by Sahil Shah
2018 Record: 47-115 (5th in AL East)
2018 Payroll: $61,693,782 (28th)
Projected 2019 Lineup:
1. CF Cedric Mullins, .258 AVG/.313 OBP/.410 SLG, 1.4 WAR
2. 2B Jonathan Villar, .250 AVG/.319 OBP/.389 SLG, 1.0 WAR
3. LF Trey Mancini, .261 AVG/.318 OBP/.444 SLG, 0.9 WAR
4. DH Mark Trumbo, .247 AVG/.306 OBP/.454 SLG, 0.5 WAR
5. 1B Chris Davis, .203 AVG/.297 OBP/.399 SLG, 0.0 WAR
6. 3B Renato Nunez, .239 AVG/.299 OBP/.421 SLG 1.8 WAR
7. RF DJ Stewart, .240 AVG/.320 OBP/.402 SLG, 0.6 WAR
8. SS Richie Martin, .237 AVG/.296 OBP/.338 SLG, 0.2 WAR
9. C Chance Sisco, .236 AVG/.313 OBP/.355 SLG, 0.9 WAR
Projected 2019 Rotation:
1. Dylan Bundy, 183.0 IP/4.86 ERA/1.33 WHIP, 1.5 WAR
2. Alex Cobb, 181.0 IP/4.88 ERA/1.42 WHIP, 1.6 WAR
3. Andrew Cashner, 166.0 IP/5.56 ERA/1.56 WHIP, 0.2 WAR
4. David Hess, 108.0 IP/5.92 ERA/1.53 WHIP, -0.2 WAR
5. Nate Karns, 92.0 IP/4.73 ERA/1.38 WHIP, 0.9 WAR
The Orioles offseason was defined by their decision to overhaul the front office and coaching staff. Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter did not have their contracts renewed after the tumultuous 2018 season that saw the Orioles hit rock bottom. Mike Elias was hired away from the Houston Astros replace Duquette, and has already impressed Orioles fans by showing a commitment to analytics, international scouting, and developing a farm system – all of which were mediocre to non-existent during the previous regime. Additionally, the Orioles replaced veteran manager Buck Showalter with Brandon Hyde, who served as the Chicago Cubs bench coach under Joe Maddon for the past couple of years. Hyde has been praised by many for his communication and leadership abilities, which will be critical as the Orioles launch their rebuild.
In terms of player acquisitions, the Orioles did not do much. The only major league free agent they have signed so far is pitcher Nate Karns, who missed all of last year after having elbow surgery. His career 4.37 ERA and experience as both a starter and reliever will be useful for the rebuilding Orioles squad, and he can be controlled through arbitration in 2020 if the team likes what they see. The team also signed veteran shortstop Alcides Escobar on a minor league contract, and he is expected to compete with Rule 5 additions Richie Martin and Drew Jackson for the starting shortstop and utility roles. (It also means that the Orioles now possess the two worst hitters in terms of wRC+ but let’s pretend that’s not the case).
Meanwhile, the Orioles continued to say good-bye to a number of their veteran pieces. Infielder Tim Beckham and catcher Caleb Joseph signed 1-year deals with the Mariners and Diamondbacks, respectively. Long-time center fielder Adam Jones is still a free agent, and could eventually find his way back to Baltimore to serve as a veteran leader if his market does not change soon.
2019 Season Preview:
The Baltimore Orioles are entering the season with a lot of question marks. Gone are the days of Jones, Machado, Schoop, Britton, O’Day, Brach, Tillman, and Gausman populating the clubhouse and giving the Orioles a reasonable expectation at a playoff push. Instead, the new regime is starting from scratch and trying to develop a new core to compete in a few years.
The starting rotation will be headlined by veteran holdovers Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner, and Dylan Bundy. After posting a 4.24 ERA in his first season as a full-time starter in 2017, many Orioles fans expected Bundy to break out in 2018. While he silenced any questions about his health by making 31 starts and throwing 171 2/3 innings, he threw for an unsightly 5.45 ERA and 1.41 WHIP, and became the first starter in MLB history to give up four home runs without recording an out in a May 8thstart against the Kansas City Royals. Alex Cobb, who the Orioles signed to a 4 year/$57 million contract very late into last year’s Spring Training, looked like Ubaldo Jimenez 2.0 in the first half of the season, posting a ghastly 6.41 ERA in 17 starts. He quickly turned it around in the second half, posting a sparkling 2.56 ERA in 11 starts, and the Orioles are hoping his 2019 numbers will be closer to that output with a full Spring Training to build up his arm strength. Cashner had the worst numbers of the trio, giving up nearly 2 more runs a game in 2018 (5.29) than his fantastic 2017 season with the Rangers (3.40). The Orioles are banking on bounce back seasons from this group, with the expectation that they will either stick around to serve as a veteran presence on a young team or be shipped out for prospects.
Beyond Cobb, Cashner, and Bundy, the Orioles have many options to fill out the back half of their rotation. If he proves to be healthy, Nate Karns appears to have the inside track at the #4 spot. However, he will face stiff competition from second-year starters David Hess and Yefry Ramirez, who showed some flashes last season, as well as deadline acquisitions Luis Ortiz and Cody Carroll. It would behoove the Orioles to give these young arms a chance to sink or swim in 2019, and see whether or not they will be part of the next winning Orioles team.
The bullpen, the backbone of the Orioles since 2012, was finally dismantled at the trade deadline, as Zach Britton, Darren O’Day, and Brad Brach were all traded away. Mychal Givens and Richard Bleier are the only two locks for the 2019 bullpen. Givens struggled at times last season, but finished strong, posting a 3.99 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP and taking over the closer job following the trade deadline. Givens is expected to resume his role as the closer to start the season, but he could also be moved at the trade deadline. Meanwhile, Bleier was in the midst of a breakout season in 2018, posting a 1.93 ERA before his season ended prematurely due to a lat strain. Health permitting, he is expected to pitch critical innings for the 2019 bullpen.
The team has no shortage of options to fill out the rest of the staff. Miguel Castro, Tanner Scott, Paul Fry, Jimmy Yacabonis, and Evan Phillips were among the many relievers the Orioles auditioned last season, and all of them figure to receive more opportunities in 2019. Mike Wright has been tantalized the Orioles with his talent for years, but struggled to a 5.55 ERA in 2018. Although he possesses one of the more intriguing arms in the organization, he will need a strong Spring Training to stick with the team.
In addition to the pitching staff, the Orioles will not be lacking for competition for their starting lineup. I’ll start with the bad to get it over with – Chris Davis is expected to be in the Orioles starting lineup. I have harped upon in too many articles just how bad his 2018 season was, so I won’t do it again here. Given the fact that owner Peter Angelos, who was the driving force behind this mess, has ceded control of the team over to his sons, there is a chance that the Orioles simply cut their losses with Davis if he continues to perform poorly. Let’s pray that is the case.
The rest of the infield will feature players that are getting paid a lot less than Davis. Jonathan Villar, who the Orioles acquired as part of the Jonathan Schoop trade, was fantastic down the stretch in 2018, and has cemented a spot in the middle infield and atop the Orioles lineup. The other middle infield is expected to be filled by some combination of veteran Alcides Escobar or Rule 5 draft picks Richie Martin and Drew Jackson. Renato Nunez is the current frontrunner to be the Opening Day starter at the hot corner. His defense leaves a lot to be desired, especially for a fanbase that was accustomed to seeing Manny Machado make dazzling plays at third base, but the team is intrigued by his bat.
In the outfield, the team has a number of intriguing, young options. Trey Mancini took a step back after his strong rookie season. Despite hitting 24 home runs, his wRC+ dropped 25 points from 118 to 93. As a converted first baseman, Mancini’s defense has still left a lot to be desired, and while he is expected to start the season as the Orioles’ left fielder, he could easily move to first base or the designated hitter spot if/when the team moves on from Davis and Mark Trumbo. Cedric Mullins replaced long-time Orioles starter Adam Jones in center field during the second half, and responded by posting a .235/.312/.359 line in 45 games. He brings a speed dimension to the Orioles that has been lacking in previous seasons, with a combined 23 stolen bases between three levels 2018, and is expected to continue to bat atop the lineup and receive an extended audition in center field in 2019.
Austin Hays rose up the prospect rankings after a dominant 2017 season that earned him a September call-up to the Major League squad; however, his 2018 season was nothing short of a disappointment. He posted a 89 wRC+ in 66 games in Double-A Bowie, and missed most of the season with an ankle injury. Despite his rough season, he is still very much in the Orioles plans and he is expected to get an opportunity to hold down a corner outfield spot for the team. DJ Stewart, the Orioles 2015 first round pick, made his major league debut this past September after a strong showing in Triple-A Norfolk.
Mark Trumbo rebounded a bit from his dismal 2017 season, as his wRC+ improved from 81 to 107, and he slugged 17 home runs in 90 games. Knee injuries shelved Trumbo on multiple occasions in 2018, however, and he is essentially only a designated hitter at this stage of his career. Entering the last year of his contract, the Orioles are hoping he swings a hot bat to start off 2019 so they can make room for younger players.
Last but not least, the most interesting position battle for the 2019 Orioles will come at catcher. Chance Sisco was expected to lock down the starting job in 2018; however, he struggled badly in 63 games in the Major Leagues and ceded playing time to veteran Caleb Joseph and fellow rookie Austin Wynns. Joseph is no longer with the organization, but Sisco and Wynns will battle with veteran catcher Andrew Susac for two spots on the Opening Day roster in 2019.
Record Prediction: 57-105
Last season, I predicted the Orioles would finish 78-84. I think my prediction is much more accurate this time.
Player to Watch #1: OF Yusniel Diaz
After being acquired from the Dodgers in the Manny Machado deal, Yusniel Diaz quickly shot to the top of the Orioles prospect list, and for good reason. While he does not possess elite power, he is a very capable all-fields line-drive hitter and possesses a strong batting eye. He averaged more walks than strikeouts with Double-A Tulsa before being traded to the Orioles. Although he slumped a bit upon joining the Orioles organization, he still possesses all the tools necessary to become a solid big league contributor. He is expected to spend most of the season in the minor leagues, but if he can continue to wield a strong bat, it is possible he could get a September call-up in 2019 and an extended audition in the majors in 2020.
Player to Watch #2: OF Ryan Mountcastle
Ryan Mountcastle possesses one of the most exciting bats currently in the Orioles farm system. He had a fantastic showing in Double-A in 2018, posting a .297/.341/.464 line in 428 plate appearances. He slugged 13 home runs on the season, but he could easily hit for 20 or more home runs as he matures. Mountcastle should find his way to the Major Leagues in 2019, although there are questions as to what position he will play. After being drafted as a shortstop, he moved to third base in 2018 and is now working out at first base in Spring Training. Regardless of the position, Mountcastle has already exhibited many of the tools to be a force in the major leagues, and the team hopes he will pair with Diaz to form a formidable offensive core for years to come.
Player to Watch #3: SP DL Hall
The Orioles first-round pick in the 2017 draft, DL Hall dazzled in his first full season in the minor leagues, posting a 2.10 ERA with a 9.5 K/9 in 20 starts and shooting up many prospect lists. Scouts are very high on his fastball and curveball; however, he needs to work more on developing his changeup to be able to effectively deploy it in the major leagues. He finished the season on a tear, giving up no more than one run in an outing in his last 13 starts in Single-A Delmarva, despite the fact that he was nearly three years younger than the average player in the South Atlantic League. He is likely to move up to High-A Carolina League to begin the 2019 season. While Hall still has a ways to go before reaching the majors, the Orioles and their fans are certainly happy with the early returns.