the Orioles will not be looking for solutions to this problem outside the organization in terms of free agency and would be something the players need to change in their approach at the plate.
Another thing that the Orioles need to decide is if they are contending just for 2018 or if they wanna contend for the future also. They would need to start by planning to either resign Dan Duquette and Buck to extensions or have a plan on the change of leadership at the top to help smooth the transition. They will also need a plan of what they’re going to do with their star player Manny Machado. If they wish to contend in 2018 and keep Machado, that tells me they believe they have a solid chance at resigning Machado at the end of the season. Losing Manny without recouping more than a draft pick would set the organization back years (unless Mike Trout is available in the draft again). Machado is the key to how the Orioles view themselves heading into the season and how they treat him will show where they truly view themselves on the rebuild vs contending spectrum.
Entering the final seasons of their contract, Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette more than likely have no intentions on rebuilding the team. However, their job is to do what is best for the team and if they decide that the best interest of the Orioles is to start a rebuilding phase, they should. If they choose to enter a rebuild mode, we will not be gage it’s success for a few years, but there are some things they can do to start the path in a successful direction.
Firstly, they should trade Manny Machado. They could trade Manny Machado now and still be contenders too, depending on what they receive in return. Odds are, though, any haul from a Machado trade will lead to future success and not immediate success. Any trade involving Machado should require a king’s ransom in return, with players potentially being ready to contribute to the Orioles next season as well is a little later down the line. As long as the trade nets Manny’s potential value, the Orioles should make out well for the future in any trade involving Machado.
The Orioles should also trade both Britton and Brach. As the postseason showed, you can never have too many quality relievers. While Britton could net a fairly decent return, Brach should net a quality prospect or at the very least quality depth for the organization in desperate need of it.
While it is not as necessary as the first 3, they could potentially look at trading Adam Jones too, as he has made it known that he has no plans to be apart of a rebuild. He wants to win. The Orioles would be doing themselves a disservice rebuilding and not trying to get some depth from a Jones trade.
So to recap, a successful offseason would entail one of the two actions from the front office: acquiring quality starting pitching or trading away the team’s star players. I fully expect the team to believe and act as if they’re on the contending side of the spectrum. They have the pieces on offense. Ask the players how they feel and you would probably get a similar response as Adam Jones, who said “I would not be an advocate to rebuild and all that stuff.” when asked by a reporter. “I’m only getting older. I want to win. I think you throw all your cards out there next year and see what you’ve got. Obviously, the All-Star break, the trade deadline and the waiver deadline are all significant dates to know where you’re at and where you stand, where you can either buy more or sell off and officially rebuild, but I don’t think you can mention that word ‘rebuild’ to Buck or Dan [Duquette] and them be too happy.”
I agree with him. The future is not a given. We expect baseball to continue after the 2018 season but it is not promised or guaranteed much like life, we have to live for the now. The Orioles will most likely aim to contend in 2018. Whether they do or not will be up to them and they choices and adjustments they make.
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