Monday, November 03, 2014

Looking Forward

Now that the World Series is over and I've had a little time to digest the way the season ended I think I can finally take a look at the Orioles offseason. Here is who we have under contract for 2015:

Guaranteed contracts

  • Dylan Bundy (2015)
  • Wei-Yin Chen (2015)
  • JJ Hardy (2017)
  • Ubaldo Jimenez (2017)
  • Adam Jones (2018)
  • Darren O'Day (2015)
  • Ryan Webb (2015)
  • Suk-Min Yoon (2016)
Arbitration Eligible players
  • Zach Britton
  • Chris Davis
  • Alejandro De Aza
  • Ryan Flaherty
  • Miguel Gonzalez
  • Tommy Hunter
  • Brian Matusz
  • Bud Norris
  • Steve Pearce
  • Chris Tillman
  • Matt Wieters
Notable Free Agents
  • Nelson Cruz
  • Nick Hundley
  • Nick Markakis
  • Andrew Miller
  • Delmon Young

In a perfect world the team would bring back all of these players, but this is not a perfect world so let's look at priorities. I said before the regular season ended that to my estimation resigning Hardy was bigger than anything else up to and including resigning Markakis not only because of Manny Machado's injury history but because it was quite possible that Hardy would've been signed by the Yankees (I don't know if you heard because it flew under the radar, but NY's SS retired after the season), a move that would've weakened the Orioles while strengthening a divisional opponent. Luckily Dan Duquette saw the logic in my stance and signed Hardy before the ALCS so that is one less thing to worry about.

There has been talk that the team and Markakis are in discussions on a 4 year deal in the neighborhood of $48M, which I think is fair market for a player of Markakis' caliber. I am confident that they will get it done, although nothing is certain. There was also talk that the O's have been negotiating with the agents for Nelson Cruz and Nick Hundley. Cruz doesn't surprise me at all even though I think he will wind up signing with another team I expect the team to give him a qualifying offer, getting a 1st round compensatory pick when he leaves. Since they gave up a 2nd round pick to sign him last offseason that is a pretty fair trade and will help cushion the blow of the 1st round pick in the 2014 draft they gave up to sign Jimenez. I think Andrew Miller is gone, possibly back to Boston but likely heading to the NL where my money is on the Dodgers or Cubs. I think they resign Young either as a platoon w/David Lough in LF / DH if they non-tender De Aza and don't resign Cruz or as a situational DH / pinch hitter extraordinaire if they do bring Cruz back. That leaves Nick Hundley.

When they traded for Hundley I thought it was an excellent idea. We had no place for Troy Patton, who had fallen into Buck Showalter's dog house after the amphetamine suspension in the offseason (sound familiar? This will all tie together in a moment) and when it was decided that Wieters needed the surgery it was a good fit. Patton would've been designated for assignment unless he agreed to stay in the minors so basically the team got a replacement part for a part that didn't fit anymore. So with Wieters on track to return in 2015 and with Caleb Joseph and Steve Clevenger on the 40 man roster why would they even entertain bringing Hundley back? Follow me on this:

While they have said all the right things it is pretty clear that Duquette and Buck Showalter are not happy with Chris Davis' suspension and what it did to the team down the stretch / in the playoffs. Both Davis and Wieters are in their final year of arbitration eligibility and are scheduled to be free agents after 2015. Until this season I thought the Orioles would try to sign Davis to a long term contract and say goodbye to Wieters. Now I'm not so sure. Clevenger, Joseph, and Pearce all have 1st base listed as one of their positions. No one knows yet how Wieters is going to return from Tommy John surgery but before Davis' breakout season there had been talk of moving Wieters to 1B in the near future to save his knees and possibly allow his production to increase / maximize his value. I would not be surprised to see Davis traded, or if he is not traded to see either Clevenger or Joseph (or both) in the minors next year rotating between catcher and 1B and DH (and don't forget 1B Christian Walker is going to be back at Norfolk after having a cup of coffee with the Orioles after Davis' suspension) and Wieters taking reps at 1B during his rehab and spring training. Even though we can expect Pearce's offense to regress at least a little bit in 2015 he played a decent 1B, and he is the kind of player that Showalter covets because of his versatility.

Payroll is definitely going up and that's before the arbitration players are signed (the Orioles have done a good job of avoiding the nastiness that is the arbitration process) and there are some places that the team may need to make a move or two. Currently they have six starting pitchers (Jimenez, Tillman, Chen, Gonzalez, Norris, and Kevin Gausman) plus Bundy who is coming back from Tommy John surgery and some arms in the minors who are knocking on the door in Mike Wright & Tim Berry. Tillman isn't going anywhere unless contract talks break down completely. Jimenez isn't going anywhere because no one will take him right now. The team has Gonzalez under control for the next 3 years. Gausman isn't even eligible for arbitration until 2017 and won't qualify for free agency until 2020 so I cannot see a way where he would be gone. That leaves Chen and Norris as candidates for a trade. Norris would get a better return but if either of them are moved my money is on Chen. Norris has a bulldog mentality that you could see rubbing off on Tillman and Gausman. It reminded me of Rick Sutcliffe's effect on Mike Mussina and Ben McDonald back in the early 90s. The outfield is crowded with or without signing Markakis and / or De Aza, but I wouldn't expect both of them back next year unless the team doesn't resign Cruz OR Young and doesn't bring anyone else in to fill the DH role, in which case Pearce is the likely DH with Wieters getting time there while he recovers and players like Jones, Markakis, and Davis getting time there to rest while keeping their bats in the line up. Lough had a horrible start to 2014 but he did come around some so I expect him to get a fair shake at being an every day player at one of the OF positions, usually LF but filling in at CF & RF as needed. Flaherty will continue to be the super sub at all four infield positions as well as OF if needed. The hope in the warehouse is that Machado's knee problems were the result of a flaw in both knees that the surgeries have corrected but until he plays a full season without knee problems there is no way of knowing, which makes Flaherty even more indispensable.

Knowing Dan Duquette he will make some moves that leave us scratching our heads and sign a few guys with ML experience to minor league deals. Some will work out, some won't. But if the last few years are any indication the Hot Stove League will be an interesting time for Orioles fans. At this point all we can do is sit back and see what happens.

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