by Sahil Shah
As winter draws to a close, temperatures rise—Ann Arbor aside—and the sweet sounds of bats hitting balls emanate from Florida and Arizona, echoing around the country, it can only mean one thing: Baseball is (almost) back!
Pitchers and catchers have reported, and here at M-SABR we are counting down the final 34 days until America’s favorite holiday: Opening Day. To brighten that final baseball-less month just a little bit, we will be bringing you 30 Teams in 30 Days! Check back every day for one of our staff member’s insights on what you can expect from your favorite team in 2018, how we thought their offseason went, and what players you should make sure to keep your eye on! Don’t forget to read up on those division rivals either.
Beginning today with the Baltimore Orioles, we will work our way through all 30 teams, going from AL to NL by division in reverse order of last season’s standings. When the team previews wrap up, M-SABR’s Bold Predictions, Playoff Previews, and Awards Predictions will give you the big picture right in time for the very first first pitch of 2018. Enjoy!
2017 Record: 75-87 (5th AL East)
2017 Payroll: $182,523,427 (9th)
Projected 2018 Lineup:
All player projections for 2018 from Steamer
- 3B Tim Beckham, .2 AVG/.307 OBP/.425 SLG, 2.2 WAR
- SS Manny Machado, .291 AVG/.351 OBP/.544 SLG, 5.7 WAR
- 2B Jonathan Schoop, .276 AVG/.316 OBP/.488 SLG, 2.9 WAR
- CF Adam Jones, .273 AVG/.315 OBP/.470 SLG, 2.0 WAR
- LF Trey Mancini, .274 AVG/.325 OBP/.457 SLG, 1.1 WAR
- 1B Chris Davis, .228 AVG/.331 OBP/.477 SLG, 1.6 WAR
- DH Mark Trumbo, .252 AVG/.310 OBP/.476 SLG, 0.4 WAR
- C Caleb Joseph, .236 AVG/.286 OBP/.384 SLG, 0.6 WAR
- RF Austin Hays, .275 AVG/.310 OBP/.454 SLG, 0.0 WAR
Projected 2018 Rotation:
- Dylan Bundy, 177.0 IP/5.03 ERA/1.38 WHIP, 1.3 WAR
- Kevin Gausman, 183.0 IP/4.53 ERA/1.35 WHIP, 2.4 WAR
- Andrew Cashner, 140.0 IP/5.43 ERA/1.54 WHIP, 0.6 WAR
- Gabriel Ynoa, 108.0 IP/5.59 ERA/1.48 WHIP, 0.2 WAR
- Chris Tillman, 114.0 IP/5.72 ERA/1.57 WHIP, 0.1 WAR
In typical Dan Duquette fashion, the Orioles waited until February to find bargains to improve their roster. The team’s biggest moves to date have been in the rotation, where the Orioles signed veteran Andrew Cashner on a 2-year deal and re-signed Chris Tillman to a 1-year deal. In addition, the Orioles signed OF Colby Rasmus to a minor-league contract. The team lost a few veteran hitters during the offseason, headlined by long-time fan favorite SS JJ Hardy. OF Seth Smith and C Welington Castillo also departed after one-year stints with the Orioles and they will most likely be replaced from in-house. Lastly, ineffective veteran starters Ubaldo Jimenez, Wade Miley, and Jeremy Hellickson have all left the organization, which should be addition by subtraction for a team who cannot seem to figure out their rotation woes.
2018 Season Preview:
The Baltimore Orioles entered this offseason with a long list of questions. The Winter Meetings were dominated by talk of the Orioles prized possession, 25-year-old star infielder Manny Machado. Machado is scheduled to become a free agent following the conclusion of the 2018 season, and it does not appear that owner Peter Angelos is willing to pony up the $300 million+ dollars it will require to re-sign Machado for the long run. Therefore, the question on everyone’s mind is what the Orioles intended to do with him. Trade him for a boatload of prospects and begin the rebuilding process? Trade him for starting pitching in an attempt to stay competitive in 2018? Keep Machado, fix some of the other holes on the roster, and try for one last playoff push in 2018?
If you guessed do nothing, you are correct.
After hosting trade talks with a number of teams, including the White Sox, Diamondbacks, and Yankees, the Orioles ultimately decided to hold onto Machado. However, they did little to upgrade the team around him.
The starting rotation, a consistent problem for Orioles teams over the past five years, hit rock-bottom in 2017. No starter finished with an ERA under 4.00. Opening Day starter Kevin Gausman was expected to take a leap forward in 2017 and establish himself as one of the top pitchers in the American League. However, he struggled throughout the first half of the season on the way to a 4.68 ERA. Chris Tillman, the Orioles’ longtime ace, started the season on the disabled list with a sore shoulder and never found any semblance of consistency once he returned to the mound. His ERA rose from 3.77 in 2016 to 7.84 in 2017. Tillman combined with veteran starters Ubaldo Jimenez, Wade Miley, and Jeremy Hellickson to post a ghastly 6.61 ERA in 86 starts.
With the departures of Jimenez, Miley, and Hellickson, the Orioles began the offseason with only 2 guaranteed starters: Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. GM Dan Duquette waited until mid-February to address the rotation, signing Andrew Cashner to a 2 year/$16 million deal with a 3rd year vesting option. On the surface, Cashner looks like a bargain signing after posting a 3.40 ERA in 2017, the 9th best ERA. However, his 4.61 FIP and 1.34 K/BB suggest that his low ERA is unsustainable and it remains to be seen whether or not he can continue producing for the Orioles. In addition, the Orioles reunited with Chris Tillman on a 1 year/$3 million deal with $7 million in incentives. The Orioles are hoping that a healthier Tillman can put his ugly 2017 season behind him and resemble the rotation stalwart he was from 2012-2016.
The bullpen, the backbone of the Orioles since 2012, has finally begun to show some cracks. Coming off of one of the best seasons by a relief pitcher in MLB history in 2016, closer Zach Britton struggled through an injury-plagued 2017. After nearly being dealt to the Houston Astros at the trade deadline, as well as trade talks at the beginning of the offseason, Britton is projected to begin the season in the Orioles organization after tearing his Achilles during the offseason. The injury will keep Britton out of action for the first few months of the 2018 season. While his absence is significant, the Orioles have the depth to overcome his injury. Brad Brach racked up 18 saves replacing Britton last year during his DL stints and will begin the season as the Orioles closer. He will combine with steady veteran submarine pitcher Darren O’Day, breakout star reliever Mychal Givens, and underrated left-hander Richard Bleier to form the core of the Orioles bullpen. In addition, the Orioles have a number of interesting pitchers competing for spots in the bullpen and the 5th starter role in the rotation, including Miguel Castro, Mike Wright, Gabriel Ynoa, and Rule 5 pick Nestor Cortes Jr.
The Orioles’ offense is projected to be their strongest unit this season. 2B Jonathan Schoop posted a breakout season at the age of 26, posting career highs in batting average (.293), on-base percentage (.338), home runs (32), and runs batted in (105) and earning his first trip to the MLB All-Star Game. LF Trey Mancini was a pleasant surprise for the Orioles last season, posting a strong batting line while playing a passable left field after spending the majority of his career at first base. He looks to build upon his success from his rookie year. Fan-favorites Adam Jones and Manny Machado also posted typically strong seasons, and the Orioles are counting on them to continue leading the team in 2018.
For Baltimore’s offense to be dominant, however, they will need to rely on comeback seasons from sluggers 1B Chris Davis and DH Mark Trumbo. Signed to big contracts over the past two offseasons, the two players were projected to form a formidable middle-of-the-lineup punch. However, neither player seemed to settle into a groove. After posting a career-high 47 HRs in 2016, Trumbo regressed to 23 HRs in 2017, while Davis posted the 2nd worst batting average and OBP numbers of his Orioles career. A return to dominance by Davis and Trumbo will be a headache for opposing pitchers and a major boost for the Orioles lineup.
The Orioles will also be looking for solid performances from some new additions. Infielder Tim Beckham, acquired from the Rays in an under-the-radar move at the trade deadline, started off his Oriole career in a blaze, hitting for a .394 AVG and .417 OBP in August. The Orioles are hoping he can continue his strong play in 2018 as he fills the hole left by JJ Hardy’s departure in free agency. Lastly, the Orioles are hoping for strong performances by top prospects Chance Sisco (C) and Austin Hays (OF). Hays has vaulted up prospect lists over the past year and is slated to handle right field duties for the Orioles. Sisco, meanwhile, will replace outgoing free agent Welington Castillo and serve in a timeshare behind the plate with veteran Caleb Joseph. Strong performances by these players in the upcoming season will give the Orioles optimism as they prepare for life without Machado.
Record Prediction: 78–84
Player to Watch #1: 3B/SS Manny Machado
No matter how the Orioles perform in 2018, Manny Machado’s impending free agency will be the dominant storyline all season. The Orioles have acquiesced to Machado’s request to move from third base, where he has won a Platinum Glove, back to his natural position of shortstop. The move to shortstop should only boost Machado’s value and make it even less likely that the team will re-sign him. If the Orioles fall out of contention early in the season, it will be interesting to see if the team will finally trade him and the type of haul they receive for their All-Star infielder.
Player to Watch #2: OF Austin Hays
No player in Baltimore’s farm system posted a more dominant season than Austin Hays. A 3rd round pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, Hays tore up the Single-A Carolina League and the Double-A Eastern League, earning himself a September call-up to the Major League squad. Despite posting paltry numbers during his first stint with the Orioles (.217/.238/.317), the Orioles are ecstatic with Hays’ performance during the 2017 season and view him as a key building block for future Orioles teams. Although he is currently projected to spend the bulk of his time at right field for the Orioles, a free-agent signing could push him into a timeshare or more seasoning at the AAA level.
Player to Watch #3: SP Dylan Bundy
In a rotation full of disappointment, Dylan Bundy was the lone bright spot in 2017, posting a 4.24 ERA while serving as the Orioles most consistent starter. He looked unhittable at times, flashing the filthy pitches and potential that led the Orioles to select him with the fourth overall pick in the 2011 draft. Perhaps most importantly, after suffering through a series of arm injuries in 2013-2015 that slowed his development, Bundy was able to show that he could stay healthy and handle the rigors of a major league season. Now the Orioles de-facto ace, the team is looking for Bundy to take the next step in 2018 and establish himself as one of the top pitchers in all of baseball. Bundy certainly has the talent to become a dominant pitcher in the Major Leagues for the next decade and become the anchor for the next great Orioles teams.
Check back tomorrow for Cam Cain’s take on the Toronto Blue Jays!