The goal for any Major League Baseball team in a given offseason is to find a way to make the team better. That is exactly what the Baltimore Orioles have done so far as the front office prepares the final 25-man roster for Opening Day 2016. While there has been no big, sexy, splashy move out of Baltimore just yet, the Orioles are having one of the better offseasons in the league.
The Orioles entered this winter with four key free agents — Chris Davis, Wei-Yin Chen, Darren O’Day, and Matt Wieters. Two of them are already back on the team, as Wieters accepted the qualifying offer to return for one more year, and O’Day signed on for four more years and $31 million. At the Winter Meetings, the club made an aggressive offer for Davis. Although the first baseman did not immediately re-sign and the offer was ultimately pulled off the table, the fact that the offer even existed in and of itself, is a great sign for the Orioles. This is going to be an aggressive winter in Baltimore. Justin Upton appears to be the next logical target if things cannot be worked out with Davis.
Prior to the Winter Meetings and O’Day’s decision to re-sign, the Orioles made two trades that may seem minor to most. Mark Trumbo was acquired in exchange for Steve Clevenger, a backup catcher. Trumbo does not fit with Jerry Dipoto‘s plan to build a Seattle Mariners roster full of athletic, speedy players who do not strike out. Trumbo does certainly have his flaws, but he has hit 31 home runs per year on a 162-game basis. Those power numbers come despite playing in several very pitcher-friendly parks for most of his career. With good opposite field power, Trumbo should be considered a virtual lock to hit at least 30 home runs with the Orioles. To get Trumbo, the Orioles gave up virtually nothing. Clevenger figured to be a third catcher/role player. Trumbo should be penciled in as a DH, and can hopefully leave his glove at home most days.
The second minor trade brought L.J. Hoes back to Baltimore. Hoes is an immediate upgrade over last year’s defensive replacement/speed guy, David Lough. Lough never got untracked in Baltimore, and did not exactly show great instincts on the basepaths and in the outfield, despite his great speed. Hoes will join Nolan Reimold in giving the Orioles a pair of great options with great on-base abilities to fight for playing time in both corner outfield positions. Hoes can also spell Adam Jones in center field. The 2015 season was a bumpy one at times for the face of the Orioles franchise, as he dealt with nagging injuries most of the entire second half of the year. Now, there is a real option on the bench to help give Jones a day off now and then.
If you’re keeping track, the Orioles have already upgraded their bench depth, turned a player with little value into a 30-homer threat, brought back an All-Star catcher and setup man, and showed a willingness to spend big for one more power bat. That’s a great start to the offseason.
Things got even better last night, when news broke that the Orioles had signed Hyun-soo Kim from the KBO. Kim is a left-handed outfielder with a great batting line in ten years with the Doosan Bears. The 27-year-old brings a .318/.406/.488 Korean slash line to Baltimore, and should be penciled in as the starting left fielder next year. At $3.5 million per year, the Orioles may have found themselves an incredible bargain. The club needed to find a starting left fielder, a left-handed bat, and a player with some power and the ability to get on base while avoiding the strikeout. For now, Kim appears to be all of those things and more. He should put up better numbers than Gerardo Parra, Ben Revere, and Dexter Fowler. At worst, Kim is a poor man’s Nick Markakis. He may even be better than Markakis at this point in his career and comes at a fraction of the cost.
The Orioles have already addressed some of their most important needs this offseason, and will continue working hard to re-sign Davis (do not count out their chances, as the market for Davis could be extremely limited at this point) or land another outfielder like Upton, Alex Gordon, or Yoenis Cespedes. Having seen the offer made to Davis, there is little chance the Orioles cannot be the team to land at least one of those three free-agent outfielders if they really push for a deal. On the heels of an 81-81 season, it appears Peter Angelos has finally realized he wants to win a World Series title.
The only hole it does not appear the Orioles will be able to fill is in the starting rotation. The options that remain on the market do not represent a significant upgrade over the pitchers already present on the roster. Scott Kazmir could be considered an option to replace Chen, but he comes with serious question marks due to a lengthy injury history and a significant decline in performance after being traded last season. Yovani Gallardo and Mike Leake do not represent $18 million per year’s worth of value to the Orioles. Perhaps Doug Fister could be signed to a one- or two-year deal to rebuild his value, but his style of pitching does not appear to be a fit for the AL East.
At the end of the day, the Orioles may not even need to add a starting pitcher this offseason. The playoffs are made in the American League by scoring runs, a lot of them. Each of the playoff teams from the AL last year ranked in the top-six in runs scored, but only two ranked in the top-six for starter’s ERA. The World Series champion Kansas City Royals ranked twelfth, only two spots ahead of the Orioles, when adding up the ERA of the starting pitchers. The Royals and Orioles get by on the strengths of their offense and bullpen. Last year, the Orioles’ bullpen was good as ever, but the offense floundered in several key positions. The bullpen has been kept fully intact, and the positions of need have already been aggressively upgraded or targeted by the front office.
Can’t ask for much more so far this offseason for the Baltimore Orioles.