Buck Showalter‘s birds exceeded expectations last year by finishing second in a tough American League East with an 89-73 record, and they were perhaps one different managerial decision away from making it past the Blue Jays in the AL Wild Card game (is Zach Britton still warming up in the bullpen?). Questionable calls aside, it was an overall positive season for the Baltimore Orioles that unfortunately ended in painful regret.
The Orioles rode a barrage of home runs (they led baseball with 253; the next closest team slugged 225) and a solid bullpen to a Wild Card spot in 2016. Many of the home runs came from a resurgent Mark Trumbo and his career high 47 home runs, also tops in the league. Trumbo is now a free agent and is sure to score a mega deal somewhere, which would leave a major offensive hole for the O’s to fill in 2017.
The starting rotation was a concern throughout the season, with Showalter rarely knowing what to expect from his starters each time out. It took a high-powered offense to mask the issues on the mound. So far this offseason, the Orioles have made a flurry of underwhelming moves, bringing in Logan Verrett from the Mets for cash considerations and claiming Adam Walker off waivers, who can certainly hit home runs but strikes out at an alarming rate. The Orioles will likely have to brace themselves to lose Trumbo and make up for those power numbers elsewhere, but expect them to still be an offensive threat in the American League with a solid bullpen. Here are some things fans in the Baltimore area will be wishing for in 2017.
1) Consistency in the Starting Rotation
The Orioles rotation is likely set already for 2017. They have six starters on the roster with a mediocre crop of starting pitching on the free agent market (and mediocre is a generous term for this class). Now, whether their rotation being set is a good thing or not is up for debate. Four out of these six starters for the O’s finished the 2016 season with an ERA north of five, the only two below that mark being Kevin Gausman and Chris Tillman, both of whom were up and down all year. Tillman saw a stretch of three starts in June where he allowed at least four runs, immediately followed by a four-start stretch in July where he allowed no more than one run. He was then tagged for six runs after that successful start to the month. If Tillman can find some consistency along with Gausman, at least they would have some reliability at the top of the rotation and hope they can find some improvement from Ubaldo Jimenez or Yovani Gallardo. FanGraphs currently projects the O’s rotation to finish second-worst in the American League in 2017, so fans better hope that they are sorely mistaken.
2) Hope the bullpen stays the course
Speaking of the bullpen, O’s fans would love to see the bullpen return in 2017 with more of the same results. The bullpen as a whole was among the top five in baseball in terms of ERA and saves, largely due to the incredible performance by Britton, who finished with a 0.54 ERA and a league-best 47 saves. It would be tough to expect an encore performance in 2017, but another All-Star-caliber season is very realistic for Britton, and look for a healthier Darren O’Day to provide a bullpen boost. Right-handed reliever Brad Brach has been consistently improving his numbers since arriving from San Diego in 2014, and had a career year in 2016 with a 2.04 ERA. If the bullpen core can give anything close to a repeat this performance this coming year, they will be in good shape.
3) Add an outfielder
Right field is currently vacant for the Orioles, who are rumored to have interest in a couple different options via trade or free agency. Giants outfielder Angel Pagan has been mentioned recently and could be a nice fit for this club, considering he is still a solid offensive talent at 35 years old and wouldn’t be a costly addition (we know how the O’s say no to big signings). Pagan hit .277 last year but is primarily a left fielder, so if he were to come to Baltimore he would need to sacrifice familiarity for a starting role.
Another name swirling around Baltimore is Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson, who is familiar with the AL East after a stint with the Yankees before signing with the Mets. Granderson’s offensive decline has been a concern, but he had a solid month of September last year and is a realistic addition now that the Mets have locked down Yoenis Cespedes and need to unload an outfielder. The O’s can also consider going after another Mets outfielder in Jay Bruce, who struggled in his short stint with the Mets after being a powerful bat in the Cincinnati Reds’ lineup.
4) Trumbo stays, or somehow make up for the power absence
The Orioles hit home runs. That’s their offense, as shown by Trumbo and Chris Davis. Davis led the league in strikeouts last year while hitting 38 home runs, and Trumbo led the league in home runs but struck out 170 times. Despite declining numbers in the second half of the season, Trumbo will likely receive a multi-year offer from multiple clubs after his power surge in 2016. FanGraphs projects Trumbo to ink a four-year deal worth $64 million, which seems very possible, just not from the Orioles front office.
With exception to Davis, Orioles GM Dan Duquette rarely throws his money around to big name free agents, and now that Trumbo declined their qualifying offer to test the landscape, it is hard to see him returning. This will still be a dangerous offense with Davis, Manny Machado, and Adam Jones lurking in the lineup, but if Trumbo elects to take the money and run, they better find a way to make up for at least some of the offense they will be losing.
5) Clear up the question mark behind the plate
When healthy, Matt Wieters has been a fixture at the catcher position for the O’s since 2009, but now finds himself testing the waters of free agency. The Beltway rival Washington Nationals have been rumored to be a possible suitor since Wilson Ramos is expected to miss all of next season. Wieters has seen a drop-off in offensive production but managed to hit 17 home runs last season while batting .255 as a switch hitter. Now at 30 years of age, it is hard to expect much better from Wieters in the future, but he is still a starting catcher with a decent bat who has the intangibles defensively behind the plate.
Backup Caleb Joseph proved to be a fine replacement when Wieters was recovering from Tommy John surgery, but he also saw a decline in his offensive numbers last season. Where do the Orioles turn for their catching needs in 2017? Top prospect Chance Sisco should see some time in spring training, so fans can hope that their catching dilemma is solved from within, though questions still linger about Sisco’s defensive abilities.