Tag Archive | "Wei-Yin Chen"

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Orioles reportedly closing in on free-agent starter Gallardo

Posted on 10 February 2016 by Luke Jones

After stating a desire to improve their rotation and subsequently losing their best starter from 2015 this winter, the Orioles appear on the verge of finally making a significant pitching addition.

According to multiple reports, Baltimore is moving closer to a three-year deal with free agent Yovani Gallardo to sure up a rotation that finished 14th in the American League in ERA last season. Turning 30 later this month, Gallardo carries a 3.66 career ERA over nine major league seasons and has made at least 30 starts in seven straight years.

The right-hander was reportedly seeking a three-year, $40 million deal a month ago, but the possibility of an opt-out clause has also been discussed.

The sides have been linked as a potential fit for much of the offseason, but Texas made a $15.8 million qualifying offer to Gallardo in early November, meaning the Orioles would forfeit the 14th overall pick in June’s draft to sign him. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has expressed hesitancy to surrender the pick at several points this offseason, but the free-agent departure of Wei-Yin Chen left a huge void in an already-suspect rotation and the Orioles passed on a variety of options who weren’t given qualifying offers.

The Orioles currently have six picks over the first 100 spots in the 2016 amateur draft.

Beyond surrendering a pick, signing Gallardo would come with additional risk as his average fastball velocity has dipped from 92.6 miles per hour in 2011 to 90.5 last season. His strikeout rate has also decreased in three straight seasons and fell to a career-low 5.9 per nine innings in 2015 after averaging more than a strikeout per frame in his first six seasons in the big leagues.

However, his strong ground-ball rate hovering around 50 percent over the last few years would be attractive when he’d be starting half of his games at homer-happy Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

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Improving starting pitching complicated matter for Orioles

Posted on 19 January 2016 by Luke Jones

We know the Orioles need another starting pitcher.

In an ideal world, they’d add two to help fill the void of free-agent departure Wei-Yin Chen — their most consistent starter over the last four seasons — and provide more assistance to a staff that finished 14th in the American League in starter ERA last year.

But even if executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette does add a starter between now and the start of the season, refining from within will be paramount if the Orioles are to improve from the 81-81 record that left them on the outside looking in last October.

The starting pitching details from the end of 2015 are all too familiar by now.

Bud Norris was downright awful before finally being jettisoned in late July.

A declining strikeout rate (7.8 per nine innings in 2013 down to 6.2 last year) and a nightmarish 11.72 ERA in six starts against Toronto — his ERA against the rest of baseball was a respectable 3.84 — led to Chris Tillman’s worst ERA (4.99) since the 2011 season when he was still trying to establish himself as a major league pitcher.

Miguel Gonzalez had a shiny 3.33 ERA in his first dozen starts before a groin injury sent him to the disabled list in mid-June. He was never the same after that, posting a 6.53 ERA in his remaining 14 starts and going on the DL again in September.

For the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez, improved command and a greater reliance on his two-seam fastball led to a 2.81 ERA in the first half of 2015 before he relapsed with a 5.63 mark following the All-Star break.

And the Orioles are hoping that a full season in the starting rotation for the 25-year-old Kevin Gausman will allow him to take the giant step forward many believe he’s capable of.

It’s easy to say that manager Buck Showalter needs more from these four starters, but what about other factors impact their pitching results?

As discussed extensively at the end of last season, the defense performing more like it did in 2014 would go a long way in helping a starting rotation that largely pitches to contact. However, the man receiving the pitches is also an important factor in their results.

That’s where the discussion becomes complicated with Matt Wieters accepting the $15.8 million qualifying offer for the 2016 season. The three-time All-Star catcher is better than Caleb Joseph offensively, but is Wieters — who won Gold Glove awards in 2011 and 2012 — the best catching option for Orioles pitching at this point?

Not according to the 2015 numbers with the departed Chen included below:

     2015 ERA pitching to Joseph      2015 ERA pitching to Wieters
Tillman 3.51 in 77 IP 4.88 in 83 IP
Gonzalez 4.18 in 71 IP 5.98 in 46 2/3 IP
Jimenez 2.87 in 144 1/3 IP 8.62 in 39 2/3 IP
Gausman 4.07 in 59 2/3 IP 4.38 in 51 1/3 IP
Chen 3.67 in 108 IP 3.18 in 65 IP

 

To be clear, these numbers alone don’t prove anything conclusive as Chen was the Orioles’ top starter and the only one to find more success with Wieters than Joseph last year. There are plenty of other factors impacting pitcher performance in this breakdown such as the opponents and the ballpark. Wieters also received most of his work behind the plate in the second half of 2015 when Gonzalzez and Jimenez were out of whack, and it would be wrong to significantly attribute their struggles to the veteran catcher’s return.

With Wieters being another year removed from Tommy John surgery, it would be fair to assume he’ll be more comfortable with pitch-calling after not catching in the majors for over a year and still spending time rehabbing even after his return in early June. It’s not as though Tillman and Gonzalez weren’t successful working with Wieters in 2012 and 2013 when both had consecutive seasons pitching to ERAs well below 4.00.

But more and more data is quantifying pitch-framing and how important it can be to a staff’s success, and this is where Joseph has proven to be valuable over the last two seasons. According to Baseball Prospectus, Joseph ranked ninth in the majors in called strikes above average and 10th in framing runs among qualified catchers last season after ranking seventh in CSAA and ninth in framing runs in 2014 when the starting rotation was among the best in the league in the second half.

Simply put, Joseph positions himself and receives the ball so effectively that he receives more called strikes on borderline pitches than the average catcher.

In contrast, Wieters — who is listed to be two inches taller and 50 pounds heavier than Joseph — has been a below-average framer over the last few years after being a top 10 performer in that area early in his career. Before posting below-average framing numbers in parts of the last two seasons, Wieters ranked 25th in CSAA and 26th in framing runs in his last full season in 2013 and finished 13th in both categories in 2012.

When you have starters who mostly lack the electric stuff required to miss bats consistently, pitching along the edges of the strike zone becomes even more important than it already is. Stealing as many borderline strikes as possible may not turn a terrible pitching staff into a great one, but it can still go a long way over the course of a full season. This is how Orioles pitching would benefit having Joseph behind the plate more often than Wieters.

We’ll see how Showalter ultimately distributes the playing time, but all signs point to Wieters being the primary catcher and that wouldn’t be surprising given the steep financial commitment being made to him for the 2016 season. This will likely provide a boost from an offensive standpoint, but you hope the hidden cost won’t be too harmful to a starting rotation needing all the help it can get if the Orioles are to jump back into serious contention after their first non-winning season since 2011.

Ultimately, the Orioles need better performance from their incumbent starting pitchers and that responsibility mostly falls on their shoulders, but effective framing and stronger defense would further augment the strides they hope to make in 2016.

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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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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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Orioles extend qualifying offers to Wieters, Chen, Davis

Posted on 06 November 2015 by Luke Jones

With free agency officially opening at midnight on Saturday morning, the Orioles face their most critical offseason in recent memory if they plan to remain competitive in 2016 and beyond.

As expected, the club made qualifying offers — one-year, $15.8 million contracts for the 2016 season — to first baseman Chris Davis, starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen, and catcher Matt Wieters on Friday afternoon. If any — or all — of the three rejects the offer and signs with another club, the Orioles are then awarded a supplemental first-round pick in the 2016 draft.

A club signing a player who previously rejected a qualifying offer from his original club must then forfeit its first- or second-round pick based on its 2015 record.

The Orioles were always expected to make qualifying offers to Davis and Chen, but there was some doubt as to whether they’d extend one to Wieters. With the 29-year-old catching only 55 games a year removed from Tommy John surgery, some had wondered if the Orioles would refrain in fear of him accepting a hefty one-year salary and impacting the rest of their offseason budget.

However, Wieters’ agent, Scott Boras, has been one of the harshest critics of the qualifying offer system, making it unlikely that he would accept one on behalf of his client. Considering Wieters’ heavy workload early in his career and that he’s one of only a handful of major league catchers to have the serious elbow procedure over the years, it will be interesting to see what kind of market exists for the three-time All-Star selection, especially with a club now needing to forfeit a draft draft pick to sign him.

Baltimore has three other free agents — reliever Darren O’Day and outfielders Gerardo Parra and Steve Pearce — who did not receive qualifying offers, but the club has expressed interest in re-signing all three.

The Orioles also announced on Friday that they had selected the contract of left-handed pitcher Chris Jones from Triple-A Norfolk. The 27-year-old went 8-8 with a 2.94 ERA in 150 innings last season.

“Chris Jones has compiled two good years at Triple-A since becoming a starter and really improved his control in 2015,” executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said in a statement. “By continuing to pitch well in the Dominican Republic this winter, he has earned his spot on the roster.”

This move leaves the Orioles with 36 players on their current 40-man roster.

With a New York state judge throwing out an arbitration decision regarding rights fees owed to the Washington Nationals by Orioles-controlled MASN on Wednesday, many fans hope that means an increase in payroll to re-sign Davis as well and upgrade the starting pitching and outfield situations after Buck Showalter’s club failed to have a winning season for the first time since 2011. However, it remains to be seen if that will have any tangible effect after the Orioles had a payroll just under $119 million on Opening Day, according to Baseball Prospectus.

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Orioles claim right-handed pitcher Worley from Pittsburgh

Posted on 20 October 2015 by Luke Jones

Facing one of their most critical offseasons in recent memory, the Orioles made a minor move Tuesday by claiming right-handed pitcher Vance Worley from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

In 2015, the 28-year-old Worley went 4-6 with a 4.02 ERA in 71 2/3 innings for the Pirates with 15 of his 23 appearances coming in relief. Owning a career 3.79 ERA in parts of six major league seasons, Worley is a depth acquisition who could pitch in relief or possibly compete for the No. 5 starter spot.

His best season came in 2014 when he pitched to a 2.85 ERA in 18 games (17 starts) for the Pirates. Worley also posted a 3.01 ERA in 131 2/3 innings for the Phillies in 2011, but he pitched to a 7.21 ERA in 48 2/3 innings with Minnesota in 2013, his lone season in the American League.

The right-hander has only averaged 6.9 strikeouts per nine innings in his career, but his 2.7 walks per nine and 0.8 home runs allowed per nine make him worthy of a look if his financial demands are within reason.

A 2008 third-round pick of the Philadelphia Phillies, Worley made $2.45 million this past season and is eligible for arbitration this winter.

To make room for Worley on the 40-man roster, right-handed pitcher Jorge Rondon was designated for assignment.

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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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It’s time for Orioles to start looking toward future

Posted on 23 July 2015 by Luke Jones

The 2015 season isn’t over, but it’s time for the Orioles to look in the mirror and acknowledge what they’ve seen for almost four months.

A mediocre club.

No, Baltimore isn’t as bad as a 5-12 record in July would indicate, but we can’t be fooled again into thinking a run of 18 wins in 23 games last month is the real indication of who the 2015 club is when the Orioles have just one other winning streak of even three games outside that lone extended stretch of prosperity. They were bound to level off after their hot June in which they briefly climbed atop the American League East, but losing 14 of 19 is an unacceptable way for a streaking club to cool off — if not freeze entirely — if it wants to be taken seriously as a contender.

Trailing the New York Yankees by a season-worst seven games after being swept in the Bronx this week, the Orioles should not be in full-blown fire-sale mode with more than 60 games to go, but trying to be buyers with so few assets in their farm system would be irresponsible at this point. The truth is that with seven notable players set to become free agents this fall, the Orioles need to have more than just an eye toward the future with this year’s outlook not looking promising anymore.

For fans remembering the dark days of 14 consecutive losing seasons, this situation shouldn’t resemble the purge of 2000 that netted only Melvin Mora and what amounted to several bags of cheap fertilizer for the likes of B.J. Surhoff, Mike Bordick, Harold Baines, Charles Johnson, Will Clark, and Mike Timlin in a series of lousy trades. Baseball’s new qualifying offer system makes it clear that the Orioles shouldn’t trade Matt Wieters, Wei-Yin Chen, or Chris Davis for anything short of a return markedly exceeding the value of the draft pick they would receive for any of their departures as free agents.

In other words, this isn’t an endorsement to sell just because of frustration and a desire for change.

But executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette should look to move pending free agents for returns that could help position the Orioles nicely as early as next year. With a core of Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, J.J. Hardy, Kevin Gausman, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, and Zach Britton in place and secured beyond next season, the Orioles aren’t in a position where they need to completely rebuild, especially when remembering how much money will come off the payroll in the offseason.

Some forward thinking would help that cause, however, and the Orioles cannot have a repeat of the unimaginative and poor offseason that included problems beyond the obvious free-agent departures of Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller last winter.

If a club is desperate for an All-Star reliever like Darren O’Day and is willing to part with major league talent or prospects close to being ready for the big leagues — remember what the Orioles gave up for Andrew Miller last July? — Duquette should pull the trigger, especially if he isn’t willing to re-sign him after the season.

A contender willing to put together an impressive package for Chen, Wieters, or Davis should be heard and negotiated with. If you can somehow move what remains of the salaries of Bud Norris or Tommy Hunter, you do it without giving the compensation much thought.

The Orioles shouldn’t feel an intense need to dump all of these players, but trading at least a couple could provide some nice pieces for the near future and may not even completely destroy whatever chance the current team still has to make a run at a wild card. If Buck Showalter’s club is going to rebound from a 46-48 start, the substantial improvement is going to come from within more than anything Duquette might be able to add as a buyer at this point.

Maybe adding a couple young players to the mix is what the Orioles need.

Why not take a look at what 26-year-old Cuban outfielder Dariel Alvarez has to offer? He really couldn’t be much worse that what the Orioles have received from the corner outfield spots so far this season.

If you sell high on Chen, reward 22-year-old pitcher Zach Davies with an audition in the rotation after his strong season at Triple-A Norfolk. Or do the same for Tyler Wilson or Mike Wright.

Over the last couple months, we’ve continued to remember last season as justification for why this year’s Orioles could still turn it around.

But after a disastrous July got even worse in three days of frustration at Yankee Stadium, it might be time to make a few moves to brighten the future instead of continuing to look back at a past further dimming in the rear-view mirror.

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