The Baltimore Orioles
Baltimore has been on a good run, making the playoffs three times since 2012. They finished with the same record as the Blue Jays (89 wins) but lost to them in the Wild Card game. But this is a team on the decline, even with their young pitching starting to develop.
The O’s are not known for spending money on free agents and have decided to allow the team to disintegrate by attrition. They let Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis leave after the 2014 season. Cruz was the home run leader that year (40) while Markakis was a multi gold-glove winner.
And it’s not that the Orioles are letting most of their expensive players leave; they are making all of their players leave. This off-season Baltimore said goodbye to C Matt Wieters (17 home runs and the everyday catcher for years) and DH/3B Pedro Alvarez. They also lost UT Steve Pearce, SP Yovani Gallardo, OF Nolan Reimold and RP Vance Worley.
Subtraction by Subtraction
It is easy to argue that most of these players are not great and easy to replace. The problem for the Orioles is that they are either replacing them with lesser players or not replacing them at all. C Wellington Castillo seems capable of replacing Wieters offensive numbers but not his work with the staff.
And 34-year-old Seth Smith might put up 16 home runs again, but that will not replace Alvarez’ output. It does not seem as if the other players were replaced at all.
Those replacements will not come from the farm, either. Their top prospect, C Chance Sisco, is the 99th ranked prospect in baseball and already at Triple-A. The signing of Castillo shows what Baltimore thinks of their chances with Sisco.
This means that the team that overachieved last year will have to do it again with less talent. The hope is that their young pitchers will develop quickly. Kevin Gausman is the ace but put up only decent numbers last year: 3.61 ERA and four more hits than innings pitched. But, at 26, he could still take a big jump forward.
The same goes for Dylan Bundy. He put up a 4.02 ERA in his 14 starts but has room to grow at only 24. If Chris Tillman comes back in the first week, he will bring his 3.77 ERA with him. Those three are good to superb pitchers, but none is a top ten pitcher in baseball.
Now the Bad News
But after those three, the remaining pitchers put up ERA’s that started with five. And all bets are off if Tillman’s shoulder limits him significantly this year. Right now, however, the pitching staff would be good enough if the offense could slug its way to the playoffs. That seems less likely every year.
With sluggers like Adam Jones (29 HR’s), Chris Davis (38), Jonathan Schoop (25), Manny Machado (37) and Mark Trumbo (league-leading 47) all returning, the Orioles have a punchers chance. But Trumbo hit by far the most home runs of his career and seems likely to regress to the mean. And Davis’ .221 BA and 219 strikeouts dragged down the lineup.
In fact, all of these men had at least 115 strikeouts. The team was and remains all power and no average.
The pitching is good but not great, and the hitting is powerful but full of strikeouts. The defense, however, is just bad as Chris Bahr pointed out:
"Four-time Gold Glove-winning center fielder Adam Jones recently voiced his concerns about the Orioles’ outfield defense – and for good reason. Baltimore outfielders ranked last in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved (-51) and Ultimate Zone Rating (-37.6) in 2016, according to FanGraphs. Mark Trumbo – who is better at first base than right field – is back, and Seth Smith – who is better known for his bat than his glove – will share right field with Trumbo and left field with Hyun Soo Kim. The Orioles hope better positioning will net better defensive results. Good luck."
The Orioles won 89 games last year. If they had upgraded at a couple of key positions, they might have ensured a playoff spot. But their inertia makes 89 a hard number to equal in 2017.