Check out the Effectively Wild podcast’s daily team previews, and the full list of our own companion previews.

Run Production

How do they score runs? Are they notably home-run dependent? Notably light on power? Is their lineup predicated on depth, or on huge production from a few stars?

The Orioles have been a good, if not great offensive team for three years in a row now. Despite a mediocre ability to get on base, the Orioles finished the 2014 season 9th in batting average, 3rd in slugging, 6th in OPS, and 1st in home runs. The O’s were middle of the pack in getting on base, as many of their full time players are impatient at the plate and embrace a free swinging approach. This approach has worked well for them over the past 4 seasons, averaging 207 home runs, 717 runs, and a .734 OPS per 162 games. When a team has a collective ability to drive the ball to the gaps and out of the park, runs will be scored. Specifically 4.35 runs will be scored per game, good for 8th in baseball.

The team clearly relies on the long ball, hitting 211 of them last season, marking their third in a row hitting at least 200 and fourth hitting over 190. 89 of those home runs won the game, tied the game or allowed the O’s to take the lead. The Orioles homered in 112 of their regular season games, hitting 6 in one game on August 8th against the Cardinals (albeit with Justin Masterson pitching).

Running the bases is not the Orioles strong suit. The Orioles do not tend to take the extra base, having only four players with over 300 plate appearances take the extra base over the league average 41%. They have a team stolen base success rate of 69%, stealing only 44 bases during the course of the regular season.

While the team relies on the long ball to score the vast majority of the runs, they were surprisingly successful in bunting as a team with 56 sacrifice bunt attempts in 2014, most coming from the 9 spot. This is more than 10 other AL teams (including the Ned Yost-led Royals). There were 9 successful bunt for hits and 21 successful sacrifice bunts (moving a runner to scoring position and resulting in one run batted in). This approach worked more often than it didn’t in 2014, however there is no reason to believe that Buck Showalter and his coaches will call for more attempts in 2015. Homers will remain the name of the game.

Nelson Cruz and fan favorite/local hero Nick Markakis, who combined for 54 home runs, are gone. It may seem to be a tough task to replace almost 7 WAR that Cruz and Markakis added in 2014, however the Orioles are relying on healthy and productive seasons from Manny Machado and Matt Wieters. It is easy to forget that when Machado came back from surgery on his knee last season he was pretty good, having a slash line of .278/.324/.431 with 12 homers and 14 doubles in 327 at bats, while playing excellent defense at the hot corner. Machado is still only 22 years old, and there is really no reason to believe that he will not come back with his other knee now fully healed. Wieters, who was one many MLB players to undergo Tommy John surgery in 2014, is a different story, one that we will get into later in this article.

Machado should have the green light to go full speed ahead in Spring Training; Wieters will be monitored closely, with the hope that he will be able to start catching on April 6th. Showalter has said that he Wieters will play with the Orioles when he is ready to catch. Showalter and Dan Duquette did not let Wieters DH much last season because they thought it might hinder his rehab on his right elbow, which required TJ surgery on June 17th. What a fully healthy Wieters brings to the offensive table is above average pop for a catcher, with an average 8.5% walk rate and a decent (in this current version of baseball) 18% strikeout rate. Slugging first baseman Chris Davis will also be counted on to have a bounce back season after disappearing at the plate in 2014. It is hard to say for certain whether playing with an injured oblique for the majority of the season contributed to his offensive decline. Davis tested positive for Adderall, which he was not authorized by MLB to take, and was suspended for the final 24 games of the season. He now has a TE for Adderall and hopes that that will allow him better concentration at the plate and on the field.

Considering that Machado, Davis and Wieters played a total of 235 games between them and still managed 4.9 WAR (2.4 coming from Machado and his supreme defense), it is not impossible to see a 2015 season in which a healthy Machado and Wieters could easily surpass the production lost from Cruz and Markakis. It would not take much for Davis to be better than he was a year ago. Davis was recently quoted saying that he was frustrated with his performance last year, and that he would like to start bunting against the shift. We will see if a) he actually bunts, and b) this changes anything for him.

So, Davis will man first base, Machado will handle the hot corner, and Wieters will get the majority of starts behind the plate — what about the rest of the lineup? Showalter likes competition, and there certainly will be a lot of it in Spring Training. Obviously a lot can change between now and the start of the season.

Adam Jones has center field locked down. It feels like Jones has been around forever, yet the guy is still only 29. The righty has been about as steady as any player in baseball over the past three seasons, averaging 160 games, 30 home runs and a .285 AVG. Jones relies on making steady contact to get on base, as is allergic to walks. This free-swinging approach has worked out well for him over the course of his career, as he strikes out less than 20% of the time, and owns a career .280/.320/.461 line. Jones has above-average speed and strength; however he is not an overly aggressive baserunner, taking the extra base about 52% of the time. Jones has a 72% career stolen base success rate, which is not great, but has gotten better over the past two seasons. Fans of the Orioles can look forward to seeing Jones man center field for 160 games, hit his usual 30 home runs, steal a dozen or so bases, and walk about 3% of the time. Oh, don’t forget the 80 grade bubbles.

Trying to figure out who will be playing the corner outfield spots will be difficult. The Orioles have Travis Snider, Alejandro De Aza, David Lough, Steve Pearce, Delmon Young and Alex Hassan as candidates for two outfield spots and DH. The Orioles will undoubtedly ride the hot hand and start Pearce in either right field or DH. It will be difficult for Pearce to replicate his 2014 numbers, where he was on pace to best just about every other major league player in WAR. He will turn 32 in April and will see what will be his first full-time gig in the majors. He certainly made adjustments at the plate last year, and has always had a good eye, the ability to get on base, and above-average power. The thing that was missing was playing time and putting it all together at the same time. I am a believer in 2014 Steve Pearce, that being said, I do not think he will manage another 6 WAR in 102 games. Steve Pearce is good, but Mike Trout he is not.

Alejandro De Aza will most likely be sharing duties in left field with David Lough. De Aza is about replacement level, although he hit well in his 20 games with Baltimore after being traded by the White Sox last August, hitting .293/.341/.537. De Aza has some pop and some speed, however he does not have enough of either to outweigh his high strikeout rate. He will most likely be replacement level in outfield, playing average defense and providing average offense. Kind of boring, but not a terrible piece to have. Lough (pronounced “Low,” for those curious — ed.) is the superior defender, providing 4.1 WAR over 228 games. He is not a full-time player, but does provide value to a club that wants each player to contribute with the glove. He will not hit the cover off of the ball, but will provide some value on the base paths. Lough ended 2014 on a high note, slashing .357/.387/.679 over his final 49 games.

Right field will be interesting for the Orioles. Their 2015 reclamation project is Travis Snider, a former top prospect with the Blue Jays that never really put it all together for a full season. The Blue Jays rushed him to the majors in 2008, when he was 20 years old, just over 2 years after they took him 14th overall in the 2006 draft. Snider was traded to the Pirates in 2012, where he was below replacement level until last year. When Duquette made the trade for Snider, he was hoping that the Orioles were getting the Snider that hit .288/.356/.524 over 188 plate appearances in the second half. Snider brings a left-handed bat with above-average power, albeit power that he has difficulty tapping as he historically does not make enough good contact to utilize his strength. Snider has historically hit left-handed and right-handed pitchers about the same, however last year he really seemed to figure lefties out, hitting .381/.435/.619. It should be interesting to see what he can do in Camden Yards.

The last potential outfielder is Delmon Young. That guy. Ha.

Jonathan Schoop struggled offensively to make solid contact all year. He did manage to hit 16 home runs, however he struck out too much, 25.4% and walked too little, 2.7%. He is young, only 23 years old, and showed promise at times. If the rumors are true about Everth Cabrera signing a one-year deal, then Schoop will have some competition. Cabrera is known primarily for stealing bases. He is not the most efficient base stealer, having a career 78% success rate. His best year came in 2013, when he hit .283/.355/.381 and provided about 3 WAR.

JJ Hardy will man shortstop for Orioles for the fifth season in a row. After hitting at least 22 home runs each of the previous three seasons, he saw his power disappear, not hitting the ball out of the yard until June. The loss of power was not the part of Hardy’s offensive game that scared me the most: his contact percentage and swinging strike rate were both the lowest they have been since his age 26 season. Hardy had a 80.5% contact percentage, his lowest since 2009, and 6% lower than his two previous seasons. While the MLB average is only 79.2%, it is usually not a good sign for an aging player to lose some of his ability to make solid contact with the ball. This usually means a decrease in bat speed. One of Hardy’s calling cards was his above-average power for shortstops. The Orioles did not give Hardy a 3-year $40 mil contract to just be a good glove, they need his power to return.

The Orioles have good depth and a solid lineup. Fans should expect more or less of the same from the 2015 Orioles, home runs, some strikeouts and a decent (for 2015) average. What they should not expect is a high walk rate.

Does the manager use pinch-hitters and platoons liberally? Does the team have the platoon advantage in an especially large or small percentage of their plate appearances?

The Orioles bench produced about 5.1 WAR, and 3.5 WARP. The Orioles had two bench players forced into full-time duty in Caleb Joseph and Steve Pearce, both of whom gave the Orioles great value. This production should not surprise baseball fans. Duquette has shown he has a knack to trade and sign players that are castoffs from other teams for Showalter, who has shown he has the ability to use these assets in a way that maximize their value. Using Baseball Reference’s pinch hitter leverage index, pinch hitters were used in higher than average pressure situations in 2014, batting .313 off the bench with 21 hits and 3 home runs in 67 at bats. As a team, the Orioles had the platoon advantage 46% of the time, which is below league average. Having a full season of Wieters should help in that regard.

The corner outfield spots will most likely be platooned. De Aza and Lough will provide a decent platoon in left field, with Young spelling De Aza for some at-bats against LHP. De Aza and Lough had the platoon advantage in over 80% of their plate appearances. Wieters, who is a switch hitter, has historically hit much better versus left-handed pitchers. Last year — before being shut down with an injured right elbow — seemed to be the year when he finally turned it around against right-handed pitchers. Before last season, many thought Wieters should give up switch hitting and focus on batting right-handed. If Davis struggles this year against left-handed pitching, Pearce could see more at-bats at first base. Jones, Machado, Hardy and Wieters are pretty much locks to start every game their bodies will allow, regardless of who is pitching.

What is the team’s collective approach? Do they look to take a large number of pitches? Does the manager put on the 3-0 green light very often? Are players benched or criticized by management for striking out too much? Are they more than usually given to fouling pitches off?

Showalter tends to allow his players to do what they are comfortable with. You see it with players like Adam Jones, whose free swinging approach means he only sees 3.62 pitches per plate appearance. Well below the league average of 3.86. Overall the Orioles take 3.80 pitches per plate appearance, below league average, but not by much. Davis, Pearce, Hardy and now Brave right fielder Nick Markakis were the only full-time players to see more than 3.9 pitches. Davis was the most patient of the bunch, seeing 4.16 pitches per PA, the highest of his career.

Otherwise there is nothing of note about their approach at the plate. See ball, (hopefully) hit ball. That seems to be the name of the game, and for three years it was worked out fairly well.

Does the manager call for steals and hit-and-runs often? Is the team aggressive in taking the extra base on hits and outs? Do they lay down sacrifice bunts with unusual regularity, or irregularity?

The Orioles learned firsthand how speed can be used as a weapon in last year’s ALCS against the Royals. Last year, their 44 stolen bases ranked dead last in the majors. This is why the potential signing of Everth Cabrera is so interesting, as he is a weapon on the base paths. He led the NL in stolen bases in 2012 and had 37 stolen bases in 95 games in 2013, before being suspended for his involvement in the Biogenesis drug scandal. If the rumors are true and Cabrera ultimately signs, then the Orioles might become more aggressive on the base paths.

As a team, they take the extra base only 34% of the time, well below the league average of 41%. Pearce, Jones, and Schoop were the only “full-time” players (Jones was the only player who collected more than 500 plate appearances) who took the extra base more than 41% of the time. Over the past few seasons the Orioles have put more of a focus on having guys that can drive the ball, instead of run the bases. However, it is the time of the year that each player will be reporting to camp “in the best shape” of their lives. Schoop has reportedly lost weight and would like to run the bases more efficiently. I would not bet on the Orioles changing their approach much, running the bases conservatively and hoping that one of the big guys will hit the ball far and bring everyone home.

The Orioles ranked 20th in sacrifice bunts with 35 bunts in 56 attempts. Chris Davis said this offseason that he would like to work on bunting more often against the shift, which hopes of changing his game a bit. Only time will tell if this approach works for Davis. I guess he got tired of hitting the ball down the right field line only to be caught by the second basemen.

Where are the pressure points? Who might need to be replaced? What will their optimal batting order be? Is it likely to be adhered to?

The Orioles have a fairly young team. Schoop seemed lost at the plate for much of the season, but his defense at second makes it hard to replace him. Again, the potential signing of Cabrera could change who is manning second for much of the season. There are a lot of questions marks up and down the lineup. Will Machado and Wieters be ready for opening day? If so, will they be productive? Will Hardy’s power return? All these questions aside, many in the lineup will remain in the lineup unless injury or fatigue set in. The optimal and projected lineup will look something like this:

v RHP v LHP
Machado – 3BLough - LF
Jones – CFMachado – 3B
Davis – 1B/DHJones - CF
Pearce – DH/1B/RFYoung - DH
Pearce – DH/1B/RFPearce - RF
Wieters – C/DHDavis – 1B
Hardy – SSHardy – SS
Snider – RFWieters - C
Schoop – 2BSchoop – 2B

 

This lineup could change before the end of the day, as the Orioles are on the verge of signing Everth Cabrera to a one-year deal. Young will also get some reps in left field. If that is the case, Lough will be on the bench and Snider could possibly DH or play right field with Pearce moving to DH.

Are park factors a large or small consideration? Does the team’s park favor a particular batter type or handedness? Will the schedule or overall level of competition they face vary widely from the league average?

Camden Yards has a reputation for being a hitter friendly park. In fact, it rates at 100 for batters and 100 for pitchers over the years. Camden Yards does favor left-handed batters due to the short right field line. Camden Yards allows home runs, and allows them more frequently to left-handed bats.

The AL East has 5 good teams. None of them are great, but they should all be good. They all have their question marks, and many of the teams are putting a lot of their eggs in expensive and older players’ baskets. This could bode well for the Orioles, as they have a young team and some good depth. The Orioles seem to be in a similar situation to the Red Sox and Blue Jays. None of those teams have a true “Ace”, but all have some good number 3 starters. It will be interesting to see these three teams beat up on each other over the course of the year.

Run Prevention

What is their balance between pitching and fielding? How is responsibility for keeping runs off the board apportioned?

The Orioles have had a pretty great defense over the past few seasons. The infield defense is particularly outstanding. Hardy and Schoop team up for a great double play tandem. Hardy is as steady as they come on the field, rating at 10 defensive runs saved using the Baseball Info Solutions method, and Schoop rated at 11 runs saved. Schoop has an excellent arm, which allows him to get a higher amount of runners out at first base than the average second baseman. Schoop has the arm to play shortstop and third base, but is big for shortstop.

Machado is a wizard at third base. He makes plays that seem impossible and has an absolute cannon of an arm. All defensive metrics have him rated as one of the top defensive players in the game. He will play 2015 as a 22-year-old, and has been given the green light this spring after having surgery on his other knee. There is no reason to believe that Machado will not come back healthy and ready to contribute with his glove.

The pitching staff has confidence in the defense behind them. This allows for them to pitch comfortably, and allows guys like Miguel Gonzalez to thrive in Baltimore, despite having high FIPs. Oriole pitchers do not rack up the strikeouts; instead, they try to pitch to contact, and rely on the strong defense to make the outs. The strong defense up the middle and at the corners keeps the pitchers’ ERA much lower than their FIPs and xFIPs, but that is a topic for another article.

Is the starting rotation generally a flat one, or one dominated by one or two aces? Does the manager allow his starters (or some subset of them) to go especially deep into games? Do the starters share common characteristics, or are there any philosophies the team’s pitching coach seems to drill into each?

The Orioles had six starters account for 161 of the club’s 162 starts in 2014. All of those starters return in 2015. The Orioles do not have a true “Ace”. Chris Tillman will be the Opening Day starter, so in that respect, he will be the “Ace” of the staff and the guy that will most likely pitch to a 3.5 or so ERA and give you 200+ innings. Tillman is consistent, young (will start the season as a 26-year-old), and, besides a few starts in 2014 where he went just one or two innings, will usually give you 7 innings of 3-run baseball. Kevin Gausman is the most intriguing pitcher, as he has the most upside and the potential to be a true number one starter.

Ubaldo Jimenez is the wild card of the bunch. He is too expensive for the Orioles to send to the bullpen on a regular basis, but was not good enough to start last year. That is putting it nicely. He was horrendous in 2014. I do not see any reason why he would be any better this year, unless he cuts down on his walk rate and learns how to actually pitch.

The Orioles have a bunch of number 3 guys, a potential true “ace”, and a wild card in Jimenez. While they are not to be mistaken with their beltway brothers in Washington, the Orioles should hold their own as pitchers, nothing exciting, but nothing to be too worried about.

When the middle and late innings come, does the manager have a long or a quick hook? Does he often make multiple pitching changes during innings? Is he aggressive and aware of matchups? Is the bullpen strictly hierarchical? Is it dominated by a set-up man and closer, or are there a large number of usable, interchangeable arms?

The Orioles bullpen was incredible last year. They lost Andrew Miller, which hurts, but is not the end of the world. Zach Britton leads the staff with an absolute nasty sinker. The sinker seems to be the name of the game with the bullpen, as five of eight Baltimore relievers had above-average sinkers last year: Britton, Darren O’Day, newly acquired Wesley Wright, Tommy Hunter and T.J. McFarland. The deep bullpen allows Showalter to pull his starter in the 6th inning if he seems to be in trouble. Showalter will use matchups to his advantage, and has a few pitchers who are effective against left- and right-handed batters, which allows them to pitch to more than one or two batters at a time. O’Day will find his spot in the 8th inning and Britton in the 9th, however Showalter is not the type of manager that will only use his best relievers in their “designated” role. If he is in a bind, he will go to O’Day, even if it is the seventh.

Oh, Showalter also has Ryan Webb waiting in the bullpen to pitch the 9th when the team is down.

Does the team deploy a large number of infield, or even outfield, shifts? Do they turn double plays well? Does the
outfield control runners on hits into the gaps and on flyouts? Are any players out of position? If so, is it strategic, or does the team overestimate the defensive abilities of those players? Are any players on the bench used as late-inning defensive replacements?
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(Photo courtesy Orioles Pet Calendar)


Showalter, pictured above, uses the shift frequently. Many of the infielders have above-average range, and 2
nd, 3rd and SS all rate well above-average defensively. Hardy and Schoop team up for a wonderful double play combination. Schoop has an above-average arm for second base, and he and Hardy started and finished 160 double plays, good for third most in the majors. Machado also tends to do his thing at the hot corner. Davis and Pearce at first base do a good job of picking balls out of the dirt and stretching off the bag to get runners.

Overall, the Orioles were 3rd, behind only the Reds and the Cardinals, in defensive runs saved. Look for this to continue as they are not playing Nelson Cruz or Markakis at all in the outfield now, and will have Machado and Wieters for the majority of the season.

David Lough will sometimes be used as a defensive replacement in left or right field, especially for games that Delmon Young might mistakenly start.

Does the primary catcher frame pitches well? Does he control the running game? Does the backup complement him, either by being excellent all-around or by doing things the starter does poorly?

Matt Wieters does not rate as an above-average pitch framer, unlike his backup, Caleb Joseph. Joseph was 11th in the majors, with 89 added strikes. Joseph was the primary catcher last year after Wieters went down with an injury.

Wieters has a strong arm and has a career 33% caught stealing percentage, peaking at 39% in 2012. He had an injured throwing arm last year, and is coming back from Tommy John surgery, so it will be interesting to see how he handles the running game. I am sure he will be tested frequently early in the season.

Wieters’ backup, Joseph, is good at controlling the running game with potential runners being caught 40% of the time, a full 13% better than league average. He is a better pitch framer than Wieters, and handled the pitching staff well. He is a smart player and did the best he could do with the playing time he got, which ended up being a lot more than anyone could have expected. What he cannot do is hit.

Managerial/Miscellaneous

Is the farm system well-stocked? Have any recent performances or additions changed the perceived standing of that system? Are there players on hand, in the upper levels of the minors, who are ready to take over roles with the parent team in the event of injury? Are there players who make especially good potential trade chips?

The Orioles’ minor league system has become more thin over the past few seasons due to them not having a first or second-round pick last year, and trading Eduardo Rodriguez for Andrew Miller last year. Not to mention getting nothing from Latin America until they lucked into Jomar Reyes. The Orioles still have two potential number 1 pitchers in Bundy and Hunter Harvey, with Bundy being closer to the majors, both are coming back from injury. Chance Sisco can potentially be a top 5 catching prospect if he stays behind the plate, however, he profiles better as a corner infielder or outfielder. Christian Walker, who got a cup of coffee last September, is a fringe-average regular, and will get a shot with someone.

Bundy is the best bet to make an impact in 2015 on the pitching staff. He was the top pitching prospect in the minors before requiring Tommy John surgery almost two years ago. Bundy has one minor league option left, which he will use this year. Bundy comps well to Jose Fernandez in terms of pure stuff. If he regains most, if not all of it this year, he will be seeing major league hitters before July.

Zach Davies and Tim Berry are both skinny pitchers who profile best out of the bullpen. If both have strong years in AAA, they might both see a major league spot start or time in the bullpen. Out of the bullpen, Berry’s stuff is more consistent, and one scout told Fangraphs Kiley McDaniel that he looked like Henry Owens out of the bullpen. Not a bad comp.

Jomar Reyes signed for $350,000 out of the Dominican last year, and is only 17 years old. Despite this, he was impressive in his short amount of playing time and scouts really like what they see. He is a monster, listed at 6’6” and 240lbs. Right now he plays at third, but you can bet with that body type, he will not stay at the position for very long. He will not see the majors for a few more years, if not more.

Speaking of injury, who is particularly fragile, or coming off off-season surgery that might impact their season? How deep is the team at the positions where they have injury-prone players?

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Machado and Wieters (seen above with his cat) are both coming off of surgeries, with Wieters coming back from Tommy John and Machado coming back from a second knee surgery. Both are reported to be on track for Opening Day. Wieters will be the bigger question mark, as there is not a large track record of success for catchers returning from Tommy John. If all the reports are true, Machado’s injury should not be reoccurring, as the surgery required for both knees supposedly fixed the issue. As a fan of watching great baseball, I am a little scared that Machado will be limited defensively. The silver lining is that he came back from surgery last May and performed as expected defensively before injuring his other knee in August swinging a bat.

If Machado goes down again, the Orioles will use Chris Davis and a plethora of journeymen, some of whom might not be on the team right now. If Wieters is not ready to catch on Opening Day, Joseph will be his primary backup.

Is the team currently trying to win? Are they rebuilding or shooting for contention right away? Is their current course the most advisable one? Do they have payroll flexibility, either to make another addition before the season begins or to supplement the roster as needed during the campaign?

The Orioles have consistently outperformed all expectations for three years in a row, twice winning more than 90 games, and last year winning the AL East without it ever really being a question. Once again the internet has written them off, and once again the Orioles love it. Showalter seems to pride himself on being written off, enjoying proving the naysayers wrong. It is easy to see a situation where the Orioles win the division again, if everything goes wrong for the Red Sox and Toronto again, though that is unlikely.

It’s widely believed that because Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis and Andrew Miller have left, the Orioles are doomed for a last place finish. However, much of their roster is returning, and three of the players are returning healthy. A full season with Machado at 3rd base and Wieters behind the plate will go a long way, and will easily be more valuable than this current season of Cruz and Markakis. It will be hard for Davis to be worse than he was last year. Will he be the monster he was in 2013? Probably not, but he could easily be a 3-win player that gives you a solid OBP and 35 home runs, while playing respectable defense at first base. The same can be said of Hardy, who pretty much forgot how to hit last year. Besides his defense, Hardy was known for displaying above-average power for a shortstop. He is on the wrong side of 30 now, but should regain some of the pop that left him last year. He hit a home run every 58 at bats last year, well above his career rate of 28.4 at bats. This can be seen in the decrease in his home runs per fly ball, which was at a 4.8% rate, almost half of his career rate of 9.1%. Hardy struck out more last year, which could be because he was trying to find his lost power. His average was a tick higher than his career average. All that said, a full and healthy season of Machado, Davis and Wieters should help a lineup that lost 54 home runs when Markakis and Cruz left. I for one am not at all worried about the Orioles’ ability to score runs in 2015.

What move (or moves) should they make as soon as possible, in order to bring their long-term goals into focus (without setting them back in regard to their short-term ones)? Make a recommendation.

Duquette was not in a position to spend too much money this offseason, as many of the Orioles players were going into their final years of arbitration and many of them were getting significant pay increases. Even without signing a major free agent, the Orioles payroll will be the highest of its history, most likely in the upper $120 mil range. The previous high was last year, at $107 mil. While the Orioles have money, they are not in a position to spend much more than that.

What I would like to see is the Orioles commit to some of their younger players. The Orioles should show good faith and sign Machado and Gausman to contact extensions. There is not a much better time to do that than now, with Machado coming off two surgeries. He has the ability to be one of the best players in the majors, and the Orioles will need him. He has one more year before he is arbitration eligible and will very quickly become expensive. If the Orioles can sign him to a 6-year deal before the end of the season, they would buy his first three years of free agency. Machado would still hit the open market before reaching his age 29 season, ensuring that he would still be in line for a big payday.

What’s likely to happen? Will the composition of the team change? Will they compete? Will they win anything? Make a prediction or two, as specific or as vague as you would like, but make a prediction.

The Orioles are going to lose Davis, Wieters, Chen and O’Day after the 2015 season. They will talk to all four of those players about signing an extension, but will likely only be able to retain at most two of the four. Unfortunately for the Orioles, Scott Boras represents Davis, Wieters and Chen, so talks will not happen unless the players force it. The city of Baltimore loves all of the players, perhaps Chen and O’Day the most, and would love to see all four come back. The Orioles most likely regret not giving Markakis a qualifying offer, as Atlanta could have still signed him. I suspect that two of the potential free agents will be given qualifying offers this year, Davis and Wieters. Both of whom will decline and sign elsewhere, unless they change agents and decide to take a team-friendly four-year deal. We will see Davis, Wieters and probably Chen sign elsewhere this coming winter.

Computer projections and internet writers have a difficult time understanding how pitchers perform with good defenses behind them. What matters is how many runs were allowed, not how many runs should have been allowed. Sure that is important in projecting future value for many pitchers, but there are outliers.

PECOTA, as always, is very low on the Orioles. I do not see another runaway of the AL East title, but I also don’t see them finishing with one of the worst records in baseball. I see the top three AL East teams all competing for the top spot. It will be a crap shoot, and hopefully will be as an exciting ending as the 2011 season saw. I see a solid season, about 86 wins, good for a second place tie, behind whichever of the Red Sox/Blue Jays comes out on top.

I guess this means we will see the Rays win the World Series, prove the projection systems somewhat right, and see them leave Tampa Bay for Montreal as a World Champion.

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