All offseason, Diamond Digest writers will be taking a look at each team’s 2020 season and looking forward at what moves each team might have to make to set themselves up for improvement in 2021. Today, Michael Shopoff takes a look at the Baltimore Orioles!
The Baltimore Orioles in the AL East:
- 2017 – last
- 2018 – last
- 2019 – last
- 2020 – 4th
Progress! Seriously, the Orioles exceeded expectations by going 25-35 and nosing ahead of the Red Sox (24-36) for the shortened season. Vegas projected the team for 20 wins; FanGraphs had them at 21. GM Mike Elias and the rest of the organization will look to build on this success as they continue the team’s rebuild in 2021.
2020 Record: 25-35, 4th Place in AL East
Team MVP: Jose Iglesias (.373/.400/.556, 1.6 fWAR)
Team Cy Young: Tanner Scott (20 IP, 1.31 ERA, 1.2 bWAR)
Biggest Positive Surprise: Ryan Mountcastle (.333/.386/.492)
Biggest Negative Surprise: Asher Wojciechowski (37 IP, 6.81 ERA)
With a rebuilding team, you’re looking for breakthrough players or incremental progress from your youngsters; weeding out those who aren’t developing becomes an issue as well, and as for your veterans – well, you hope they become good trade chips. Iglesias represents the last category; picked up for a cheap 1-year deal plus a team option, Iglesias rode some good luck on balls in play to a premier slash line in the shortened season. The Orioles picked up his 2021 option at $3.5 million, and he should give them a nice option to deal for a prospect at the 2021 deadline. Ryan Mountcastle represented the first category, as the 2015 first-round pick made an impressive major league debut, and with former Rule 5 pick Anthony Santander gives the Orioles a nice base for an outfield of the future.
The Orioles pitching continues to leave a lot of room for improvement – when your biggest surprise is a middle reliever with a 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio, things could be much better. Wojciechowski looked in 2019 like he could at least eat some innings for the team while younger pitchers came up, but he bottomed out completely and got optioned in September. Lefty John Means got the token All-Star spot in 2019, but regressed significantly and leaves the rotation with nobody who you could confidently say will feature the next time the Orioles contend.
2020-2021 Offseason Preview
Key Loss: Renato Nunez (1B – non-tendered)
Areas of Greatest Need: Pitching, pitching, and more pitching
GM Mike Elias has already indicated the team will enter the free-agent market for starting pitchers, probably for short-term deals along the lines of last year’s pick-ups of Tommy Milone and Wade LeBlanc. Any moves the team makes will focus on future returns while keeping a baseline of competitiveness.
Marcus Semien – 1 year, $15 million: Semien looked like he would cash in big-time after a stellar 2019, but his 2020 struggles lowered his value as he hit free agency. He very well may look for a one year deal to increase his value, he comes without draft pick losses, and could be swapped for a good haul at the deadline. Exactly the type of addition the Orioles should make.
Corey Kluber – 1 year, $12.5 million: Essentially the starting pitching version of Semien, except his value dropped due to injury, not performance. This gives Kluber a chance to raise his value during a depressed market and gives the Orioles another trade chip to turn into a younger prospect.
Chris Archer – 1 year, $5 million: Moving away from Pittsburgh seems to help any pitcher, and buying low on a guy that was highly regarded a short time ago seems like a very Elias move.
Trade 1: Baltimore obtains a 40-man roster spot in exchange for a buyout of the remaining two years of Chris Davis’s contract.
It’s well past time to do this. There’s literally no reason to keep Davis around; it’s well established at this point that he can no longer hit. (He’s hit .169/.251/.299 over the last three years. By comparison, pitchers hit .131/.161/.168 in 2019.) With rumors surrounding the potential sale of the team, clearing a dead contract off the books would only increase the potential sale price. Just bite the bullet.
Trade 2: Baltimore trades SS Jose Iglesias to Oakland in exchange for RHP Tyler Baum
Oakland needs to cover the hole created by Marcus Semien’s imminent departure and gives up a high-risk/high-potential arm in A ball to do so. A high-risk/high-potential arm is exactly the type of lottery ticket a rebuilding team pursues.
2021 Projected Roster
1) Jose Iglesias (DH)
2) Yusniel Diaz (CF)
3) Ryan Mountcastle (LF)
4) Trey Mancini (1B)
5) Anthony Santander (LF)
6) Marcus Semien (SS)
7) Adley Ruschman (C)
8) Rio Ruiz (3B)
9) Yolmer Sanchez (2B)
This projected lineup almost certainly won’t match the Opening Day lineup, as Diaz and Ruschman will start the season in the minors to work on their defense, i.e., manipulate their service time. The Orioles already added Yolmer Sanchez on a waiver claim from the White Sox, and he can cover any infield position with plus defense.
All of this should not bury the lede of the best story of the Orioles offseason: Trey Mancini appears to have fully recovered from his cancer treatments and should return to action for 2021.
The rotation and bullpen will remain in flux as the team auditions different pitchers and prospects, likely starting in the bullpen, to determine what they have for the future.
Orioles fans do have some things to look forward to in 2021. With Diaz and Ruschman set to debut, along with other young players already developing, the team looks to be putting together a solid core of position players. If the team can start striking gold with some of these pitchers, they should be able to take further steps toward winning baseball.