The Baltimore Orioles enter the 2017 offseason with way more questions than answers. A 75-87 season with a last place finish in the AL East will do that to a team. Even so, the Orioles are just one season removed from an 89-73 season and a second place finish in the AL East. How did the Orioles fall off so quickly and where do they go in 2018?
After a second place finish in 2016, the Orioles were primed to make another run at the AL East crown. Through the month of April, it looked like they would do just that. They boasted a 15-8 record and were one of the hottest teams in baseball.
However, an absolute collapse of the pitching staff grounded the Orioles’ playoff aspirations. As a staff, Orioles pitching gave up 841 runs on the season, averaging out to a little over five runs per game. That was much too difficult for the eighth ranked offense in the American League to overcome.
It wasn’t just the pitching staff that suffered from inconsistency though. Star third baseman Manny Machado got off to a poor start in 2017, batting .224 in March and April and slumping to a .191 batting average for the month of May. Throughout the whole season, he only slugged over .500 in one full month, slugging .690 in August. Even with Machado’s struggles, the Orioles were able to score 743 runs, only one less than their total last year.
One reason for that was the emergence of Jonathan Schoop. Schoop definitely tapped into his power this year, launching 32 home runs. He also drove in a team high 105 RBIs.
Another factor was the under the radar addition of shortstop Tim Beckham. Beckham is the new poster child for the change of scenery narrative. After posting a paltry 97 OPS+ in Tampa Bay, Beckham hit to the tune of a 131 OPS+ in Baltimore. Both Beckham and Schoop will be relied on next season season.
The Baltimore Orioles are set in the infield, with catching duties likely being split between Caleb Joseph and prospect Chance Sisco. Beckham will take over for the 35-year-old J.J. Hardy, solidifying a strong infield.
Where the questions begin is in the outfield. Nine different players earned time in right field for the Orioles, with 35-year-old Seth Smith playing the most games with 80. Joey Rickard, Craig Gentry and Mark Trumbo all played at least 31 games in right, but none are thought to be long-term options. Rickard, who will turn 27 next season, has a career 77 OPS+. Gentry will be 34 with an 84 OPS+ for his career, and Trumbo was mostly a designated hitter. Either way, right field will be the least of the Orioles’ problems if they can’t find some starting pitching.
When your “staff ace” posts a 4.24 ERA, you know there are bound to be some problems. The Orioles had two starters with ERAs well over 5.00. Wade Miley made 32 starts and posted a 5.61 ERA. Not to be outdone, Ubaldo Jimenez went one step further. The former Rockies ace started 25 games and posted an atrocious 6.81 ERA.
Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman were the only starters to post sub 5.00 ERAs on the season. The Orioles will definitely have to dip into the free agent market to address one of the worst starting staffs in the majors.
Potential Free Agent Signings
One player that the Orioles could target is pitcher Trevor Cahill. While adding a pitcher with a 4.93 ERA this past season may not sound like a good idea, a closer look at the numbers says otherwise.
As a starter with San Diego, Cahill made 11 starts, going 4-3 with a 3.69 ERA. It was when Cahill was shipped to Kansas City that his numbers started to balloon. A change of scenery and a change to the bullpen spelled disaster for the former second-round pick. Cahill will only be 30 years old next year, and should come at a reasonable price.
Another option for the Orioles is pitcher Tyler Chatwood. With Chatwood, you have to look even deeper than with Cahill. The former Rockies starter has a chance to be a diamond in the rough. Chatwood is a perfect example of how pitching in Colorado can damage a pitcher’s career.
He has posted a 5.25 ERA in 68 games at Coors Field. But outside of Colorado, Chatwood has posted a 3.31 ERA in 62 games. He has also given up 25 homers on the road compared to 42 at home, and limited batters to a .241 batting average on the road. There is only a 17-inning difference between his 332.1 IP at home compared to his 315.1 IP on the road. While Cahill could be a solid signing, Chatwood has the chance to be an impact arm for the Orioles. And at almost 28 years old, he’s one of the youngest available starters on the market.
The Baltimore Orioles have a chance to turn their organization around in 2018. However, with the Yankees and Red Sox back to powerhouses once again, the best the Orioles can hope for in 2018 is a Wild Card spot.
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