Winter Report Card: Orioles tread water in mediocre off-season
Before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, we’re checking in to see how each team has fared thus far this off-season, acknowledging that there’s still time for that evaluation to change. Teams will be presented in reverse order of finish from 2016. Next up: the Baltimore Orioles.
89–73 (.549), second place in American League East; lost wild-card game to Blue Jays
DH Pedro Alvarez*, OF Michael Bourn*, RHP Yovani Gallardo, OF Steve Pearce, OF Nolan Reimold*, C Matt Wieters*, RHP Vance Worley
C Welington Castillo, OF Seth Smith, RHP Logan Verrett
(*free agent, still unsigned)
Off-season In Review
When Castillo, he of the 2.4 WAR in 2016, is your big off-season acquisition—at one year and $6 million with a player option—you might not have had a very active winter. Castillo is a serviceable player, boasting power at the plate but not much else, and he’ll do a fine job keeping the seat warm for top prospect Chance Sisco, who could debut this year, but this wasn’t exactly a blockbuster. The addition of Castillo also marks an end to Wieters's tenure in Baltimore. The former future of the franchise never quite matched the hype, and the combination of 2014 Tommy John surgery and lackluster numbers since his return (.253/.309/.414 in 746 plate appearances over the last two seasons) made it easy for the O's to walk away. The other 29 teams apparently feel the same way: Even in a weak market for catchers, the 30-year-old Wieters remains a free agent.
The real big move of the winter, though, was a retention, as Baltimore brought back rightfielder Mark Trumbo—last year's home run leader with 47—on a three-year deal for $37.5 million. Trumbo, 31, signed a one-year pillow contract with the Orioles last year after three down seasons and flourished, slugging .533 and making the All-Star team. Never a good defender, Trumbo was flat-out terrible last year in right—his -2.1 dWAR almost canceled out his 2.8 oWAR—but Baltimore will mitigate that problem by employing him primarily as a DH to replace the departed Alvarez, who clubbed 22 homers and posted a 115 OPS+ in 2016 but can't play the field or hit lefthanders (.671 OPS against them last year) and is still trying to land a new team.
Taking Trumbo's place in the outfield will be Smith, who as a lefty will fit Baltimore's righthanded-heavy lineup nicely. He was acquired in a swap with Seattle for Gallardo, who was awful last year, getting touched up for a 5.42 ERA in 118 innings; the O's did well to get this much back. Smith is an above-average hitter who becomes a good one against righties (an OPS of .782 in 405 plate appearances against them last year), but he's at best a passable defender, and at 34, he’s not likely to improve in that department.
Elsewhere in the outfield, both Pearce and Reimold are gone. The former came over in a deadline deal from Tampa but managed just 70 plate appearances due to injury. A versatile defender with a potent bat, he stayed in division and joined the Blue Jays. Reimold, meanwhile, has seemingly been with the O's since the Memorial Stadium days, though constant injuries have cost him dozens of games in his career. At 32 years old and coming off a poor season at the plate (.222/.300/.365 in just 227 plate appearances) and in the field, he will struggle to find a new home.
Gallardo's open rotation spot will likely go to the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez, but in the interest of replenishing rotation depth, the Orioles picked up Verrett for cash from the Mets. Verrett had a 5.20 ERA in 91 2/3 innings with New York but a 4.26 ERA in 238 2/3 innings in the offense-heavy Pacific Coast League. He's not a big-name addition (as is par the course for the Orioles), but he can serve as a useful swingman-type.
Unfinished Business: Outfield defense
The most pressing issue still left for the O's is the outfield defense: By nearly every statistic, Baltimore had the worst defensive outfield in baseball in 2016. All four of the Orioles’ projected top outfielders this season—Hyun-soo Kim in left, Adam Jones in center and Smith in right, spelled occasionally by Trumbo—ranked in the bottom 30 in defensive runs saved year, and not one had a positive score. Jones called on the front office last month to get more athletic out there, and general manager Dan Duquette acknowledged that it’s an area that needs improvement. One option could be re-signing Bourn, a good fielder who also hits lefthanded and could be well suited to a defensive specialist role, though the 34-year-old shouldn't be counted on for more than that.
Preliminary Grade: C
None of these moves are in and of themselves problematic. The issue is that a team that needed to make a bold decision instead treaded water. The Orioles made the playoffs last season, albeit only briefly; FanGraphs' projection system puts them at 79–83, last in the division, next year, and Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA system is even harsher at 73–89. Baltimore needs to decide which team it believes itself to be and act accordingly.