2012-2013 Offseason Recap

On Monday we looked at a recap of the Orioles 2012 season, and tried to make sense of their unlikely run to the playoffs.  Today, we will take a look at what they could have done to improve, what they should have done, and what they did do.

Last year, the Orioles had a payroll of just over $84 million. The team led the league with 15 arbitration eligible players, each requiring a raise.  The team agreed to contracts with 11 of those 15, for amounts totaling almost $31 million, adding an additional $18 million to the 2012 payroll.  With that in mind, we’ll assume that expensive free agents may add too much money to the team’s already increasing payroll. Just trying to avoid using monopoly money in this exercise.  Additionally, Baltimore’s minor league system is very strong at the top (with RHP Dylan Byndy, RHP Kevin Gausman, and INF Jonathan Schoop), but lacks depth, so an impact trade would be difficult to produce without including one of those 3 players.  With that in mind, these 3 players will not be included in any potential trades.

Monday’s post concluded that based on current roster construction, the best areas to upgrade were at 2B, LF, SP.

Second Base

What they COULD Have Done: Not much.  First off, the team already has $10 million committed to Brian Roberts, who is in the last year of his $40 million contract he began in 2010.  Roberts hasn’t done much since signing that contract, playing in 115 games over the previous 3 years due to a multitude of injuries. However, prior to 2010, Roberts was an elite second baseman, averaging roughly 4.5 WAR from 2005-2009.  If he can stay healthy (a HUGE if), he should be able to produce 2.0 WAR in 2013 (roughly average, which is good).  A healthy Roberts and his career .351 OBP will improve the team’s OBP and baserunning at the top of the order.

Additionally, there wasn’t much on the free agent market, with Jeff Keppinger and Marco Scutaro the best second basemen available.  Both signed for multi-year deals and don’t really represent a significant upgrade over a healthy Roberts.  The trade market also appeared to be slim, with potentially a couple of buy low candidates in Gordon Beckham and Johnny Giavotella.  Again, neither represents an upgrade.

What they SHOULD Have Done: Pray that Brian Roberts stays healthy in his contract year, and maybe get some Brian Roberts insurance (you know, because he’s hurt a lot).

What they DID Do: They claimed Alexi Casilla off of waivers to act as a back-up infielder/Brian Roberts insurance.  With a career triple slash line of .250/.305/.334 (AVG/OBP/SLG) Casilla doesn’t offer much with the bat, but can provide value with solid defense and baserunning.

Left Field

What they COULD Have Done: Nolan Reimold looked good in LF to start 2012, but got hurt after 16 games and never returned.  Nate McLouth did an admirable job filling in following Reimold’s injury, but his recent history prior to his surprising 2012 makes his productive half season with the Orioles look a little fluky.  In fact prior to being signed by Baltimore, McLouth was released by the Pirates (the PIRATES!!!!!) after hitting .140/.210/.175.  He fared much better in Baltimore, but no one would blame you if the thought of Nate McLouth as your starting LF made you a little nauseous.

A lot of options on the free agent market, several of them being potentially good fits for the Orioles.  Some OF free agents such as Torii Hunter, Angel Pagan, and Melky Cabrera did not require the Orioles to give up there 2013 1st round draft pick (#22 overall), while others, including Nick Swisher, Josh Hamilton, BJ Upton, and Michael Bourn would leave Baltimore without the pick.  As mentioned previously, Baltimore’s minor league system is very thin after the top 3, so that pick has a lot of value to the team at this time.  Potential trade options included Denard Span, Chris Young, and Josh Willingham.

What they SHOULD Have Done:   Hindsight is 20/20, but the best option the Orioles had was going after Torii Hunter for the amount the Tigers signed him (2 years, $26 million).  Hunter is unlikely to repeat his 2012 (.389 BABIP compared to a career BABIP of .307), but signing him to play LF would bring in a player with solid, if unspectacular on-base skills (career .335), a well above average defender in a corner OF position, and an average baserunner at this point in his career, on a short contract without having to give up a draft pick.  Of the available free agents requiring Baltimore’s draft pick, Swisher is the only one I would have attempted to sign given his consistent mix of on base ability and power (career .256/.361/.467 line), solid defense, and positional flexibility, as he can play in either corner OF spot and first base.

As far as trades, the Oakland A’s basically stole Chris Young from the Diamondbacks, so he would have been the best target in my opinion.  His batting average keeps his OBP low (career .239/.318/.437 hitter), but he can draw a walk or to, with a career walk rate of 10%.  He is also an excellent defender and a good baserunner.

What they DID Do:  The Orioles resigned Nate McLouth and are hoping for Nolan Reimold to remain healthy, as those two look to be getting the most playing time in LF.

Starting Pitcher

What the COULD Have Done:  The Orioles starting pitching unit in 2012 consisted of surprises (Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Steve Johnson, Chris Tillman) and continued disappointment from recent top prospects (Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Zach Britton).  Going into 2013, the rotation features a lot of upside, albeit with a lot of uncertainty.

Several free agents who would not cost a draft pick were available, including Zack Greinke, Anibal Sanchez, Brandon McCarthy, and Edwin Jackson.  Greinke (career 3.45 FIP and 8.09 K/9) is the only one of that group that would be a significant upgrade, but his asking price was too high for Baltimore’s budget.  As far as impact starting pitcher’s, the trade market wasn’t much better, with Rick Porcello and Trevor Bauer likely being the two starting pitchers the Orioles could have potentially acquired without giving up their top 3 prospects.  And while each of them have upside, neither of those two are necessarily upgrades in 2013.

What they SHOULD Have Done:  Basically stay away from the free agent market.  Brandon McCarthy would have been a solid pick-up as a free agent (signed with Arizona for 2 years, $15 million), although he would come at a significant risk, since he’s averaged less than 95 innings per year mainly due to injury. Realizing that his career stats do not quite match up with the Orioles starting pitching needs, I think a trade for Rick Porcello would have benefitted the Orioles (career 4.26 FIP and 5.00 K/9).  Despite already accruing over 3 years of service time, Porcello is only 24, and still has plenty of upside.  He’s a groundball pitcher (career 52.3% GB) who’s had terrible infield defense behind him throughout his career, so you could expect his ERA to improve with an infield defense better than Detroit’s.  Just speculating, but I believe an offseason trade of JJ Hardy and Jim Johnson for Rick Porcello and Jhonny Peralta would have been fair.  Closers like Johnson can be overrated and while it hurts to trade Hardy, it allows you to move Manny Machado over to SS, while Peralta gives you a short-term solution at 3B.

What they DID Do:  Other than sign Jair Jurrjens, they basically brought everyone back from 2012, and I can’t really fault that strategy.  Despite disappointing careers to date, Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, and Zach Britton still have upside.  Tillman showed promises of breaking out last year with increased fastball velocity and a 2.93 ERA over 86 innings.  Arrieta, a 2012 victim of bad luck (.320 BABIP and 57.3 LOB%) resulting in an ERA over 6, still posted 1.6 WAR with a strong strikeout rate over 22%.  Additionally, another strong year from Hammel and Chen seem likely.  Add in the fact that Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman are waiting in the minors, and there is a good chance the rotation improves just by staying the course.

Overall, the Orioles offseason strategy was sound, despite the fact that for the first time in years, the AL East appears wide open.  Baltimore likely realized that they did not have the farm system to make over the big league team like the Blue Jays, and resisted the free agent market, allowing them to keep their draft pick and retain financial flexibility in the future.  The 2012 run to the playoffs was a nice surprise, but the Orioles probably need a little more time to turn into a perennial contender…but I hope I’m wrong.

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