Tag Archive | "Buck Showalter"

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Three key Orioles remain on mend for start of Grapefruit League

Posted on 23 February 2017 by Luke Jones

Three key contributors remain on the mend as the Orioles begin Grapefruit League action on Friday.

Closer Zach Britton (oblique), shortstop J.J. Hardy (back), and starting pitcher Chris Tillman (right shoulder) are said to be improving, but it remains uncertain when any of the three will be ready to play in spring training games. Britton’s injury appears to be the least serious and has not been specifically labeled an oblique issue, but he told reporters in Sarasota on Thursday that he is still feeling lingering discomfort in his side and hasn’t been cleared to begin throwing again.

Buck Showalter told reporters after Thursday’s intrasquad game that Hardy received a cortisone injection for the lower back spasms he’s been experiencing since last month. The Orioles manager said the injection was planned all along, but it comes a week after Hardy underwent various tests to determine whether there were any structural concerns with his back. The 34-year-old has dealt with the spasms at various points during his Orioles tenure, but these have lingered longer than in the past.

Tillman continued his throwing program on Thursday and says his right shoulder has responded well to the work. The 28-year-old won’t be ready for Opening Day and is likely to begin the season on the disabled list, but the Orioles have expressed hope that he can begin pitching in spring games by mid-March if there are no setbacks. Tillman received a platelet-rich plasma injection for his shoulder in December.

The good news is that Opening Day is still more than five weeks away, giving Britton and Hardy ample time to be ready for the start of the regular season.

Relief pitcher Logan Ondrusek is also continuing to recover from an ankle injury suffered earlier in camp.

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Sorting Orioles corner outfield spots begins with Kim

Posted on 21 February 2017 by Luke Jones

At first glance, veteran outfielder Michael Bourn brings obvious skills that the Orioles are lacking.

His speed and defensive ability can be assets for an outfield that ranked last in the majors in defensive runs saved a year ago, but it remains to be seen whether the 34-year-old is a great fit among a crowded group of corner outfielders with question marks. A below-average hitter, the left-handed Bourn is trying to crack a 25-man roster that already needs a viable platoon partner for the lefty-swinging Seth Smith in right field.

And that brings us to the biggest key in sorting out the corner outfield hierarchy for 2017.

The Orioles must find out if left fielder Hyun Soo Kim can be an everyday player. The 29-year-old more than proved himself as the starter against right-handed pitching to the tune of a sparkling .393 on-base percentage last season, but he went hitless in 22 plate appearances against left-handers. That’s hardly a fair sample from which to draw any real conclusion, but an 0-for-17 body of work doesn’t exactly bring confidence, either. His numbers from his final two seasons playing in the Korea Baseball Organization suggest he could be up to the challenge, but that success doesn’t guarantee to translate to the majors.

Either way, he deserves an extended look against southpaw pitchers to find out.

If Kim is able to handle a full-time role, Bourn becomes easier to carry on the bench as a late-inning defensive replacement and a pinch runner while the Orioles use a platoon in right with Mark Trumbo then serving as the everyday designated hitter. But if Kim can’t cut it against lefties, the need for platoons at both corner outfield spots becomes more problematic for the makeup of the roster.

Joey Rickard’s .861 on-base plus slugging percentage against lefties last year makes him the early favorite to serve as a platoon partner, but the Orioles are reportedly intrigued with the defense and speed of Craig Gentry so far in spring training. The problem is that the 33-year-old was little more than a league-average hitter at his best and has posted a .553 OPS over his last 353 plate appearances in the majors dating back to the start of 2014.

It’s worth noting that Bourn posted an .844 OPS in 75 plate appearances against lefties last season, but he owns a career .644 OPS against left-handed pitching. If the Orioles are putting that much stock in those numbers for a potential platoon, the 2016 struggles of both Adam Jones and Trumbo against lefties should be much bigger concerns than they’ll discuss. In other words, you shouldn’t draw anything definitive from one season of work against lefties compared to the larger body of work.

Manager Buck Showalter could always cite the defensive upgrade in left as justification for Bourn playing against left-handers over Kim. The Korean outfielder was worth minus-13 defensive runs saved in left field last season as he lacks range and a strong throwing arm. However, Bourn starting against lefties could create a big hole in a Baltimore lineup that already fared very poorly against lefties in 2016.

The Orioles could also elect to use Trumbo in right field against left-handed pitching, but finding the room to carry Trey Mancini as a designated hitter under such a scenario might be difficult with the addition of Bourn.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that Bourn even makes the club as Rule 5 picks Aneury Tavarez and Anthony Santander shouldn’t be dismissed from the roster discussion. Gentry could win a job to push either Rickard — who has minor-league options — or Bourn from the 25-man roster.

There’s plenty of time for Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette to evaluate and decide.

Regardless of how it all plays out, Kim showing the ability to hit left-handers would make life much easier for the Orioles.

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Back spasms sideline Hardy for start of spring training

Posted on 17 February 2017 by Luke Jones

Just a few days after revealing starting pitcher Chris Tillman won’t be ready for Opening Day, the Orioles are dealing with another injury concern at the start of spring training.

Shortstop J.J. Hardy told reporters in Sarasota that he’s been experiencing lower back spasms that will keep him out of baseball-related activities for the remainder of the month. Hardy has managed back spasms at different points during his tenure with Baltimore — including most of the 2014 season — but he has been dealing with this latest bout since late January.

Hardy has undergone a magnetic imaging exam and other testing to make sure there isn’t a structural problem with his back, but manager Buck Showalter told reporters that he had already planned to take it slow with the 34-year-old to begin the spring. The three-time Gold Glove winner is in the final season of a three-year, $40 million contract and has dealt with a variety of ailments in recent seasons. He bounced back nicely from a brutal 2015 campaign last year when he batted .269 with nine home runs, 29 doubles, and a .716 on-base plus slugging percentage despite missing more than six weeks with a fracture in his foot.

Hardy’s absence opens the door for All-Star third baseman Manny Machado to take more reps at shortstop. The 24-year-old infielder is expected to play that position for the Dominican Republic in next month’s World Baseball Classic.

Should Hardy’s back problems linger longer than expected, Showalter would be looking at the likes of utility man Ryan Flaherty and non-roster invitees Robert Andino and Johnny Giavotella to potentially fill in at shortstop or third base — depending on where Showalter would use Machado.

Hardy does have a $14 million option for the 2018 season that reportedly vests if he collects 600 plate appearances, but the Orioles can buy it out for $2 million if he doesn’t reach that threshold. Since having 644 plate appearances over 159 games in 2013, Hardy has recorded no more than 569 in any of the last three seasons.

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Castillo under microscope as new Orioles catcher

Posted on 17 February 2017 by Luke Jones

The Orioles weren’t wrong to move on from Matt Wieters when they signed new catcher Welington Castillo to a one-year, $6 million contract with a $7 million player option for 2018 in December.

If they truly believe Chance Sisco is their catcher of the future, it would have made little sense to commit big money and multiple years to Wieters after they were stuck paying him the $15.8 million qualifying offer amount last season. And even with the veteran backstop still dangling on the open market in mid-February, the thought of the Orioles possibly playing the waiting game for a starting catcher this late into the offseason just wouldn’t have made sense. Wieters clearly wasn’t signing a short-term deal in mid-December like Castillo did.

Despite agent Scott Boras’ best efforts to create a market for his client, the idea of Wieters has always been better than the real product, which began with the unfair amount of hype he received before ever stepping foot in the majors. It’s dangerous investing in a 30-year-old catcher who’s already had an incredible workload behind the plate and has seen his offense decline over the last five years. For all of the praise for Wieters’ handling of a pitching staff, his pitch-framing numbers are below average and the Buck Showalter-era Orioles pitched at their best in 2014 when he missed most of the season due to Tommy John surgery, making you question the true value of those intangibles.

Since being worth 3.5 wins above replacement in the 2012 season, Wieters has been valued at a total of 3.9 WAR in 373 games since the start of 2013.

Of course, none of this will prevent Castillo from being under the microscope this season as he replaces a four-time All-Star selection who was popular in the clubhouse.

Castillo has the edge over Wieters offensively over the last two seasons with a .747 on-base plus slugging percentage compared to the latter’s .723. He’s also a year younger and hasn’t logged nearly as many innings behind the plate in his major league career. Castillo is unlikely to hit in the heart of the order, but his offense shouldn’t be an issue, either.

But there are fair concerns about a catcher now with his fourth major league club since the start of 2015.

You can understand Castillo’s desire to play for his country in the World Baseball Classic, but the Dominican native forgoing the opportunity to better familiarize himself with a new pitching staff can’t sit too well with the organization privately. Whether he’s on the same page with Orioles pitchers early in the season will be something to monitor.

Castillo improved in the pitch-framing department last season — finishing better than Wieters — but he was one of the five worst catchers in the majors over the previous three years, according to StatCorner.com. He worked on this part of his game with former major league catcher Jose Molina — one of the best framers in baseball throughout his career — in the offseason, but spending more time in Sarasota reinforcing these “presentation” principles with bench coach John Russell and projected backup and above-average framer Caleb Joseph would be preferable to playing in the competitive environment of the WBC next month.

The 5-foot-10, 220-pound catcher threw out an impressive 38 percent of runners attempting to steal last year, but his 10 passed balls tied for the National League lead. In contrast, Wieters threw out 35 percent and had just one passed ball in 65 more innings behind the plate.

These concerns aren’t secrets, evident by Arizona’s decision not to tender Castillo a contract after a 2.4 WAR season. The Orioles know they signed a catcher with imperfections, but those flaws aren’t terribly different from the more acclaimed catcher who was seeking a much bigger payday.

The Orioles made the right decision to move on from Wieters, but it will be up to Castillo to show they chose the right replacement.

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Shoulder issue to keep Tillman from starting Opening Day

Posted on 14 February 2017 by Luke Jones

The Orioles will have a new Opening Day starter this season, but that’s hardly their biggest concern as they held their first spring workout on Tuesday.

Manager Buck Showalter told reporters in Sarasota that Chris Tillman will not be ready to pitch in the season’s first game due to a lingering right shoulder problem, but the Orioles remain hopeful that the veteran starting pitcher could still be ready to go by the end of the first week. The right-hander received a platelet-rich plasma injection in December and is currently three weeks behind schedule for the start of spring training. Showalter said Tillman could begin pitching in spring games by mid-March if there are no setbacks.

Turning 29 in April and set to become a free agent after the season, Tillman began dealing with the shoulder issue last August and missed the better part of a month after receiving a cortisone injection. He returned from the disabled list in mid-September to make four starts before taking the ball in the American League wild-card game on Oct. 4, but he completed six innings in just one of those five outings.

At last month’s FanFest event, Tillman expressed belief that the shoulder issue was finally behind him, but he made no mention of receiving the PRP injection.

“We worked hard this offseason to make sure it’s behind us,” Tillman said. “I did a lot more shoulder stuff than I’m used to [in the offseason]. I’m used to just showing up and pitching. We’ve worked hard, and I’m pretty confident it’s behind me.”

With Tillman having taken the ball for the last three season openers, Kevin Gausman now becomes the favorite to start on Opening Day against Toronto on April 3. A brief absence from Tillman at the start of the season would hardly be the end of the world, but the Orioles are not equipped with enough depth to endure a lengthy stay on the DL from their veteran ace.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette dealt veteran starter Yovani Gallardo to Seattle in exchange for outfielder Seth Smith in January, leaving the likes of Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson as the next in line behind the projected starting five of Tillman, Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Wade Miley. The Orioles also acquired right-handers Logan Verrett and Gabriel Ynoa this offseason to add to their potential starting inventory.

Tillman has been the rock of the Baltimore rotation since the middle of the 2012 season and has posted an ERA of 3.77 or better in four of the last five campaigns. In 30 starts spanning 172 innings last season, he pitched to a 16-6 record with a 3.77 ERA and averaged 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings, his best mark since 2013. However, he did walk 3.5 batters per nine innings, his worst mark since 2011.

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Ten Orioles questions entering 2017 spring training

Posted on 12 February 2017 by Luke Jones

The time has finally arrived for the Orioles.

Pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota for the start of spring training on Monday.

Seeking their fourth trip to the postseason in six years, the Orioles will begin searching for the answers to a number of questions starting this week.

Below is a look at 10 of them:

1. Who will hit in the leadoff spot for Buck Showalter?

This question shouldn’t be as complicated as many will make it out to be. No, there may not be an everyday prototype with speed on the roster, but Hyun Soo Kim led the club in on-base percentage (.382) by a wide margin in 2016 and doesn’t hit for much power, making him the obvious choice against right-handed starting pitching. Finding a leadoff hitter against lefties remains a trickier proposition, but the Orioles have seen southpaw starters in only 25 to 33 percent of games in a given season over the last several years. Joey Rickard could be an enticing option after posting a .367 OBP against lefty pitching last year. Showalter said after last season that he doesn’t want to use Adam Jones in the leadoff spot again, and his career .318 OBP should reinforce that sentiment.

2. Will there be a late addition to the major league roster?

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette is always tinkering with the roster and made significant signings after the start of spring training in two of the last three years. The Orioles are still pondering the possibility of adding an outfielder for speed and defense — Michael Bourn is still available — and have discussed the possibility of signing a veteran pitcher to improve the rotation depth. Longtime catcher Matt Wieters surprisingly remains a free agent, but the club made a conscious decision to move on early in the offseason and shouldn’t deviate from that short of a very cheap one-year deal.

3. How will the World Baseball Classic impact preparations for the start of the season?

The fourth edition of the event will present challenges to Showalter and the Orioles as five players — Jones, third baseman Manny Machado, second baseman Jonathan Schoop, relief pitcher Mychal Givens, and new catcher Welington Castillo — are scheduled to take part. Castillo’s inclusion is the biggest concern as he will lose precious time to better familiarize himself with the pitching staff. The Orioles will also hold their breath hoping the 26-year-old Givens doesn’t overdo it competing for the United States. Another wrinkle to consider is the makeup of the Dominican roster, which could lead to Machado sliding over to shortstop to allow Adrian Beltre to play third base. It’s not the end of the world, but the Orioles can’t be thrilled that Machado will be focused on a position other than his primary one while he’s away.

4. Are shoulder problems completely behind Chris Tillman and Darren O’Day?

Yes, both pitchers returned to pitch in mid-September and declared themselves fully healthy at last month’s FanFest event, but the real test will be how they respond to the first few weeks of spring training when they’re building up their arm strength for a long season. Entering his final season before free agency, Tillman will once again be entrusted to lead the rest of a starting rotation composed of youthful or inconsistent options. After averaging 66 innings per year in his first four seasons with Baltimore and signing a four-year, $31 million contract last winter, O’Day threw just 31 frames in an injury-plagued campaign. The Orioles can’t expect Zach Britton and Brad Brach to be quite as dominant as they were last season, so O’Day will need to return to his usual form to keep a sensational bullpen on track.

5. How do the Orioles minimize concerns about the outfield defense?

The re-signing of Mark Trumbo all but guaranteed that the outfield defense will remain an issue, which Jones hasn’t shied away from mentioning after the Orioles outfield finished last in the majors in defensive runs saved in 2016. Seth Smith is an upgrade over Trumbo in right, but he’s also 34 and average at best. Kim was also well below average in left field at minus-13 defensive runs saved in 2016. Asked about the state of the outfield defense at FanFest, Duquette mentioned there being ways to more precisely position outfielders on a hitter-to-hitter basis, but that will only go so far in compensating for a lack of athleticism and speed. It doesn’t help that Jones, 31, is reaching an age when clubs typically begin considering a move to a corner spot, but he remains the Orioles’ best outfielder by a clear margin.

6. Will the cutter be a viable option for Dylan Bundy in his first full season as a starter?

The 24-year-old offers some of the most intriguing upside on the roster, but an early story will be whether Bundy starts using a cut fastball again. The right-hander began experimenting with the pitch again last month after it was believed to cause his arm discomfort in the fall of 2015 and subsequently removed from his repertoire last season. Of course, caution must be used to preserve Bundy’s health in what’s expected to be his first full major league season as a starter. Bundy already has a mid-90s fastball, a sharp curve, and an impressive changeup, but successfully mixing in the cutter could take his starter potential to another level. And considering opponents posted a .960 on-base plus slugging percentage in Bundy’s third trip through the order last year, the introduction of another pitch certainly wouldn’t hurt.

7. How many outfield platoons will be in play?

It remains to be seen whether Kim will play more against left-handed pitching after he went 0-for-17 against southpaws in his first major league season, but Smith owns a career .594 OPS against lefties, making it clear that he’ll need a platoon partner. Rickard posted an .861 OPS in 90 plate appearances against lefties as a rookie and will likely be part of one platoon. Showalter could also use Trumbo in right field against left-handed pitching, but that further weakens the outfield defense and leads to the question of who might serve as the designated hitter in those spots. Such an alignment would leave the door open for Trey Mancini to come north with the club, but is that the best roster construction for the Orioles?

8. What impact will be made by new pitching coach Roger McDowell and new bullpen coach Alan Mills?

McDowell was mentored by former Orioles pitching coach Dave Wallace and Mills served as a minor-league pitching coach in the Baltimore system over the last four years, which should make for a smoother transition than normal. Mills’ familiarity with the likes of Givens and lefty specialist Donnie Hart will be a valuable asset, but McDowell will be looking to make a good first impression with his staff. Wallace and former bullpen coach Dom Chiti were very popular with pitchers and did wonders for the likes of Britton and Brach, so the Orioles can only hope their new coaching duo has similar success stories.

9. Will Rule 5 picks Aneury Tavarez and Anthony Santander be real options for outfield depth?

No organization has valued the Rule 5 draft more than the Orioles in recent years, so the progress of these two young outfielders is worth monitoring this spring. The 24-year-old Tavarez comes from the Boston organization and spent most of last season at Double-A Portland, hitting .335 with seven home runs and 18 stolen bases. Santander, 22, is an intriguing switch hitter who hit 20 homers and 42 doubles for Cleveland’s Single-A affiliate in the Carolina League last year. The latter underwent right shoulder surgery last year, which could provide an opening for the Orioles to stash him on the disabled list for the start of the season. Neither is a sure thing to make the roster, of course, but history suggests the organization will do whatever it can to keep at least one of its two Rule 5 picks to begin the season.

10. How will the starting rotation depth shake out?

With the trade of Yovani Gallardo to Seattle last month and the departure of Vance Worley to Washington, the Orioles do not have a clear-cut “No. 6” starter to go behind the projected starting five of Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Bundy, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Wade Miley. Sure, there is some inventory that includes Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, Logan Verrett, and Joe Gunkel, but none inspire much confidence until they prove otherwise. When you’re already counting on inconsistent options such as Jimenez and Miley for the back end of the rotation, that’s an unsettling position in which to be. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Duquette add another veteran to the mix on a minor-league deal.

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Looking at Davis’ 2016 season, outfield defense, Orioles catching

Posted on 10 February 2017 by Luke Jones

When discussing the “three true outcomes” in hitting, Orioles first baseman Chris Davis is one of the most extreme examples you’ll ever find.

Having struck out, walked, or homered in more than half of his plate appearances over the last two seasons, Davis can be frustrating to watch despite having good value, evident by the peaks and valleys of his performance over the last five years. His 2016 season wasn’t his finest but it was markedly better than his nightmare 2014 campaign that ended with a 25-game suspension for taking unapproved Adderall.

Looking beyond his unimpressive .221 batting average last season, Davis still clubbed 38 home runs and posted a strong .332 on-base percentage with a .792 on-base plus slugging percentage. It wasn’t the season he or the Orioles had in mind after agreeing to a seven-year, $161 million contract last winter, but Davis was still worth 3.0 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference.

It also wasn’t a secret that Davis was playing with a sore left hand for much of the season, and the 30-year-old clarified last month that he suffered a dislocated left thumb in late April. Missing just five games all season, the first baseman played through discomfort, citing his defensive contributions as a reason for not wanting to miss extensive time to rest the thumb.

“I was hoping there was no lasting effect, and it feels good,” said Davis at FanFest last month. “I really didn’t realize how much of an impact it was having on my swing until I took some cuts this offseason. It’s nice to have two hands to hit with again.”

Of course, determining how much a bad thumb might have impacted Davis’ performance isn’t easy, but it doesn’t take a genius to realize a hitter’s top hand is probably important. So, was there anything dramatically different about the slugger’s peripherals compared to previous years?

His 32.9 percent strikeout rate was just below his career-worst mark of 33.0 percent in 2014, but he still struck out 31.0 percent of the time in his strong 2015 season. His 65.7 percent contact rate was also a career low compared to his 67.6 percent career mark, but Davis struggling a bit more to make contact isn’t exactly news.

He posted a career-high 13.2 percent walk rate, continuing his streak of improving in that department every year since arriving in Baltimore in 2011. Still, a 0.7 percent increase from 2015 hardly raises eyebrows.

Where we start to see notable change was a dramatic decline in Davis’ pull and line-drive rates. After hitting the ball to right field well over 50 percent of the time the previous two seasons, Davis pulled the ball just 41.7 percent of the time last year. And just 19.8 percent of the balls he put in play were line drives, down from his 22.9 percentage for his career.

Davis’ plate discipline also changed substantially as he swung at just 42.7 percent of pitches, easily a career low compared to his 49.4 percent career mark. Seventy-nine of his 219 strikeouts were on called strike threes, which shattered his previous single-season high of 56.

In other words, these numbers reflect a hitter struggling to turn on pitches and more reluctant than normal to swing the bat. Sure, it could be the start of a decline for a power hitter suddenly trying to overcompensate by attempting to draw more walks, but those numbers would also reflect a batter dealing with a hand issue and possibly trying to pick his spots to swing the bat with authority.

Maybe the truth falls somewhere in the middle — we are talking about a streaky performer anyway — but the batted-ball data and noticeable change in aggressiveness support the idea that something in 2016 was out of whack beyond Davis merely getting a year older.

Outfield defense

Never one to shy away from speaking his mind, center fielder Adam Jones drew some criticism for his comments about Baltimore’s outfield defense, but he wasn’t wrong.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette stated last October that improving the club’s outfield defense was a top priority, but the addition of the 34-year-old Seth Smith — who is at least a better right fielder than Mark Trumbo — hardly quells concerns. The Orioles outfield finished last in the major leagues at minus-52 defensive runs saved in 2016.

With Jones now 31 and dealing with an array of nagging injuries over the last two seasons, the Orioles should really be making life easier for him in the outfield while pondering his long-term viability in center. Though never as good of a center fielder as Jones, Andrew McCutchen, 30, recently agreed to move to right field for Pittsburgh, a move made easier by the presence of Gold Glove teammate Starling Marte.

Instead, Jones is working harder than ever to cover up for too many plodders in the outfield.

A chance for Chance

With projected starter Welington Castillo playing for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic and backup Francisco Pena being designated for assignment on Friday, catching prospect Chance Sisco could reap the benefits of more extensive action this spring.

Manager Buck Showalter probably isn’t thrilled about Castillo being away from the club instead of getting better acquainted with pitchers in his first spring with the Orioles, but Sisco is considered the catcher of the future and would surely benefit from more opportunities in the Grapefruit League. Duquette has openly discussed the possibility of Sisco being ready to contribute in the majors at some point during the 2017 season.

A good spring would seemingly expedite that process.

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Orioles thoughts on Wieters decision, Britton snub, Showalter as finalist

Posted on 08 November 2016 by Luke Jones

The Orioles gambled by extending a qualifying offer to catcher Matt Wieters last offseason and ultimately chose not to do it again.

Yes, they were able to keep the 30-year-old for another season when he accepted, but the $15.8 million price tag wasn’t cheap and likely altered the rest of their offseason plans. Wieters earned his fourth trip to the All-Star Game in 2016, but his .243 average and .711 on-base plus slugging percentage were his lowest marks since 2013. In fact, his league-adjusted OPS (OPS+) of 87 was the worst of his career and he was worth a decent but unspectacular 1.7 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference.

Those are numbers unlikely to improve — or to be maintained — as he gets older.

It’s easy to point to Caleb Joseph’s abysmal 2016 campaign as validation for keeping Wieters last year, but there’s no telling how the backup might have fared had the latter moved on. Joseph had been acceptable at the plate with regular playing time in the previous two seasons, and the Orioles would have added another veteran catcher to the mix anyway.

We also don’t know what executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette might have done with an extra $15.8 million at his disposal last winter. As just one example, would the Orioles have been able to sweeten their multi-year offer to outfielder Dexter Fowler — the kind of player they needed at the top of the order in 2016 — to make him change his mind about returning to Chicago?

A year later, arguments for extending Wieters a $17.2 million qualifying offer with thoughts of fetching a compensatory draft pick were certainly valid. Another year removed from Tommy John surgery, the veteran backstop quelled concerns about his right elbow by playing in 124 games and throwing out 35 percent of runners attempting to steal, making him more appealing to potential suitors than he would have been last year. There’s also the reality of Wieters being the top catcher on the open market after Wilson Ramos suffered a torn ACL in September.

Observers have pointed to recent deals awarded to Russell Martin (five years, $82 million) and Brian McCann (five years, $85 million) as benchmarks for Wieters even though Martin is a superior defensive catcher with similar offensive production and McCann was substantially better as a hitter at the time of his signing.

But a qualifying offer would have also depressed Wieters’ value to other teams, who would have then been required to forfeit their first-round pick to sign him. Would that reality coupled with an underwhelming season at the plate have prompted Wieters and super agent Scott Boras to take another great one-year payout from the Orioles with thoughts of being in decent free-agent position again next year?

It’s hard to say, but you can understand the Orioles’ trepidation.

Replacing Wieters will hardly be a slam dunk, but the Orioles proved in 2014 that his presence isn’t the be-all and end-all of their success as they won 96 games despite him missing most of the season and Joseph and journeyman Nick Hundley handling the catching duties. Manager Buck Showalter and teammates have long praised Wieters’ leadership and ability to handle a pitching staff, but there’s also his below-average pitch-framing numbers, his struggles blocking pitches, and sometimes-questionable pitch-calling to consider.

Wieters does offer intangibles that are difficult to quantify, but the perception of him has always been better than the actual player who never met the unreasonable expectations laid out before he even debuted in the majors.

It will be interesting to see how an over-30 catcher already with 7,000 major league innings behind the plate will be valued in the open market without a qualifying offer attached to him.

A draft pick would have been great had Wieters rejected the qualifying offer, but the possibility of having to pay him $17.2 million was too risky with other needs to address and significant raises owed to younger players in arbitration.

He may have been the right player, but it wasn’t the right price.

Britton “snubbed”

I was surprised when All-Star closer Zach Britton wasn’t named a finalist for the 2016 American League Cy Young Award.

Considering the amount of discussion surrounding his candidacy over the last few months, I assumed he would sneak into the top three in the voting conducted at the end of the regular season. However, the Baseball Writers Association of America correctly concluded that very good starting pitchers are still far more valuable than an exceptional closer over the course of a 162-game season.

There’s no disputing that Britton had a historic season with a 0.54 ERA in 67 innings while going 47-for-47 in save opportunities, but the lefty also tossed less than one-third of the innings recorded by Rick Porcello, Corey Kluber, or Justin Verlander and only 16 of Britton’s 47 saves came in one-run victories, meaning he was working with some margin for error in roughly two-thirds of those save chances.

That’s not intended to diminish what Britton did, but the context is necessary. A better argument probably could have been made with a bigger workload, but the 28-year-old pitched more than one inning just seven times.

None of the aforementioned AL Cy Young finalists posted an ERA below 3.00, but there’s a reason why virtually all relief pitchers are former starters. It’s far more difficult to succeed going through a lineup multiple times in an outing, and that should still be recognized despite no AL starter standing out with a truly great season in 2016.

Britton absolutely earned the Mariano Rivera AL Reliever of the Year Award and warranted far more consideration for the Cy Young than any relief pitcher in recent years. It would have been great to see him as a finalist, but I can’t go as far as saying it’s a travesty, either.

Showalter as a finalist

It’s unfortunate that Showalter being named a finalist for the AL Manager of the Year now looks like a punchline after his decision not to use Britton in the wild-card game cost the Orioles a better chance of advancing.

A club almost universally picked to finish in fourth or fifth place in the AL East this season qualified for the playoffs for the third time in the last five years, a reflection of the exceptional work Showalter has done since arriving in Baltimore in 2010. You can still consider Showalter to be an excellent manager while also believing he made a terrible move that he’ll likely hear about for the rest of his career.

Great doesn’t mean perfect as the Orioles and their fans painfully learned that night.

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Orioles make qualifying offer to Trumbo, pass on Wieters

Posted on 07 November 2016 by Luke Jones

Facing Monday’s deadline to submit qualifying offers to their pending free agents, the Orioles settled on a split-decision with their two biggest names.

As expected, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette did make the one-year, $17.2 million offer to outfielder Mark Trumbo while passing on the opportunity to do so with four-time All-Star catcher Matt Wieters. Should Trumbo reject the offer, the Orioles would be entitled to a compensatory draft pick if he signs with another club this offseason.

While making the qualifying offer to the 30-year-old Trumbo was a no-brainer after he led the major leagues with 47 home runs this season, the decision with Wieters was more complicated. After accepting the club’s $15.8 million qualifying offer a year ago when he was still returning to full strength from Tommy John surgery, the 30-year-old Wieters appeared in 124 games but posted a .243 batting average and .711 on-base plus slugging percentage, his lowest marks since 2013.

With Wieters now considered the top free-agent catcher on the market after Wilson Ramos suffered a serious knee injury in September, this offseason likely represents his last best chance to secure a long-term deal. That reality led many to believe he would have rejected the one-year offer, which would have then led to draft compensation for the Orioles. However, a $17.2 million salary for 2017 would be hefty for a player worth only 1.7 wins above replacement this past season, according to Baseball Reference.

A two-time Gold Glove winner earlier in his career, Wieters threw out 35 percent of runners attempting to steal in 2016, but his pitch framing is rated well below average and he struggled to block pitches in the second half of the season. With early estimates already putting their 2017 payroll above $150 million with club-controlled players owed raises in arbitration, the Orioles ultimately didn’t want to risk having to make such a large one-year commitment to a catcher past his prime.

Of course, there’s always the possibility of Baltimore working out a long-term deal with Wieters should his market be cooler than anticipated, but super agent Scott Boras will be hellbent on finding the kind of deal he didn’t believe was out there a year ago when he accepted the Orioles’ qualifying offer.

It will be interesting to see how the market develops for Trumbo, who is coming off a career season that earned him the second All-Star invitation of his career. The offensive numbers speak for themselves, but his defensive struggles in right field negatively impacted his overall value as he finished with a 1.6 WAR, making him a better candidate to serve as a first baseman or designated hitter moving forward.

Though Trumbo is likely to reject the qualifying offer, he found a home in Baltimore and was very comfortable in the Orioles clubhouse after being traded three times in a two-year period.

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Orioles announce plans for 2017 FanFest on Jan. 28

Posted on 28 October 2016 by Luke Jones

The 2016 World Series isn’t over, but the Orioles have announced the date for their annual FanFest at the Baltimore Convention Center.

After the unusual timing of holding the event in mid-December last year and long before first baseman Chris Davis was re-signed to a seven-year, $161 million contract, the Orioles have moved FanFest back to later in the offseason on Jan. 28, 2017 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. As always, it will feature autograph sessions with current and former players as well as question-and-answer forums with management and players, clinics, exhibits, and games for kids.

Access for season-ticket holders begins at 10 a.m.

An event designed to celebrate baseball and drive ticket sales for the new season, the Orioles will have interesting decisions to make between now and then with a group of free agents headlined by 2016 All-Star selections Matt Wieters and Mark Trumbo. In 2017, Baltimore will be attempting to qualify for the postseason for the fourth time in the last six seasons.

Tickets are not yet on sale, but more information will be released at Orioles.com/FanFest as the event approaches.

 

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