Tag Archive | "Dan Duquette"

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Pot-committed Orioles may need to push chips in on Gallardo

Posted on 06 February 2016 by Luke Jones

The Orioles have pushed plenty of chips to the center of the poker table this winter.

A seven-year commitment to first baseman Chris Davis worth $161 million, the richest contract in franchise history.

Making All-Star relief pitcher Darren O’Day one of the highest-paid setup men in the majors.

Paying just under $25 million for the services of three-time All-Star catcher Matt Wieters and designated hitter Mark Trumbo for the 2016 season.

In other words, the Orioles are what the poker world labels as “pot-committed” with a projected payroll now north of $130 million. But there’s still a problem with that spending.

They’re currently no better than they were a season ago when they finished 81-81. In fact, they’re worse on paper after the free-agent departure of starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen and his 3.72 ERA over the last four seasons.

It’s reasonable to expect Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez to rebound — at least somewhat — from last year’s difficulties, but that doesn’t mean a return to their exceptional performances of 2014, either. Kevin Gausman could be ready to take off at age 25 and the Orioles may see more good Ubaldo Jimenez than the bad Jimenez in 2016, but that would still be too much hoping and not enough improving.

After turning their nose up to the cost of starting pitching all winter, the Orioles find few viable options remaining. The likes of David Price or Zack Greinke were never realistic, but second- and third-tier options such as Scott Kazmir (three years, $48 million) or even Doug Fister (one year, $7 million) were still available to slot into a thin rotation.

That finally brings us to Yovani Gallardo, the man linked to the Orioles throughout the offseason and probably the best option remaining on the market. Soon to be 30, the veteran right-hander is far from a sure bet despite a career-best 3.42 ERA in 2015 and a 3.66 lifetime mark in the majors.

Signing him would require the Orioles to forfeit the 14th overall selection of the 2016 draft after Texas made him a qualifying offer at the start of the offseason. That is an understandable deterrent for an organization in need of restocking its farm system, and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has said several times this offseason that the Orioles would prefer not to forfeit the pick.

Despite a strong ground-ball rate hovering around 50 percent that would figure to be perfect for Oriole Park at Camden Yards and a strong infield defense, Gallardo has seen his average fastball velocity dip from 92.6 miles per hour in 2011 to 90.5 with the Rangers last season. His strikeout rate has declined in three straight seasons and fell to a career-low 5.9 per nine innings in 2015 after averaging more than a strikeout per inning in his first six major league seasons.

Those numbers make a long-term commitment to Gallardo a risky one, but he’s still a much better option than the newly-acquired Odrisamer Despaigne, Vance Worley, Mike Wright, or Tyler Wilson, who are more scratch-off lottery tickets than good starting candidates for a club already lacking dynamic talent in its first four starter spots. Even if you’re not keen on the Orioles giving Gallardo a long-term contract, he would instantly move to the top half of the rotation and slide the aforementioned names into more appropriate roles as relievers or depth at the Triple-A level.

Losing the 14th overall pick would be disappointing, but the Orioles would still hold five selections in the first 100 spots. An increased financial commitment to international talent — something the organization should be making anyway — could also offset that sacrifice.

At the start of the offseason, Gallardo would have been far from the top choice, but the Orioles are now less than two weeks away from spring training and haven’t replaced their best starter from a year ago when their rotation finished 14th in the American League in ERA. Beggars can’t be choosers when you’re in need of starting pitching at this late stage of the winter.

Gallardo’s addition wouldn’t guarantee a trip to the playoffs, but it would be foolish to spend as much as the Orioles have this winter without seriously addressing a rotation that was the biggest reason for their downfall in 2015. There’s no sense in playing a high-stakes hand of poker if you’re just going to muck your cards after committing more than $200 million earlier this offseason.

If you’re going to do it, go all the way.

The Orioles’ spending says they’re in win-now mode — especially with both Manny Machado and Adam Jones hitting free agency after the 2018 season — but their starting rotation suggests otherwise. There isn’t enough depth, and there certainly isn’t enough quality depth.

Signing Gallardo comes with risk and sacrifice, but he could help a neglected rotation compete in 2016.

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Orioles haven’t found pitching they like for prices they like

Posted on 22 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Having just signed the richest deal in franchise history, first baseman Chris Davis stated the obvious when asked Thursday what else the Orioles still need for the 2016 season.

“Obviously, we lost [Wei-Yin] Chen,” Davis said, “so I think we need another starting pitcher.”

The answer probably wasn’t music to the ears of Dan Duquette after the organization awarded the 29-year-old slugger with a seven-year, $161 million contract, but the executive vice president of baseball operations said at the start of the offseason that upgrading the starting rotation would be a top priority. And that was before Chen, their most consistent starter over the last four seasons, signed a five-year, $80 million contract to join the Miami Marlins.

With spring training less than a month away, the remaining options are few for a club that finished 14th in the American League in starter ERA in 2015, which included Chen’s 3.34 mark over 31 starts.

“We’re still looking for additions to our pitching staff,” Duquette said. “It takes a lot of energy to sign a star player for an organization. Obviously, we have a long-term deal with Chris, and we’re happy to have him here. We’re always cognizant of what we need to add to our pitching staff. We haven’t found the pitching that we really like at the prices we like. That’s been a very, very expensive market this offseason, but I’m confident we’ll be able to come up with the pitching that we need to compete.”

How costly has it been?

Even Davis’ agent, Scott Boras, commented on the high demand for starting pitching this offseason after he negotiated five-year contracts for Chen and Kansas City starter Ian Kennedy and even fetched a two-year, $16 million deal for Mike Pelfrey — and his career 4.52 ERA — in Detroit. Boras said this has affected the timing of the market for position players such as Davis.

Of the 10 contracts worth $80 million or more that have been signed this winter, seven have gone to starting pitchers.

“We’ve had eight pitchers sign five-or-more-year contracts in this market,” Boras said. “That’s unheard of. The demand on pitching quelled the market on offensive power, because the teams were so focused. So many teams needed pitching and needed offense, but the competitiveness for the pitching took a focus.”

So, who’s left?

Right-hander Yovani Gallardo turns 30 next month and has posted an ERA below 4.00 in six of his seven full seasons in the majors, but his strikeout rate has rapidly declined from 9.0 per nine innings in 2012 to just 5.9 last year and the Orioles would have to forfeit their 2016 first-round pick to sign him.

The 28-year-old Mat Latos was an above-average starter in the National League — he had a 3.34 career ERA entering 2015 — until injuries derailed his last two seasons and questions arose about his attitude after his trade from Cincinnati to Miami last offseason. At this point, he could be looking for a one-year pillow contract to re-establish his value, but Camden Yards wouldn’t be the ideal setting for that from his perspective.

Like Latos, signing right-hander Doug Fister wouldn’t require a draft pick, but he will be 32 and has seen his strikeout and groundball rates decline as well as his velocity. However, he does have experience pitching in the AL and won 16 games and posted a 2.41 ERA in 2014.

There isn’t much out there beyond that, unless you want to try to take Tim Lincecum for a ride in your DeLorean.

“There are some pitchers out there that we like, and then we have talked to some other teams about pitching,” Duquette said. “The problem with the pitching market is there have been more teams chasing fewer pitchers. There’s not enough to go around. That’s an age-old problem. But it was very acute this winter.”

Even if the Orioles are to pluck one of the aforementioned options from the market, none would be a guarantee to settle into the top half of the rotation, much less headline the group. Depth will remain a concern with the likes of Vance Worley, Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, T.J. McFarland, or a stretched-out Brian Matusz waiting in the wings.

The need for Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez to return to pre-2015 form and for Kevin Gausman to take a a major step forward has been discussed ad nauseam, but injuries — at least minor ailments — are inevitable over the course of a 162-game schedule and Baltimore appears ill-equipped to endure that reality. Duquette’s statements about the pitching market on Thursday may have contained truth, but the Orioles annually lament a free-agent market that’s more expensive than they anticipated.

That won’t make fans feel any better about the state of the rotation.

“We should have a good defensive team,” Duquette said. “We’ve got a lot of the core back. We should be strong up the middle. We have Buck’s leadership and the bullpen, and I think those are all strengths of the team that we can build on. We’re going to have to get some good performance from the pitchers that we have and then continue to add to that.”

The Orioles still have a lot going for them, and there is some reasonable upside to help fill the void left by Chen. Doubts entering the season certainly existed prior to 2012 when the club unexpectedly returned to the playoffs for the first time in 15 years and before 2014 when the Orioles endured season-ending injuries to Manny Machado and Matt Wieters to win their first AL East title since 1997.

It’s a reality in which the Orioles have thrived, according to Davis.

“That’s kind of been our MO the last few years,” Davis said. “We’ve never been the sexy team, so to speak — the easy pick to win the AL East. I think we kind of like that role.”

Hopefully, the starting rotation will feel the same way.

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Orioles running out of time, excuses while waiting on Davis

Posted on 13 January 2016 by Luke Jones

The Orioles never expected to keep Wei-Yin Chen.

Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that the starting pitcher was overrated or wasn’t worth the five-year, $80 million contract — opt-out clause and vesting option included — he was awarded by the Miami Marlins on Tuesday. The Taiwanese lefty isn’t a bona fide ace, but the Orioles were more than happy having him in the top half of their rotation over the last four years and the price was in line with what others of similar age and value have fetched on the open market.

Entering the offseason, you knew that Chen was replaceable, but not easily replaceable for an organization lacking quality arms in the minor leagues. You can either pay for quality arms or develop them, but being in between is a dangerous place.

As the curtain fell on the 2015 season, Dan Duquette said he wanted to acquire a starting pitcher for the front half of the rotation — to presumably replace Chen — but he’s yet to address the Achilles heel of the 2015 team unless you consider yourself the president of the Vance Worley fan club. Spring training is a month away, and the available free-agent options are dwindling with Yovani Gallardo, Mat Latos, Ian Kennedy, and Doug Fister topping the list.

Signing Gallardo or Kennedy would require the Orioles to forfeit their first-round pick, which should be a deterrent for an organization needing to rebuild its farm system. Neither provides the kind of upside you’d like to have before surrendering a draft choice.

The Orioles always figured they would have to depend on bounce-back seasons from Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez as well as a big step forward from Kevin Gausman to contend in 2016, but the No. 5 spot in the rotation remains wide open while the rest of the group — which also includes the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez — already faces questions.

That’s less than ideal if you’re trying to compete.

Shortly after the news broke about Chen, outfielder Gerardo Parra agreed to a three-year, $27.5 million contract with the Colorado Rockies. Again, the departure wasn’t surprising as the 2015 trade deadline acquisition was a flop in his two months with Baltimore, but the Orioles still have a gaping hole in right field — and that’s with left field already being occupied by the difficult-to-project newcomer Hyun Soo Kim.

With Colorado now having a surplus of outfielders that includes two-time All-Star Carlos Gonzalez, the reports of the Orioles engaging in trade discussions with the Rockies have resurfaced, but they’ve been down this road before. Short of trading Gausman and opening another hole in a thin rotation, what exactly does Duquette have to offer for Gonzalez — whose career is trending in a concerning direction — or one of the other Colorado outfielders who have benefited from hitting at Coors Field?

Meanwhile, All-Star outfielders Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes are jumping up and down in the free-agent corner, waiting for someone — anyone — to notice them.

Alas, the Orioles seem content waiting on first baseman Chris Davis, even though they said more than a month ago that they’d pulled their offer. Owner Peter Angelos is willing to give Davis $150 million over seven years, but that money doesn’t appear to be in play for anyone else — even options that could be more desirable in the long run — or won’t be until it’s likely too late. You can’t tell people you’ve moved on if you’re not truly willing to pony up comparable funds for other high-quality players.

It’s easy to understand the allure of the home run and that Davis has become a fan favorite over the last few seasons, but when did he become Mike Trout or Cal Ripken? Why will Angelos give lucrative money to a player who two years ago hit .196 and was suspended 25 games for testing positive for Adderall but not to a younger and steadier player like Upton, who also addresses a clear need?

The 28-year-old Upton may have never developed into the superstar many anticipated, but he is also less likely to turn into present-day Ryan Howard over the course of a long-term contract.

Signing next-tier players such as the combination of outfielder Alex Gordon and starting pitcher Scott Kazmir would have been cheaper in the long run and, arguably, more valuable than Davis in the short term, but the Orioles continue to play the waiting game with agent Scott Boras. They’ve allowed the slugging first baseman to take their offseason hostage while other commodities gradually disappear from the free-agent market.

How much longer can they afford to wait if they have real interest in competing in 2016?

The willingness to offer Davis nine figures — an amount some already feel is a bad investment — and to wait out the entire offseason to do so makes it all the more baffling why the Orioles weren’t willing to give Nelson Cruz a fourth year on a more reasonable contract last winter.

And what will the excuse be if they don’t land Davis and other viable options are gone? The Orioles stood on the returns of Davis, Matt Wieters, and Manny Machado as reasons why they’d be able to overcome last year’s free-agent exodus, but there is no such crutch this time around.

They can say they tried, but attempting to sign a high-priced free agent and actually doing it are different things entirely. Continuously underestimating market prices and complaining about opt-out clauses don’t make you any better on the field.

Despite Wieters’ acceptance of the $15.8 million qualifying offer — a development that shouldn’t cripple a club’s long-term plan — the Orioles made some solid moves early in the offseason in trading for first baseman/designated hitter Mark Trumbo, re-signing All-Star reliever Darren O’Day, and taking a two-year, $7 million flier on Kim. But the offseason has come to a screeching halt since then with major holes still needing to be addressed.

Baltimore continues to wait on Davis as if he were the Holy Grail, the only direction they can possibly go this offseason.

But a month after saying they’ve moved on, the Orioles appear stuck on plan A and have apparently forgotten what comes next in the alphabet.

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Orioles free agents Chen, Parra find new teams

Posted on 12 January 2016 by Luke Jones

After months of waiting, the Orioles have finally lost their first free agents of the offseason.

Though his departure was always expected, starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen agreed to a five-year, $80 million contract with Miami, according to multiple reports. Represented by Scott Boras, the Taiwanese lefty will have an opt-out clause after two years and a vesting sixth-year option worth an additional $16 million.

Outfielder Gerardo Parra also agreed to a three-year deal, $27.5 million deal with the Colorado Rockies, per MLB Network.

The loss of Chen is clearly the more damaging blow after the 30-year-old served as the steadiest member of the Baltimore starting rotation over the last four years. Originally signed to a three-year contract with a club option prior to the 2012 season, Chen went 46-32 with a 3.72 ERA over 117 starts while earning a total of $15.466 million, less than the average annual value of his new contract with the Marlins.

Though the Orioles saw their starter ERA fall to 14th in the American League at 4.53, Chen remained the bright spot in 2015 as he posted a career-best 3.34 ERA in 191 1/3 innings. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette never expressed optimism at the prospects of re-signing Chen, but he did say at the start of the offseason that he wanted to acquire a starter for the top half of the rotation, something he has yet to accomplish with spring training roughly a month away.

Because they made Chen a qualifying offer at the beginning of the offseason, the Orioles will receive a compensatory pick at the conclusion of the first round of June’s amateur draft.

The Orioles currently have a starting rotation consisting of Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Miguel Gonzalez, and Ubaldo Jimenez with the fifth spot appearing wide open. Veteran newcomer Vance Worley, Mike Wright, and Tyler Wilson would appear to be the top candidates for the No. 5 job if no additions are made.

Acquired from Milwaukee at last July’s trade deadline in exchange for minor-league pitcher Zach Davies, Parra was a disappointment in his two months with the Orioles, batting just .237 with five home runs, 20 RBIs, and a .625 on-base plus slugging percentage and struggling in the field. The 28-year-old was worth -1.1 wins above replacement with the Orioles, according to Baseball Reference.

With the Parra signing, the Rockies immediately appeared to have a surplus of outfielders and the Orioles have been linked to two-time All-Star Carlos Gonzalez in past trade talks. However, a limited farm system would appear to make a high-impact trade a difficult chore.

According to FOX Sports, the Orioles were having “ongoing trade talks” with the Rockies immediately after news of the Parra signing broke.

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Orioles, Nats and MASN Money for Dummies: A complete primer on how Peter Angelos has lied and pocketed your dough

Posted on 03 January 2016 by Nestor Aparicio

“What you can expect, though, that those that comment – putting aside the fellow you mentioned (Nestor Aparicio), who you know is not even worthy of getting into that (chuckles), it really makes no sense to respond to him – the responsible people, who know baseball and who are baseball fans – the writers like you (Stan Charles) – if they want to criticize, they better look at the economics. They owe it to the public to explain to whoever is interested that the problem is disparity in revenues. Now, I have heard some of them mention that this MASN development might really generate some real funds, which would permit the Orioles to spend more money. That’s a pretty strong acknowledgment that the key to all this, to get off the losing years and so on, is more money invested on the field. And obviously, with that becoming available, that’s exactly what we’re going to do. We’re going to do that because we are hometown and we are sensitive to what the public is thinking. I know a lot of Baltimore fans, and, just personally, I want them to feel like I am responding to their wishes.”

Peter G. Angelos, May 2006

(as told to PressBox via Q&A)

PETER G. ANGELOS DOESN’T WANT YOU to know about the billions of dollars he has collected, dispensed and quietly usurped from local sports fans from six states via your cable television bill. It’s time for someone who is “responsible” to do the math on where all of that money has gone over the last 10 years as the Orioles. and its spinoff cable TV partner the Mid Atlantic Sports Network (MASN), have become a virtual annuity for the owner here in Baltimore.

Clearly, given the dozen years that he’s fought with his Major League Baseball partners, Bud Selig, Rob Manfred and now Ted Lerner and the Washington Nationals over this incredible sum of “found” money, surely there must some large pot of gold somewhere? The Washington Post wrote that it was $298 million in dispute from 2011 to 2015 after the New York Supreme Court hearing in early November. But that’s just the tip of the financial iceberg – a small number compared to all of the money that’s been flushed through MASN since it was berthed as a olive branch to Angelos by then-commissioner Bud Selig for allowing baseball back into the nation’s capital in 2005.

Over the last decade, I’ve been portrayed as a liar or a heretic by Peter G. Angelos and his media partners. After 21 years with a Baltimore Orioles media credential, my access was taken away by the club in 2007.

However, my track record still stands as unblemished heading into 2016.

I always tell the truth and write the truth. (That’s why you’re here.)

As you’ll see, I’ve put in all of the work for you – a little “term paper” for you oldtimers who spent time with microfiche in a lonely library – so you can learn about this history and realities of how the Nationals came into existence and what it’s meant for Baltimore and Washington baseball and the fans.

This series of facts is presented with two educational goals:

  • Track everything that was said – and very openly in the “mainstream” media – a decade ago when Angelos began this power struggle for the future money of Washington, D.C. and what he considered his market
  • Document everything that has happened since he began this trail of lies in search of all of the money that was designed and originally earmarked to improve the Baltimore Orioles

Everything presented in this series will be linked to major media entities like Forbes, The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, The New York Times, ESPN/Grantland, Sports Illustrated, USA Today and various reports with financial annotations. I’ve always been accountable in my work. Meanwhile, accountability is always completely absent from the mind and spirit of Angelos and his …

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Orioles should only close door on Davis with real alternative in place

Posted on 09 December 2015 by Luke Jones

The Orioles need to make improvements for the 2016 season.

Contrary to popular belief, they don’t need to re-sign slugger Chris Davis in order to accomplish that.

Of course, it’s exciting to know that the organization has made a reported seven-year, $150 million offer, which would obliterate the previous franchise-record contract of $85.5 million awarded to Adam Jones in 2012. And keeping Davis would make life easier for manager Buck Showalter and the Orioles in trying to compete in the American League East in 2016 and beyond.

But it’s not the only means of building a winner. Re-signing Davis alone isn’t enough as the Orioles finished only 81-81 with him clubbing 47 home runs. They would still have needs in the starting rotation and outfield to address.

Let’s also not forget a 96-66 mark that netted a division championship came during Davis’ worst season in Baltimore.

It isn’t all about home runs as the Orioles have had the major league leader in each of the last three seasons and have just one playoff appearance over that time to show for it. The point is there are numerous ways to construct a winner if you’re willing to put in the work and spend wisely.

According to CBSSports.com, Davis is seeking an eight-year, $200 million contract, which has drawn the ire of many fans believing he’s not worth such lucrative money. It’s an uncomfortable reminder that the market alone dictates what a player is ultimately worth, and as of late Wednesday night, no other club was known to have a better offer on the table, which was good news for the Orioles.

Neither Davis nor the Orioles should take the negotiations personally.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette shouldn’t bid against himself, but super agent Scott Boras knows it’s barely mid-December and the market has been slower to develop for premier position players than top-shelf starting pitchers. It’s well within the interest of his client to wait if he’s looking for the best possible deal — Boras has done this countless times over the years — but the Orioles have no obligation to be the ones on standby for an extended time while alternatives dissipate and Davis continues to seek a more attractive offer.

They just can’t be surprised by this.

Yes, this is where it gets tricky for the Orioles. This is where fans can judge whether the organization is really deserving of praise for their efforts to re-sign the hulking first baseman.

Duquette and Showalter continue to point to the possibility of moving on from Davis if a deal isn’t struck sooner rather than later. It’s sound negotiating, but only if they have a real alternative ready to agree to a contract on the spot. And, no, that doesn’t mean a cheap deal with former Pittsburgh Pirate Pedro Alvarez before making a few other bargain-basement signings and calling it a winter.

The only reason the Orioles should walk away from Davis at this point is if they already have a high-impact agreement with someone like Justin Upton or Alex Gordon or Scott Kazmir or — better yet — with more than one of those names. Otherwise, the act of “closing the door” on Davis while merely talking about alternatives is not only a hollow tactic that burns a bridge, but it wouldn’t help negotiations with other free agents who would then know Davis is no longer an option.

Worst of all, it could become an empty promise to an anxious fan base. Understanding how Boras operates, the Orioles had to know this was a distinct possibility, making cynics doubt their true intentions if they’re to swiftly walk away from negotiations without something else significant already in place.

It means nothing for the Orioles to say they gave it the “old college try” to keep Davis if it’s followed by a return to the operating procedure we witnessed last offseason. A special $150 million investment from owner Peter Angelos allocated for Davis and no one else would make little sense with there being countless other ways — perhaps better ones — to augment the club with that kind of money.

In truth, it may not be wise to give Davis $150 million, let alone to consider offering him an amount even closer to what he wants. Just ask the folks in Philadelphia how the Ryan Howard deal has worked out, and he was a former league MVP who had twice led the majors in home runs. And then there’s that matter of trying to sign Manny Machado to a long-term contract in the not-too-distant future, something that will take even more money to do.

The current scenario with Davis would have been preposterous a year ago with him coming off a season in which he hit .196 and was suspended 25 games for Adderall use. But here the sides are with the Orioles saying they’re willing to give the biggest contract in club history if Davis wants to sign it.

Most fans are applauding the club’s effort, but it won’t mean a thing unless the Orioles succeed in either getting it done or walking away because they’ve made another high-impact move instead. To hastily cut off negotiations without a substantial plan B firmly in place would be questionable strategy and will only lead fans to wonder if they were ever fully serious about signing Davis considering Boras’ normal tactics of waiting it out for other clubs to jump into the mix.

Make no mistake, it’s good to see the Orioles pursuing a high-priced free agent. If a deal gets done, it’s a significant step for an organization with a long track record of being unwilling to spend big dollars. If the Orioles don’t sign Davis, they should be judged based on what happens after that — not praised simply because they tried to keep him.

One can only hope it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition that’s more for show than anything else.

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Wieters’ decision throws monkey wrench into Orioles’ offseason

Posted on 13 November 2015 by Luke Jones

Matt Wieters acknowledged what we all saw in 2015 by accepting the Orioles’ $15.8 million qualifying offer on Friday, meaning he will remain in Baltimore next season.

Though not yet 30 and still a quality player, the three-time All-Star catcher knew there were too many doubts to net him a contract similar to the ones signed by Brian McCann (five years, $85 million) and Russell Martin (five years, $82 million) in the last two offseasons. Having caught on consecutive days just five times in his first season back from Tommy John surgery, Wieters — and agent Scott Boras — concluded that potential suitors would not have been willing to make such a dramatic investment in him just yet.

And that’s why he accepted Baltimore’s one-year deal and will now use 2016 as a showcase year before potentially re-entering the free-agent market next winter. Wieters will receive a very healthy $7.5 million raise from his 2015 salary of $8.3 million in the meantime.

The decision makes perfect sense for Wieters, but the news likely throws a monkey wrench into the Orioles’ offseason plans after they expected him to reject the offer, which would have netted them a supplemental pick at the end of the first round of the 2016 amateur draft. With the Orioles still having a plethora of needs to address from first base to the corner outfield spots to upgrading the starting pitching, you wonder how much this impacts Dan Duquette’s ability to make other improvements without a sizable increase from 2015’s payroll that was just south of $120 million.

But the Orioles have no one to blame but themselves knowing it was always a possibility that Wieters would accept their offer unlike first baseman Chris Davis and starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen, who both rejected theirs on Friday.

With fellow catcher Caleb Joseph playing above-average defense — his 12 defensive runs saved ranked second in the American League this past season — and showing an acceptable bat at the position for a fraction of what Wieters will now make in 2016, the Orioles would have been better served to have forgone the uncertain chance of netting a draft pick to spend that $15.8 million elsewhere. According to Baseball Reference, Joseph was worth 2.2 wins above replacement in 2015 compared to Wieters’ 0.8 WAR in 75 games after his return in June.

Though Wieters has earned a strong reputation behind the plate with Gold Gloves won in 2011 and 2012, the Orioles pitched to a 4.38 ERA with him catching in 2015 compared to a 3.65 mark when Joseph was behind the dish. Baltimore also pitched to a 3.00 ERA with Joseph catching in 2014 compared to a 3.80 mark with anyone else behind the plate.

Simply put, the gap — if there is any — between Wieters and Joseph isn’t great enough to justify spending so much more money on the former when the Orioles have so many other positions to address. It’s money better spent in the effort to try to keep Davis or to sign an impact corner outfielder or starting pitcher this winter.

Of course, we’re also assuming the money now spent on Wieters would have been wisely allocated elsewhere, which was never a given.

For those arguing that Wieters could be moved to first base to replace Chris Davis, a career .743 on-base plus slugging percentage and unknown defensive ability make for an expensive downgrade at the position. Wieters’ offensive value as a catcher all but vanishes when moving him to a offensive-minded position like first base.

In addition, such a move would not be popular with either Wieters or Boras in what will amount to a platform season to rebuild the catcher’s market value.

Considering the lack of offseason activity a year ago as the Orioles were coming off their 2014 AL East championship season, some fans will be happy to know that at least one quality player won’t be departing this winter. At least the organization has already done “something” this winter, right?

But for a club needing to not only stand its ground but to try to improve from an 81-81 campaign and a third-place finish in 2015, Wieters is much more of an expensive luxury than a critical need. And that could hurt the Orioles dearly this winter unless they’re willing to spend more money than anyone is currently anticipating.

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Facing many changes, Orioles can only wonder what’s next

Posted on 05 October 2015 by Luke Jones

Chris Davis hit two home runs, Matt Wieters drove in two runs, and Darren O’Day pitched a scoreless eighth inning in the Orioles’ 9-4 win over the New York Yankees on the final day of the 2015 season.

A day earlier, Wei-Yin Chen pitched six solid innings to earn the win.

For their four biggest free agents, the weekend served as a final reminder of just how important they’ve been to the club’s turnaround as the Orioles finished their fourth consecutive non-losing season on Sunday, something they hadn’t done in three decades. Of course, 81 wins in 2015 were disappointing after 96 victories and an American League East title a year ago, but even a .500 standard felt unreachable just five years ago when Buck Showalter first arrived.

Now, it’s considered a failure.

“Every time there’s the first hint of fall in the air, I want people to think about playoff baseball and the World Series,” said Showalter, who managed Sunday’s game after his mother passed away on Saturday. “That’s why we get up in the morning, that’s why you go to spring training, that’s why you do the things we’re going to do between now and next February. We’re not giving in.

“It’s not good enough though. It’s not good enough. [A record of] 81-81 ain’t good enough. We’re trying to win. We want to be the last team standing, the last city standing. Our city deserves that.”

By now, no one should doubt Showalter leading the way in the dugout, but even the most optimistic fans are questioning the future after the Orioles posted the best record in the AL over the last four seasons with a .543 winning percentage. With so many pending free agents and the Orioles’ offseason track record, many doubt whether 81 wins will even be a reasonable goal for the 2016 club without ownership making significant financial commitments.

The general consensus is that the Orioles will survive without Wieters, who still hasn’t proven he can be an everyday catcher again after last year’s Tommy John surgery. For a fraction of the price, Caleb Joseph can provide respectable offense and better defense than Wieters at this stage of his career.

But replacing the other big-ticket free agents is a different story.

Davis just led the majors in home runs for the second time in three years and has clubbed 159 over his four full seasons in Baltimore. It’s the kind of power rarely seen in this pitching-rich era of baseball, but are the Orioles willing to offer a nine-figure contract to even sit down at the negotiating table with agent Scott Boras?

We know what history says until executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and owner Peter Angelos prove us wrong. If not, the Orioles will be allowing a major league home run champion to depart for a second consecutive winter.

Though far from an ace, Chen was the Orioles’ best starting pitcher in 2015 with a career-best 3.34 ERA. The 30-year-old lefty has never pitched 200 innings in a season and will likely command more money than he’s worth as a middle-of-the-rotation starter on the open market, but Baltimore lacks the pitching depth to replace him from within like the best organizations will often do. For a club that finished 14th in the AL in starter ERA and gave up 100 more runs than it did a year ago, replacing Chen will be much more difficult than letting him leave.

And then there’s O’Day, who was claimed off waivers after the 2011 season and has been the backbone of the Orioles’ biggest strength over the last four years. The right-hander just made 68 or more appearances for the fourth consecutive season and lowered his ERA each year. Rarely is it wise to spend significant money on relievers, but the 32-year-old has arguably been the best non-closer relief pitcher in the majors over the last four years. Baltimore has other young relievers such as Brad Brach and Mychal Givens who pitched well in 2015, but weakening the club’s biggest strength would be a dangerous proposition.

The Orioles will also need to make decisions on the likes of Gerardo Parra, Steve Pearce, and Nolan Reimold as they try to fix the corner outfield spots that were a disaster in 2015. Parra disappointed after being acquired from Milwaukee at the trade deadline while Pearce and Reimold should only be viewed as reserves at most.

Reinforcements in the minors appear few and far between at this point as outfielder Dariel Alvarez and first baseman Christian Walker barely garnered a look in September promotions. Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson may eventually settle into bullpen roles, but neither are viable options to pencil into the 2016 starting rotation if the Orioles have visions of contending. Oft-injured pitching prospect Dylan Bundy is out of minor-league options next year, but to expect anything more than a bullpen role for him to begin 2016 would be foolish.

The harsh truth is that the aforementioned decisions all involve players who were already part of a .500 club. The goal is to be better than 81-81, right?

For example, even if the Orioles were to re-sign Davis, O’Day, and Parra, what do they do to improve their starting rotation and the other outfield spot flanking Adam Jones in center?

Improving from .500 in 2016 will also depend on at least a few incumbents bouncing back from underwhelming seasons. Starting pitchers Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez were clear disappointments while the 24-year-old Kevin Gausman didn’t take the step forward you would have liked to see. Given the track records of the previous three seasons for Tillman and Gonzalez and the potential of Gausman, it’s probably reasonable to expect at least two of those three to be better in 2016 than they were this season.

But that still leaves an open rotation spot and doesn’t even consider the enigma that is Ubaldo Jimenez, who has two years remaining on his $50 million contract. To be serious about contending in 2016, the Orioles need to find another starter to at least slot into the top half of the rotation and should probably add another arm to compete for the No. 5 spot at the very least.

Easier said than done.

More improvement from within is always possible as the Orioles hope that shortstop J.J. Hardy can be better at the plate after playing with a torn labrum in his left shoulder all season. Even a return to his 2014 production would be welcomed after Hardy was a liability at the plate with a career-worst .564 on-base plus slugging percentage this year.

Can Jonathan Schoop be even better have improving his OPS from .598 as a rookie to .788 this season?

Is there yet another level for the 23-year-old Manny Machado to climb after he already became one of the best players in baseball this year? It’d be unfair to expect that, but he’s certainly a special talent.

Many questions and few answers for the Orioles as they potentially say goodbye to a number of key contributors from the last four years while exploring ways to not only fill those voids but improve from an 81-81 record in 2015. And that’s not even taking into account the concerns surrounding the working relationship of Duquette and Showalter.

No, the Orioles reaching the .500 mark in Sunday’s finale wasn’t the end goal they had in mind.

But you wonder whether they can even reach that plateau next year with such an uncertain offseason ahead.

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Despite focus on offensive woes, rotation has sealed Orioles’ 2015 fate

Posted on 08 September 2015 by Luke Jones

The Orioles’ offseason departures of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis need to be rehashed about as much as Chris Tillman desires another start against the Toronto Blue Jays at this point.

We get it.

Even if you might have agreed with the decision not to sign either outfielder to a four-year contract, there’s no excusing an offseason plan that essentially consisted of writing checks to a long list of arbitration-eligible players and trading for a failed former first-round pick (outfielder Travis Snider) after one good half in 2014.

But even with the corner outfield woes that have lingered all year, the reeling Orioles entered Tuesday averaging 4.36 runs per contest, a mark nearly identical to last season’s 4.35 scored per game. It may not feel that way with the offense’s extreme peaks and valleys during a difficult 2015 season, but the numbers don’t lie.

Would the Orioles still be in contention for a playoff spot with Cruz and Markakis? Certainly.

But would Buck Showalter’s club be even with Toronto and the New York Yankees in the American League East race? Based on the way the starting rotation has performed, probably not.

That failure has ultimately sealed the Orioles’ fate as they entered Tuesday a season-worst seven games below .500 and 7 1/2 games out of the second wild card spot.

After ranking fifth in the AL with a 3.61 starter ERA in 2014 — the rotation was even better after the All-Star break with a 2.98 ERA — Orioles starters had a 4.59 ERA through their first 137 games, ranking 13th in the AL. Baltimore posted no worse than a 3.55 ERA in each of the final four months of 2014 while this year’s rotation has pitched to no better than a 3.84 mark in any single month.

You simply can’t expect to sustain success when your starters have been nearly an entire run worse per nine innings than they were a year ago. When you strip away the names and perceptions, the offensive numbers and bullpen ERA are very similar to 2014 while the starting rotation has woefully fallen short of last year’s pace.

Entering Tuesday, the Orioles had scored three or fewer runs in 46 percent of their games this season and held a 9-54 record under such circumstances. A year ago, Baltimore scored three or fewer 44.4 percent of the time and was 21-51 in those games.

Say what you will about the offensive struggles putting pressure on the pitcher, but it’s a two-way street when only one member of the starting rotation holds an ERA below 4.00. The offense has prompted much hair-pulling over significant stretches of 2015, but the times when Orioles starters have picked up the lineup have been few and far between.

Even if Dan Duquette anticipated the Orioles offense matching last year’s overall run production, he failed in leaving no margin for error for a rotation that exceeded expectations in 2014. That said, even the executive’s biggest detractors couldn’t have expected the starting pitching to be quite this poor.

Short of the Orioles making a marquee signing for an ace such as 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, few called for Duquette to make significant changes to the rotation this offseason after such a strong 2014. Less than a year later, the Orioles are left wondering who will even fit into the 2016 equation.

Tillman sports an ERA above 5.00 after three straight years of pitching to a 3.71 mark or better to establish himself as the club’s de facto ace.

After three straight years as a reliable starter, Miguel Gonzalez has been a disaster since late June and is currently on the disabled list.

Kevin Gausman was not only mishandled at the beginning of the season, but the 24-year-old hasn’t been able to build on a 2014 season in which he posted a 3.57 ERA in 20 starts.

A 15-game winner a year ago, Bud Norris didn’t even make it to August with a 7.06 ERA.

Ubaldo Jimenez has followed the narrative of most of his career with a strong first half (2.81 ERA) followed by a 6.88 ERA since the All-Star break, but there has been no attractive option to replace him like there was with Gausman last year.

Wei-Yin Chen is the only starter you can feel good about this season, but even he has allowed a club-leading 28 home runs. On top of that, the Taiwanese lefty is set to become a free agent at the end of the year and appears unlikely to return.

It’s easy to say the Orioles would be fine if they still had Cruz and Markakis — they’ve clearly been missed — but the story of last year’s 96-win club was more about a starting rotation that took off over the final four months of the season than offensive firepower. At a time when the Orioles needed to bear down this season, the starting rotation has instead saved its worst performance for August (5.23 ERA) and September (8.76 in the first six starts).

Most of the attention has naturally remained on an inconsistent offense after such a failure of an offseason, but the starting rotation that picked up the Orioles a year ago has instead helped hammer the final nails into the coffin for 2015.

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Apr 5, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Jake Arrieta (34) pitches in the third inning against the Minnesota Twins on Opening Day at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

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Looking back at Arrieta’s Orioles departure

Posted on 31 August 2015 by Luke Jones

Hindsight is always crystal clear and it takes no baseball genius to see that the Orioles trading Jake Arrieta to the Chicago Cubs looks like a terrible decision two years later.

But as Orioles fans wondered what might have been Sunday night as Arrieta pitched a no-hitter in Chavez Ravine — his league-leading 17th win of the season — many of those same individuals screamed for the organization to give up on the right-hander in 2013 when he sported a 5.46 career ERA in parts of four seasons in Baltimore. In trading Arrieta and erratic relief pitcher Pedro Strop, the Orioles picked up starting pitcher Scott Feldman (and catcher Steve Clevenger) to help in a push for a second straight playoff appearance that ultimately fell short.

Though executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette fetched an underwhelming return for two flawed pitchers who still possessed plenty of upside and have gone on to have much success in Chicago, the big-picture concern is the Orioles’ longstanding inability to develop young pitching as Arrieta is just one in a long list of talented prospects not to pan out in Baltimore for a variety of reasons.

But that isn’t even the part of the equation that stings the most when you look back at the circumstances of the time. Despite electric stuff that Arrieta flashed on more than one occasion, the 27-year-old made just six career appearances with the Orioles out of the bullpen. There’s no disputing that he didn’t belong in the rotation with a 7.23 ERA in 2013, but why didn’t the Orioles move an arm such as his to the bullpen in a long relief role on at least a temporary basis?

Because the Orioles had Rule 5 pick T.J. McFarland stuck there.

If McFarland would have at least developed into a solid No. 4 or No. 5 starter by this point, everyone would still second-guess the Arrieta deal, but at least you could say the Orioles had brought another viable starter into the picture. Instead, the 26-year-old lefty is plugging away in a very similar role two years later and hasn’t been a real difference-maker.

Many have questioned the Orioles’ strange obsession with the Rule 5 draft and you can’t help but wonder if maybe — just maybe — Arrieta would have eventually figured it out after some time in the bullpen to either become a successful starter or at least move into a meaningful bullpen role in a way similar to All-Star closer Zach Britton. Maybe such a strategy would have only been delaying an inevitable release or a different trade down the line, but it would have been another avenue to explore with an untapped talent.

Instead, the organization viewed McFarland as the preferable option moving forward, which makes you doubt its talent evaluation in addition to the ability to develop pitchers.

A change of scenery ultimately worked perfectly for Arrieta as he’s blossomed into one of the best pitchers in baseball this year. No one would have reasonably bet on him finding this dramatic level of success when he was traded, but it’s disappointing that the organization preferred to trade him in order to rent an average starting pitcher — Feldman was never going to substantially move the meter in a playoff race — and to keep a lesser Rule 5 arm in a bullpen role perfectly suited for Arrieta at the time.

It isn’t so terrible that the Orioles gave up on Arrieta after 358 major league innings consisting of more hair-pulling frustration than success. Already 27 at the time, Arrieta may have never figured it out in Baltimore.

But what stings is the organization trading him away for little upside in return and without exhausting every avenue to try to make it work.

 

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