Why the Baltimore Orioles Are Wise to Wait to Spend Big Later
Over the course of the offseason, Baltimore Orioles fans have hoped to see their favorite team improve through the free-agent and trade markets. The Orioles are a team with a strong core that could become a top team in baseball if that core is supplemented properly.
In short, though, the team has failed to improve on paper thus far, as it has lost multiple players to free agency and a salary dump, while adding just two guys (reliever Ryan Webb and outfielder David Lough) who project to be everyday players.
While some fans have called for the team to sign big-ticket guys, such as Shin-Soo Choo, only to see them scooped up off the market, I believe the Orioles are better off playing the waiting game when it comes to big contracts.
The Orioles need to do something to improve their team this offseason—that much isn't debatable. But they are capable of doing so without adding absurd amounts to their payroll, and they'd be smart to hesitate in doing so for the time being.
The O's should focus on smaller deals for now and wait on the larger ones. Here's why.
No Need to Overpay Free Agents at This Time
As I stated, the Orioles are a team with a strong core. Guys like Adam Jones, Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy, Matt Wieters, Manny Machado and Chris Tillman are the biggest anchors on the roster. The O's have plenty of star power to go around, and are only in need of complementary players to help round out the team.
It seems like every offseason the O's are connected to the biggest names out there, such as Josh Hamilton last offseason (according to Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports) and Shin-Soo Choo (pictured, right, again according to Morosi) this offseason.
The Orioles are actually better off not going all-out and signing a guy to a $100 million-plus contract because the team simply doesn't have that much in the way of financial resources. Sure, the O's aren't poor, but they also don't have the funds to pay huge deals like that AND spend what's necessary on other players to field a competitor. They need to spread the funds out.
Plus, if the O's really wanted to spend that kind of money, now wouldn't be the time to do it, but we'll get to that on another slide.
The talent that is left on the free-agent market currently isn't worth giant money, in my eyes. Giving a guy like Nelson Cruz $40 to $60 million or Ubaldo Jimenez around $50 million just doesn't make sense to me. Cruz has baggage as he was suspended for the final 50 games of the regular season in 2013 for PED usage, plus he isn't a great fielder, and Jimenez is too inconsistent—and those are just a couple guys the O's have been tied to this winter (per Morosi).
The free-agent class of 2013-14 has been overpaid. Heck, free-agent classes have been overpaid for years. There's no need for the O's to jump into a bidding war on a $100 million player, because how many of those guys are actually worth that kind of money?
The O's need to make some moves this winter, for sure, but they can make strong additions to their roster without breaking the bank or making lengthy commitments, such as to Bronson Arroyo or A.J. Burnett.
Future Contract Extensions
There's already a lot of star power on the Orioles roster. And like star power tends to do, it's only going to get more expensive.
The O's did the right thing with Adam Jones (pictured, left) and locked him up to a six-year, $85.5 million extension during the summer of 2012. That extension is a steal for a player with three All-Star appearances, three Gold Gloves and one Silver Slugger award, not to mention a strong clubhouse presence.
However, the team has a lot of players looking at free agency soon. J.J. Hardy and Nick Markakis come off the books after the 2014 season, and the O's have some tough decisions to make with those two.
Should they extend Hardy a few more years and hope that he doesn't decline, as he'll be 32 before the 2014 season ends? Or do they move Manny Machado back to shortstop and find a new third baseman?
With Markakis, the decision is even tougher as the outfielder has failed to live up to the expectations that came with the six-year, $66.1 million extension that he signed in January of 2009.
He has a $17.5 million mutual option for 2015 with a $2 million buyout if the club declines, and to be quite honest, the outfielder would have to have a hell of a season in order to have the O's agree to pay him $17.5 million next year. Of course, that doesn't mean the two sides couldn't work out another deal.
It doesn't get any easier after that, as both Chris Davis and Matt Wieters will be free agents after the 2015 season. There's no way the O's can afford both players while also fielding a competitive, well-rounded team, so look for those two to be heavily involved in trade discussions during the 2014-15 offseason as well as the trade deadline should the team be out of contention.
What's more, both players are represented by Scott Boras, who almost always takes his players to the open market, though there have been a few exceptions (Jered Weaver).
As both will likely command deals upward of $100 million (especially Davis if he continues to hit the way he did in 2013), it's quite possible the O's won't be able to hold on to either one unless they're willing to do what Weaver did and agree to a hefty hometown discount. But the team has to try to retain at least one and would be smart to flip the other for multiple pieces in a trade.
And of course, there's Manny Machado, who won't be eligible to become a free agent until 2019, but once he becomes eligible for arbitration in 2016, he'll get expensive in a hurry. The O's would be wise to sign him to an extension early and buy out his arbitration years much like the Tampa Bay Rays did with Evan Longoria in 2008, then worry about the big-money deal when the time comes.
The team will have to make sure it has some big money available for Machado, though.
Future Free Agents
Since the offseason is nearly over and a good number of free agents are off the table, the O's should focus on some lower-priced free agents who could help the club in order to keep their options open for future free-agent markets.
The 2014-15 crop of free agents is just as unappealing as the last few years have been, but there are some names on there that the O's may have interest in, for the right price, and could probably help the team.
Max Scherzer and James Shields (pictured) look to be the top two starting pitchers on the market, though Scherzer wants to remain in Detroit with the Tigers, according to Steve Kornacki of Fox Sports Detroit. And Shields could be a bit pricey for the O's, but he's AL East-tested, and if signed would easily be the best pitcher in the team's rotation as of now.
On top of that, there are the likes of Yovanni Gallardo, Justin Masterson, Jake Peavy, Wandy Rodriguez, Homer Bailey and the O's own Wei-Yin Chen set to hit free agency after 2014 (unless of course the O's pick up Chen's $4.75 million club option for 2015). I'm not saying all of those pitchers are perfect fits for the O's, but they're all definitely worth considering given their level of talent.
Billy Butler and Victor Martinez will each become free agents at the end of the 2014 season, and those two guys are players whom the O's have long coveted for their bats. And if the team decides to let J.J. Hardy walk and move Manny Machado back to shortstop, third baseman Chase Headley will be available, another player whom the O's have liked for a long time.
Outside of those players, there doesn't appear to be much else in the way of big-money guys who would fit into the Birds' needs. But the guys I listed above appear to be better options than most of the free agents left this offseason, in my opinion. Should the O's want to spend like that in free agency, they would be better served waiting until next offseason and focus on complementary players this offseason.