Complete Offseason Guide, Predictions for the Baltimore Orioles
Sometimes, the baseball gods just don't smile down upon you.
Baltimore's season came to a brutal end in extra innings, as Edwin Encarnacion's three-run blast off Ubaldo Jimenez in the bottom of the 11th inning gave the Toronto Blue Jays a 5-2 victory over the Orioles, who are now 2-8 in their last 10 playoff games dating back to 2012.
It was a puzzling move for manager Buck Showalter to not turn to his All-World closer, Zach Britton, who he confirmed in his postgame press conference was indeed available, via Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com. Perhaps things would have worked out differently for the Orioles if he had.
But Britton and most of his teammates will be back at it again in 2017, though there will certainly be some changes to the roster before Opening Day.
What follows is an overview of some of the decisions that the team will have to make—and some of the players they may look to—in order to bolster the roster for a return trip to the postseason, and perhaps the Fall Classic, in 2017.
In 2013, Baltimore's Opening Day payroll was a then-franchise-record $92.3 million. Heading into 2017, the Orioles have more than $95 million in salary committed—to only eight players.
Barring a shocking offseason development—something like the Orioles refusing to offer arbitration to those players who are eligible or refusing to re-sign any of their own free agents—a new franchise record will be set on Opening Day 2017, surpassing 2016's $147.6 million figure.
|Player||Pos||2016 Salary||2017 Salary|
|Hyun Soo Kim||OF/1B||$2,800,000||$4,200,000|
Nearly a dozen Orioles are eligible for arbitration this offseason, a list that includes Baltimore's top two starters, a Cy Young Award-worthy closer and a perennial MVP candidate whose best baseball is still ahead of him. Ideally, Baltimore would be able to work out long-term extensions with some of them.
Whether it's a one-year deal or a long-term pact, things could get expensive quickly if the Orioles plan on having all of those players stick around for 2017.
In the table below, projected salaries are loosely based on what the players listed for comparison received, either as a one-year deal or through the arbitration process, at similar points in their careers. You can find the exact figures for those players by clicking on the links included.
|Player||Pos||2016 Salary||Proj. 2017 Salary||Player Comp.|
|Zach Britton||CL||$6,750,000||$10,000,000||Kenley Jansen|
|Chris Tillman||SP||$6,225,000||$9,500,000||Jeff Samardzija|
|Manny Machado||3B||$5,000,000||$10,000,000||No comparison|
|Vance Worley||SP/RP||$2,600,000||$3,600,000||Dillon Gee|
|Ryan Flaherty||UTIL||$1,500,000||$2,250,000||Eric Sogard|
|Brad Brach||RP||$1,250,000||$2,750,000||Tony Watson|
|Paul Janish||UTIL||N/A||Non-tender candidate||N/A|
|Kevin Gausman||SP||$532,000||$3,750,000||Johnny Cueto|
|Caleb Joseph||C||$523,500||$975,000||Chris Gimenez|
|T.J. McFarland||RP||$523,500||Non-tender candidate||N/A|
|Jonathan Schoop||2B||$522,500||$2,750,000||Anthony Rendon|
If my predictions are anywhere near accurate, it's going to cost Baltimore nearly twice as much to retain its arbitration-eligible players than they cost a year ago—and that's with the outright release of two veterans, Paul Janish and T.J. McFarland.
You could make an argument for Britton or Chris Tillman as the most important name on that list, and I'd spend the next five minutes telling you why you're wrong. Manny Machado is, without question, the most important player wearing an Orioles uniform.
But all three are set to receive hefty raises after putting together terrific seasons, with both Britton and Machado legitimate candidates for the AL Cy Young and MVP Awards, respectively. That's not meant as a slight to Kevin Gausman, who has arguably surpassed Tillman as the team's ace.
With the exception of Britton, Brad Brach might have had the most impressive season of the group. The first-time All-Star went 10-4 with a 2.05 ERA and 1.04 WHIP over 79 innings of relief, walking 25 and striking out 92.
Like his aforementioned teammates, retaining Brach is critical to Baltimore's continued success.
Players with Options and Baltimore's Free Agents
Baltimore doesn't have to worry about making any decisions about options, as Michael Bourn fell 137 plate appearances short of having his $12 million option for 2017 vest. That said, the veteran outfielder was solid for the Orioles, hitting .283 with a .793 OPS over 24 games, and could be re-signed.
But he's not anywhere close to the team's top priority when it comes to trying to re-sign its own free agents.
|Michael Bourn||OF||$14,000,000||Free agent; $12M vesting option did not vest|
The team's top priority will be re-signing Mark Trumbo, assuming the Orioles learned their lesson after regrettably letting Nelson Cruz and his 40 home runs leave for Seattle on a four-year, $57 million deal after the 2014 season.
Trumbo, who led the majors with 47 home runs in 2016, figures to command a similar deal. If there's one thing working in Baltimore's favor, it's that there's a deep group of elite power bats set to hit free agency, one that includes Jose Bautista, Yoenis Cespedes and Encarnacion. Trumbo's market might be slow to develop.
Longtime catcher Matt Wieters is the team's only other significant free agent. While he didn't have a strong season, the 30-year-old will be the most sought-after free-agent catcher on the market now that Wilson Ramos has been compromised by injury.
With backup Caleb Joseph (arbitration eligible) still around and prospect Chance Sisco nearly ready for prime time, expect the Orioles to let Wieters walk while focusing on adding a short-term veteran option to split time with Joseph until Sisco is ready to take over behind the plate.
Potential Free-Agent and Trade Targets
Assuming the Orioles bring back all their important arbitration-eligible players—and there's no reason to think that they won't—the biggest issue facing the team will be to replace Trumbo and/or Wieters if one or both leave via free agency.
Luckily for Baltimore, there are some options available for it to choose from in free agency.
- Alex Avila, C: Veteran left-handed-hitting catcher Avila won't command a massive deal and could be a solid platoon option with Joseph if, as we expect, Wieters departs as a free agent.
- Yoenis Cespedes, LF: Should Trumbo sign elsewhere and the Orioles feel like they need to make a big splash, adding Cespedes would do the trick. He would give the club not only a big-time bat in the lineup, but also an everyday left fielder capable of playing Gold Glove defense.
- Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/DH: Like Cespedes, Encarnacion is only an option if Trumbo departs. One of the game's premier sluggers would fit nicely in the middle of Baltimore's lineup between Machado and Davis.
- Dioner Navarro, C: Like Avila, the switch-hitting Navarro would be a low-cost choice as part of a platoon behind the plate and wouldn't present a major obstacle for prospect Sisco to get around when he's ready to contribute.
Unless otherwise noted/linked, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and All payroll and salary information courtesy of Cot's Contracts (via Baseball Prospectus). All player comparisons link to Baseball Prospectus.
Want to talk Orioles' offseason plans or anything baseball related? Hit me up on Twitter: @RickWeinerBR