6 Moves to Fix the Baltimore Orioles Before 2015
I know what you're thinking.
"Fix" is a silly word to use for a team that won the American League East by 12 games last year, clubbed more than 200 home runs for the third consecutive season and swept the Detroit Tigers in the American League Division Series.
Still, after losing Nelson Cruz, Andrew Miller and Nick Markakis to free agency and with Delmon Young possibly on the way out as well, the O's have some work to do if they want to compete for another division crown in 2015.
In many regards, they're already way behind. The Blue Jays, Yankees and Red Sox have already made major splashes, bringing big names like Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin, Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval into the division, not to mention lesser but impactful players like Michael Saunders, Didi Gregorius and Marco Estrada.
Luckily, we haven't even entered into 2015 yet, so there's plenty of time for the O's to make moves of their own. Also working in Baltimore's favor is the fact that it has Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter pulling the strings.
The duo swept Baseball America's manager and executive of the year honors, earning rave reviews for their work with a roster that endured several maladies in 2014, including season-ending injuries to cornerstones Matt Wieters and Manny Machado and the disappointment that was Ubaldo Jimenez.
Here are six fixes—easy to not-so-easy—that could set the Orioles on a similar path back to the playoffs.
Sign Colby Rasmus to a One-Year Deal
As content as the O's seem opening up spring camp with Dariel Alvarez and Mike Yastrzemski competing for the job in right field, it makes the most sense for the team to bring in an established player to compete for the everyday gig.
Free agent Colby Rasmus might not fit that bill exactly, but he would be a good fit in Baltimore nonetheless.
Just 28 years old, Rasmus is only a career .246 hitter, but believe it or not, he's 44th among active players with 23.6 at-bats per home run. That's right—he clubs long balls at a greater frequency than Chase Utley, Hanley Ramirez, Andrew McCutcheon, Robinson Cano and Baltimore's own Adam Jones.
While one can argue he's been in decline since his career year in 2010, he did hit 23 homers in 2012 and another 22 in 2013—in the American League East no less.
Signing Rasmus would make up for some of the power lost when Nelson Cruz bolted for Seattle, and while he's not what one would call an asset on defense, he's played mostly center field throughout his career, so making a transition to either left or right field would be an easy one.
Prior to the 2013 season, Rasmus likely would have been out of the O's reach. But after a campaign in which his batting average slumped to .225 and he racked up strikeouts in 36 percent of his at-bats, he could be a late addition that wouldn't cost Baltimore much more than Cruz did last year.
A one-year-deal in the $9-10 million range should be enough to lure Rasmus to Baltimore, and with a bounce-back year of say, a .250/.335/.480 line with 25 homers and 75 RBI while seeing time in multiple outfield spots and as the designated hitter, he could be looking at a long-term deal to stick around for a while.
Re-Sign Delmon Young and Give Him More at-Bats
At $1 million, Delmon Young was one of the biggest bargains in baseball last year.
Not only did he emerge as the top pinch hitter in baseball, but he came up with big hit after big hit. Once the O's advanced to the playoffs, he was even better, coming up with one of the biggest hits in the history of the organization in the final game of the ALDS against Detroit, as well as another crucial pinch-hit RBI against the Royals in the American League Championship Series.
Just imagine what he could do with more than 242 at-bats.
That number was the lowest Young had accumulated in a single season since his 30-game cameo with the Rays as a 20-year-old back in 2006. In every other season, he's notched at least 334, and in all but three of his nine years in the majors, he's topped 416.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, Young's 162-game stats look like this: a .283 batting average, 32 doubles, 16 home runs and 84 RBI.
So why aren't teams fighting over one another for his services?
Well, for starters, he offers literally no defensive value. Scratch that. He actually offers negative offensive value. Once an average fielder, the 29-year-old has ballooned to 240 pounds and has shed any semblance of gracefulness in the field that he once had.
For a team looking for a full-time DH, though, it doesn't get much better than Young.
Had he earned 574 at-bats in 2013, which was his annual average from 2007 to 2012, his line would have been up there with the top designated hitters in the AL who received north of 500 at-bats:
|Billy Butler||Kansas City||549||57||149||32||0||9||66||41||96||.271||.323||.379|
While it will likely cost more ($2-4 million on a one-year deal) to bring back Young this time around, the O's should sleep well at night knowing he'll have more to do this year, thereby justifying the salary increase.
Hire Jeff Manto as Hitting Coach
Manto seems to be the front-runner for the hitting coach position, and he has his recent work with top prospects Christian Walker and Dariel Alvarez, both of whom enjoyed career years in 2013, to thank.
In addition to being the only in-house candidate the Orioles have interviewed for the position, Manto is also the only one with ties to the franchise. The 50-year-old had the best year of his career in his lone season with Baltimore, slugging 17 home runs back in 1995.
He went into coaching after retiring after the 2000 season and served as the hitting coach for the Pirates from 2006 to 2007, helping foster the careers of Jason Bay, Freddy Sanchez and Jose Bautista.
He also served with the White Sox from 2012 to 2013, and in his first year, Chicago finished third in the American League with 211 home runs. His second saw a dramatic drop in nearly every offensive category, although by then the Sox were fielding a team full of aging veterans and free-swingers that included Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, Alejandro De Aza, Dayan Viciedo, Jeff Keppinger and Tyler Flowers.
Manto was relieved of his duties after the 2013 season and caught on with the Orioles as their minor league hitting coordinator. In addition to Walker and Alvarez, hitters who blossomed under the watchful eye of Manto include Chance Sisco, Drew Dosch, Trey Mancini, Glynn Davis, Mike Yastrzemski and Niuman Romero.
He did an even better job of preparing minor leaguers who were pressed into service at the big-league level, such as Caleb Joseph and Steve Clevenger.
If Manto assumes the role of hitting coach, he'll have plenty to work with. While Cruz and Markakis may be gone, he'll still have Matt Wieters, Manny Machado, J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones and Steven Pearce to mentor.
Trade Miguel Gonzalez and Brian Matusz to Colorado for Corey Dickerson
The departure of Nick Markakis dealt another blow to an Orioles outfield that has been looking for a permanent left fielder for the past five years. While it seems an easy fix to plug one of the holes with Steve Pearce, I'm sure the O's would love to add someone a little more athletic to one of the outfield spots to lessen the pressure on Adam Jones in center.
Enter Corey Dickerson.
According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the rumor on the street is that the Rockies have received a massive amount of interest in the 25-year-old, but that they would have to be completely blown away by the offer in order to even consider dealing him.
Luckily, Baltimore has two guys who are expendable and desirable in left-handed reliever Brian Matusz and right-handed starter Miguel Gonzalez.
Don't get me wrong—both were excellent additions to the squad in 2013 and 2014, but with Kevin Gausman likely to join the rotation permanently some time in 2015, the O's now have six guys for five spots. In the bullpen, Matusz is a valuable weapon, but he might be even more valuable as a bargaining chip, especially for a team that sees him as a starter.
The O's could put together a package anchored by those two—both bona fide, proven Major Leaguers—and add some enticing prospects, like lefty Tim Berry and first baseman Christian Walker, who both ranked among the team's top 10 prospects, according to Baseball America.
In return, they would get an everyday left fielder who posted a .312/.364/.567 line in 131 games last season and has an impressive combination of power and speed.
To replace Matusz in the bullpen, the O's have a bevy of young pitchers who have earned a shot at the major league level, as well as Logan Verrett, the team's most recent Rule V draftee. He's not a lefty like Matusz, but Showalter has never been partial to lefty vs. lefty matchups anyway, instead favoring player vs. player.
Convert Mike Wright and Branden Kline to Relievers
Anyone who watched the Birds battle the Tigers in the ALDS and the Royals in the ALCS knows how valuable Kevin Gausman was out of the bullpen.
They say power arms are crucial to success in October, and in many regards it's true.
With Gausman expected to factor heavily into the rotation in 2015, it's time to start prepping some other young arms as bullpen fireballers. Luckily, the O's have two waiting in the wings in minor leaguers Mike Wright and Branden Kline.
Wright has been primarily used as a starter, despite doubts about his ability to survive at the big league level in that role, and for the most part he's thrived, utilizing a low-90s sinking fastball that generates ground balls at a Zach Britton-like rate.
In shorter outings, he could probably dial it up to 97-98 mph. That would make him a vital weapon out of the bullpen, one that could even find a long-term role with the club, a la Tommy Hunter.
Kline, on the other hand, has already had success as a reliever, albeit at the collegiate level. He too owns a killer sinking fastball that reaches the mid-90s, but his secondary offering, a slider, is much better than anything Wright has to offer. The development of his changeup has been slow, which has led many to believe he too might be destined for a late-inning role.
As former starters, both would be capable of multiple-inning relief, as well as an occasional spot start—something Baltimore shouldn't necessarily have to worry about with the stable of starting pitchers at the big league and Triple-A level approaching nearly a dozen.
By limiting their innings early on in the season, the O's could have two exciting relievers with fresh arms come September.
Take a Flier on Kris Medlen
It wasn't that long ago that Kris Medlen was one of the top young arms in baseball.
After alternating him back and forth between the bullpen and starting rotation, the Braves inserted the right-hander into the starting five for the final two months of the 2012 season, and the results were glorious.
Medlen made 12 starts and won nine while allowing just nine earned runs in 83.2 innings. He posted a ridiculous 84/10 K/BB and threw two complete-game shutouts.
He returned to the rotation the following season and went 15-12 with a 3.11 ERA over 197.2 innings.
The following spring, however, he was shut down with soreness in his elbow and in late March underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery. It should be noted this was the second time Medlen had the procedure, which stacked the odds even further against him returning to major league success.
Medlen should be ready to pitch again by spring training, although he could probably use some time to shake off the rust in the minors. The O's tried their hand at this kind of deal last year with Johan Santana and got bitten, but there's a lot more working in Medlen's favor—most notably that he's considerably younger (29) and has spent the majority of his career as a reliever.
Spending a few million on an incentive-laden contract could be a great move for the front office.
Opening Day Lineup
|#||Player||Pos||Age||2014 Salary||2014 Stats|
|1||Manny Machado||3B||22||$519,000||.278/.324/.431, 12 HR, 32 RBI, 2 SB, 2.4 WAR|
|2||Corey Dickerson||LF||25||$500,000||.312/.364/.567, 24 HR, 76 RBI, 8 SB, 3.4 WAR|
|3||Adam Jones||CF||29||$13,000,000||.281/.311/.469, 29 HR, 96 RBI, 7 SB, 4.9 WAR|
|4||Chris Davis||1B||28||$10,350,000||.196/.300/.404, 26 HR, 72 RBI, 2 SB, 1.8 WAR|
|5||Steve Pearce||RF||31||$700,000||.293/.373/.556, 21 HR, 49 RBI, 5 SB, 6.0 WAR|
|6||Matt Wieters||C||28||$7,700,000||.308/.339/.500, 5 HR, 18 RBI, 0 SB, 0.7 WAR|
|7||J.J. Hardy||SS||32||$7,000,000||.268/.309/.372, 9 HR, 52 RBI, 0 SB, 3.4 WAR|
|8||Colby Rasmus||RF||28||$7,000,000||.225/.287/.448, 18 HR, 40 RBI, 4 SB, 0.9 WAR|
|9||Jonathan Schoop||2B||23||$500,500||.209/.244/.354, 16 HR, 45 RBI, 2 SB, 1.5 WAR|
|1||Delmon Young||OF/DH||29||$1,000,000||.302/.337/.442, 7 HR, 30 RBI, 2 SB, 0.8 WAR|
|2||Ryan Flaherty||OF/IF||28||$512,500||.221/.288/.356, 7 HR, 32 RBI, 1 SB, 1.1 WAR|
|3||Caleb Joseph||C/1B||28||$500,000||.207/.264/.354, 9 HR, 28 RBI, 0 SB, 1.2 WAR|
|4||David Lough||OF||28||$510,500||.247/.309/.385, 4 HR, 16 RBI, 8 SB, 1.6 WAR|
Opening Day Rotation
|#||Player||Pos||Age||2014 Salary||2014 Stats|
|1||Chris Tillman||RHP||26||$546,000||13-6, 3.34, 34 GS, 207.1 IP, 150/66 K/BB|
|2||Wei-Yin Chen||LHP||29||$4,072,000||16-6, 3.54, 31 GS, 185.2 IP, 136/35 K/BB|
|3||Bud Norris||RHP||29||$5,300,000||15-8, 3.65, 28 GS, 165.1 IP, 139/52 K/BB|
|4||Ubaldo Jimenez||RHP||30||$11,250,000||6-9, 4.81, 22 GS, 125.1 IP, 116/77 K/BB|
|5||Kevin Gausman||RHP||23||$502,500||7-7, 3.57, 20 GS, 113.1 IP, 88/38 K/BB|
|1||Zach Britton||LHP||26||$521,500||3-2, 1.65, 71 GP, 37 SV, 76.1 IP, 62/23 K/BB|
|2||Darren O' Day||RHP||32||$3,200,000||5-2, 1.70, 68 GP, 4 SV, 68.2 IP, 73/19 K/BB|
|3||Tommy Hunter||RHP||28||$3,000,000||3-2, 2.97, 60 GP, 11 SV, 60.2 IP, 45/12 K/BB|
|4||T.J. McFarland||LHP||25||$505,000||4-2, 2.76, 37 GP, 0 SV, 58.2 IP, 34/13 K/BB|
|5||Logan Verrett||RHP||24||N/A||11-5, 4.33, 28 GS, 162.0 IP, 119/34 K/BB*|
|6||Brad Brach||RHP||28||$509,500||7-1, 3.18, 46 GP, 0 SV, 62.1 IP, 54/25 K/BB|
|7||Ryan Webb||RHP||28||$1,750,000||3-3, 3.83, 51 GP, 0 SV, 49.1 IP, 37/12 K/BB|
* denotes minor league stats
All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.