Did the Baltimore Orioles improve, for the moment, by adding outfielder Dexter Fowler and right-hander Yovani Gallardo?
Did they improve enough to become a legitimate contender and to justify the draft picks they surrendered?
First, the particulars. On Tuesday, the O's inked Fowler to a three-year, $35 million deal, per ESPN's Buster Olney. And on Wednesday, they cemented a two-year, $22 million pact with Gallardo with an option that could bring it up to $35 million, per MASN's Roch Kubatko and MLB Network's Jon Heyman.
UPDATE (Thursday, Feb. 25, at 1:11 PM ET): In a shocking development, Fowler spurned the Orioles in favor of a one-year deal to return to the Chicago Cubs, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports (via Mark Gonzales of The Chicago Tribune):
Ken Rosenthal @Ken_Rosenthal
Dexter Fowler has re-signed with the #Cubs, per @MDGonzales. One year deal with mutual option.2016-2-25 17:36:24
(End of update)
Both deals had been churning through the rumor mill for some time, and Gallardo's was held up over concerns about the durability of his shoulder, per Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun.
Those concerns seem to have shortened the length of the deal from three guaranteed years. But Baltimore apparently decided Gallardo was fit enough to pull the trigger. As Encina noted, Gallardo averaged 191 innings over the past seven seasons, so the track record is there.
So are the stats: In nine seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers and Texas Rangers, Gallardo owns a 3.66 ERA and 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings. He'll slot at or near the top of an Orioles rotation that was counting on Ubaldo Jimenez as its No. 3 option, per MLB.com's depth chart.
Fowler, likewise, should provide a boost, as FanGraphs' August Fagerstrom outlined:
Fowler gives the Orioles a third outfielder, something they didn't previously have — Mark Trumbo doesn't count. And Fowler gives the Orioles a new leadoff hitter, one who should score plenty of runs batting in front of Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Chris Davis — because, if there's one thing Fowler does well, it's get on base. Not only does Fowler draw tons of walks, but he's been able to run an unusually high BABIP, one that's been higher than .350 more often than not over his seven big league seasons.
So Baltimore added a top-of-the-lineup hitter with on-base abilities who clubbed 17 dingers last year. And they got a reliable innings-eater who becomes arguably their best starting pitcher. On the surface, that's unmitigated good news for 2016.
But there is a big, jagged thorn on this rose. Because Fowler and Gallardo were each given qualifying offers by the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers, respectively, the Orioles forfeit the No. 14 and No. 29 picks in next summer's amateur draft.
That's a steep price to pay for a club with the third-worst farm system in baseball, according to ESPN's Keith Law. Those picks wouldn't have fixed the problem by themselves, but they would've been a start. The No. 14 pick alone is usually worth somewhere between $15 and $20 million.
Even with this winter's seven-year, $161 million commitment to Chris Davis, the $31 million over four years they handed reliever Darren O'Day and the Fowler and Gallardo deals, the Orioles don't swim in the same payroll waters as the division-rival New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. They need to develop cost-controlled talent to stay competitive for the long haul.
Speaking of division rivals, the O's have plenty. Boston is reloaded after a last-place finish. The Toronto Blue Jays own baseball's most potent offense. The Yankees, despite a creaky cast of veterans, have a stacked bullpen and the talent to contend. Heck, even the small-market Tampa Bay Rays are a threat thanks to their stellar defense and exemplary starting pitching.
The Orioles are in the mix. And again, the additions of Gallardo and Fowler make them better. But they don't make them strong contenders.
Gallardo might be the best starting pitcher on the Orioles, but that says more about the shaky state of Baltimore's rotation than it does Gallardo's status as a legitimate ace. Chris Tillman, the other ostensible No. 1, posted a 4.99 ERA last season.
Fowler, meanwhile, has spent the bulk of his career in the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field. So while the American League East is admittedly filled with bandboxes, it's worth wondering if his lifetime stats are a predictor of future output.
Maybe Fowler and Gallardo will propel the Orioles—who won the division in 2014 but sank back to .500 last year—to the October stage. Center fielder Adam Jones sounded a positive note.
"That adds a lot of experience," Jones said of his new teammates, per MLB.com's Brittany Ghiroli. "Both of them have been in the postseason, been in big games, big moments, so we want to have them do it with us."
If everything breaks right, Orioles fans may look back at these moves and smile, draft picks be damned. But make no mistake: Baltimore is mortgaging its future for a far-from-certain shot at current success.
It's a gamble, and from here it looks like a potentially shortsighted one.
But as spring training kicks off with two more players heading to O's camp, only one thing is certain: This had better work.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.