First my inclination was to be sellers. With the Yankees owning a strong young core and the Red Sox being right there with them, the Orioles didn't seemingly have the assets and ability to compete not just next year but perhaps over the next several years. I went through a tear down of the Marlins when I ran them, but with the Nationals and Pirates I went for it, trying to make the team better both in the short term and long run.
The Orioles have several assets that could return nice things: Manny Machado, Kevin Gausman, Jonathan Schoop (who I got about fifty inquiries about), Zach Britton, Brad Brach, etc... Many folks I read have been saying the Orioles should be sellers.
I really had no idea where I was going to end up, but I knew there were a couple moves I could try to make early on that if I could do it, I'd have a shot at building a strong team for the short and medium term at least.
Decline the options of JJ Hardy and Wade Miley
I feel like Orioles fans have an affinity for Hardy, and rightfully so as he was a solid player for several years with the birds, but he's been a below average player really over his past ~1,000 plate appearances and heading into age 35 I felt like $14M could be better spent elsewhere.
I feel like Orioles fans have no affinity for Wade Miley, and I'd certainly rather pay him $500K to go away than $12M to pitch.
So declining both options saved me (if only on paper) $26M potential dollars.
Welington Castillo declines his option
I liked Castillo enough, but this was his choice both in the simulation and real life.
Arizona trades Patrick Corbin for Cedric Mullins and Yefry Ramirez
Corbin was a little pricier than I wanted from a salary standpoint (~$8.3M), but I don't think the cost to acquire him was much. He was an above average starter last year (3 fWAR & 93 FIP-) and fits in nicely as a #3 in the rotation. I do wish he was controlled for longer (he'll be a free agent next year), but he's certainly a potential extension candidate that won't break the bank. Worst case might be that the O's issue him a qualifying offer.
Now comes the usual biggest point of contention when I take over as GM of other teams, valuing prospects. I consider myself the prospect guy at Royals Review. I do a top 60-80 Royals prospect list every year, cover the draft pretty extensively, and I used to make my own top overall 100 lists. I don't have the Orioles system down as much as I do the Royals, but I was familiar with most of the front half of the org names, and read a bit more about the back half.
Mullins has the potential to be a nice little player, but I didn't see him as either untouchable or a future cornerstone. He hit well in both his pro debut and full season debut, but dropped just a bit upon promotion to AA this year. Without any standout tools (other than maybe above average speed), I was okay with moving him.
Hopefully no one is upset that I included Yefry Ramirez.
Orioles trade Mark Trumbo and Mike Yastrzemski to the White Sox for Ian Clarkin and $26M
The White Sox were willing to take on money in exchange for a prospect sweetener. I was glad to get rid of the obligation to Trumbo, even if I had to include a guy I kinda like in Little Yaz. Truthfully though, Yastrzemski is a 26-year old who has kicked around the high minors for years. Not a future piece, but the White Sox were willing to give him a shot.
I liked Clarkin back in the 2013 draft and he's had decent results in the minors but injuries have slowed him. I was more than happy to get him back in an effective salary dump.
Orioles trade Chris Davis, Tanner Scott, Anthony Santander, Milton Ramos, and Jomar Reyes to the Royals for Bubba Starling and $69M
Oh boy. So here is probably the biggest (or second biggest) move I made. Right from the start I was emailing the other GMs to try to get someone to take Chris Davis off my hands. There were some nibbles, but with just how bad the Davis deal is, I couldn't get any true bites. Then the Royals came along and were willing to take on a significant amount of the money owed while also providing a unique opportunity on the money.
The devil is in the details of the $69M. The way we agreed to the structure of it, the Royals are going to foot the bill for Davis in 2018, 2019, and 2020. This gives the Orioles short term flexibility by freeing up $23M in salary. Seeing that the Royals are likely to be bad over the next several years, if somehow in 2021 and 2022 they find themselves competitive, they won't be on the hook for Davis and instead have a free bench power bat or can cut him.
I did however have to pay a heavy toll for that flexibility, trading away the Orioles #6, #9, #16, and #20 prospects in the deal (per MLB). The back two guys I wasn't really worried about losing. Ramos can't really hit and was acquired for nothing (international pool money - effectively packing peanuts for the Orioles front office) while Reyes has good power but is a first baseman to me and struggles with contact. I was easily willing to part with them.
Tanner Scott I liked as a possible bullpen piece this year but the control issues are very concerning and I had other bullpen pieces lined up. Santander has hit well through the years in the minors but he wasn't unmoveable and the upside isn't high. I could live with the package.
Bubba Starling has long been the shame of Royals fans (he's from Kansas) as seemingly everyone else in the 2011 draft turned out to be good (many KC fans wanted Dylan Bundy). The Royals had to include someone in the deal, and I knew there would be no argument over Starling. He's not even an average hitter, but he's so tooled up with speed and power, that there's a 1% chance he figures it out and becomes an average or better player. At a minimum he's a defensive asset in CF with power.
Orioles sign Michael Brantley to a 2-year, $20M deal with team options for 2020 ($12M) and 2021 ($14M).
I didn't mind coughing up $20M for a shot of getting a healthy Michael Brantley, a 3-4 win player. He was healthy for almost his entire career save for the past two years, but it's a gamble to be sure.
The contract is a bit tricky. $20M is guaranteed, but the team options are true team options. Instead the 2020 team option automatically vests if Brantley gets 501 plate appearances in 2018, and the 2021 team option automatically vests if he gets 501 plate appearances in 2019. So worst case really is that it's a sunk $20M, and while the options are super cheap, they are tolerable enough that if Brantley gets 501 plate appearances he's probably been good.
He's still a good hitter (114 wRC+ steamer projection), and even though I don't love him as my starting RF (would prefer him just as a DH perhaps), he's a lot better than Trumbo.
Orioles trade Hunter Harvey, Adam Hall, D.J. Stewart to the Giants for Brandon Belt, Miguel Gomez, and $31M
One of my mantras during this simulation was that I was keeping Hunter Harvey no matter what. I was a huge fan of him before the injuries and thought the O's got a steal at 1.22 in 2013. He's working his way back from Tommy John nicely and perhaps fulfilling his potential.
Orioles needed a first baseman with Davis gone and I wasn't about to give Eric Hosmer $80M+ or cough up a draft pick to sign Carlos Santana. I talked to a few teams about their 1B (Arizona with Goldschmidt, Cincinnati with Votto) but the barriers were too high and if I wasn't willing to give up Harvey, I for sure wasn't dealing Chance Sisco or Austin Hays.
So left on my list for a higher impact 1B was Brandon Belt and Wil Myers, both pretty close to the same kinda player with similar contracts. Talks about Myer kinda didn't go anywhere but they heated up fine with Belt.
We almost came to a package excluding Harvey but the money wasn't right, and to get the salary compensation I was looking for, Harvey had to be included. I didn't love doing it, but I also had to recognize that Harvey has pitched thirty one innings from 2015-2017. He's years away and a huge injury risk.
Adam Hall I liked as a potential SS who can hit a bit and is still growing into power, but he's a ways away and isn't a lock at SS. D.J. Stewart is a guy a liked coming out of Florida State, but he hasn't destroyed the minors, lacks athleticism, and might move from the outfield to first base. Gomez was a late addition throw in by the Giants. He has very little upside, but he's a utility guy who has reached the MLB and isn't a zero at the plate.
Belt gets a range of different opinions on him, but to me he's a guy you can pencil in for 2+ wins a year and he's going from the worst left handed power park in the majors (AT&T Park) to perhaps the best (Camden). Steamer projects him as a 3-win player, and even though wRC+ is park/league adjusted, I think the change of stadiums is undersold.
Move him to Camden Yards and some of those fly ball outs and doubles might be home runs.
The money on the Belt deal is as follows (he's owed $16M each year):
2018: $8M (Giants paying $8M)
2019: $5M (Giants paying $11M)
2020: $10M (Giants paying $6M)
2021: $10M (Giants paying $6M)
I don't recall why it was structured like this, and my emails with the Giants GM doesn't really lay it out either, but this was the structure of the payments he proposed and I can live with it. Getting Belt for half price (less what was paid in prospects) seems to be nice.
Orioles trade D.L. Hall, Lamar Sparks, and Jesus Liranzo for Miguel Cabrera and $120M
If the Davis move wasn't the biggest one, this one is, and there is a lot to unpack.
I was very hesitant to move Hall since the O's just drafted him but Detroit was adamant he must be included if they were eating that much salary. Hall has some things to like about him, and I love the high spin-rate curveball, but if he was the best prospect in the deal, I could live with it.
Sparks is the ultra toolsy guy the Tigers are hoping to mold from raw clay into something. I initially proposed light hitting SS Irving Ortega as the third piece, but we ended up settling on Jesus Liranzo, a good-velo, low control reliever with medicore results.
Miguel Cabrera is one of the most unmovable contracts in baseball, and I wasn't going to even touch the deal unless Detroit was throwing in a very large chunk of the money. They agreed to $20M a year through the life of the deal, which meant that the Orioles were "only" on the hook for $64M of the total $184M still owed (~30%).
Yeah, it's not a great deal, Cabrera isn't super cheap, and the back half of it may look bad, but it's certainly better than Chris Davis' deal (owing $64M to Cabrera vs $110M+ to Davis).
Cabrera is still a very useful player and a good hitter. Steamer projects for a 128 wRC+ and almost 3-wins out of him. Yeah, he's 35, and I'm willing to bet the under a bit on the fWAR, but I don't buy his 2017 wRC+ of 91 as being his new talent level. A lot of that was BABIP driven, and in the two prior years he had a wRC+ of 164 and 152. He's too good of a hitter (and he's a hall of famer too which could help drive attendance) to suddenly be a below average hitter.
Again, I don't think this deal is going to look pretty in 2022, but for the next 2-3 years (and certainly for 2018) I think this looks good. If you buy his steamer projection of 2.7 fWAR, he doesn't need to be an MVP to be worth it.
The margins are pretty slim and the last two years are just dead money.
Orioles sign Yu Darvish to a 6-year, $140M deal with an opt out after 2019
I wanted to land a big time piece after moving Davis/Trumbo (I had my eye on someone else which I'll talk about later), and I thought that was going to be a bat. However the market for Darvish was a bit softer than I expected (usually big time free agents go for way more in the sim than real life) so I dipped my toes in it (I actually think I was the first one to offer on him).
I initially offered 5/$126M, and that looked like it would do it but someone upped it to 5/$130M, so we offered 6/$140M and he took it. The extra year/money is really only there to slightly bring down the AAV.
He's the centerpiece to the entire rotation, and he remains one of the top twenty pitchers in the league.
Another one of tight margins, but it's right at fair market price, and one standout year from Darvish could turn the deal much more in the Orioles favor. Of course, Darvish could opt out too after 2019, and the Orioles would likely make out like a bandit for the time he's in uniform.
Orioles sign Jhoulys Chacin to a 2-year, $10M deal
I needed another piece for the rotation, and I explored both trade options and free agency, but I knew that I wasn't needing a huge piece, just a back of the rotation guy. Chacin fills that need.
MLB Trade Rumors predicted 2/$14M (with the Reds) on Chacin, so I was happy to get him for a little less than that. He isn't going to be the key cog of the rotation, but he's coming off back-to-back average seasons.
2016: 1.7 fWAR 97 FIP-
2017: 2.3 fWAR 101 FIP-
He should be the boring, every 5th day guy I'm signing him to be.
Orioles trade Zach Britton and Cameron Bishop to the Yankees for Estevan Florial, Miguel Andujar, Domingo Acevedo, and Jorge Guzman
I had no interest in trading Britton and rebuffed all offers because I was trying to make a run at it in 2017, and Britton remains a very good reliever, if slightly diminished from where he was once. Then the Yankees came along out of nowhere with an offer close to the above, completely unsolicited, and after some haggling for a piece to put the deal over the top I went with it.
Even though trading Britton gives a bit of a blow to the bullpen, it's still very strong with Givens, Brach, and O'Day at the top, and this gave me the ability to add to the farm system depth that was hurt a bit by trades.
I didn't get an elite prospect back but several good guys.
Florial was the 78th best prospect in baseball by MLB.com and has average or better tools everywhere
Andujar was the 91st best prospect, made his MLB debut already, and at worst looks like a utility guy who is MLB ready now. If the Orioles lose Machado, Andujar is the heir apparent, even over Mountcastle.
Acevedo has put up decent numbers as a starter in the minors and with a fastball that can bump 100+ MPH, a move to the bullpen would work just fine. There's an argument for him to be a top 100 prospect potentially.
Guzman was the late addition, and while he's a bit away from the likes of Florial, he has an insane fastball (given an 80 grade before), and Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs has called him an "elite arm strength lottery ticket". That's the kind of throw ins I like.
Per MLB.com, Orioles acquire the Yankees (who have a decent system) #3, #5, #6, and #9 prospects, all who move into the top 10 for the Orioles.
Orioles sign Danny Valencia to a 1-year, $1.5M deal, Pedro Alvarez and Robbie Grossman to minor league deals.
Valencia got a little more than I was hoping to get him for, but it's just an argument over the MLB equivalent of pennies. He works fine as a utility guy kinda guy and a decent bench bat (100 wRC+ projection). He may be the biggest jerk in baseball, but he's cheap enough to cut if he end up punching Oriole Bird.
I was happy to get Grossman and Alvarez on minor league deals. Grossman hit fine enough with the Twins last year (102wRC+), as did Alvarez with Baltimore (112 wRC+). They are cheap depth that doesn't suck.
Orioles trade Brenan Hanifee and Ofelky Peralta to the Twins for Trevor Hildenberger
After unexpectedly trading away Britton, I wanted to shore up the back of the pen a bit since everyone else will move up the chain. Hildenberger though is pretty decent in his own right, and I could even call him Britton-esque.
When it comes to groundballs and strikeouts, no one is Zach Britton, but Hildenberger gets his fair share of both. It remains to be see if his 2017 was just a rookie fluke, but he got grounders and strikeouts all throughout the minors.
He's controlled for several more years at the league minimum, and if things go south for the team, he's a tradeable asset.
And with that, my time as the Orioles faux-GM is done.
Using projections, here is the difference between the current Orioles roster and the one under the simulation:
I think I made pretty good improvements on the team, increasing them by 10-wins.
Here below is my estimated payroll for the next six years:
I'm not happy about that payroll spike 2021 and 2022, as that could limit flexibility if the team is in the thick of things, but unless we can wipe away the Chris Davis contract altogether, it is what it is.
There's enough coming off the books next year that re-signing Machado is possible, but who knows if that will happen.
The farm system might have broken even. I traded away some depth, but kept the main top three guys I think.
- My big grand idea was to try to trade away Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo (assuming all their money was being offloaded) and try to acquire Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins, who were huge sellers. With Stanton's albatross of a contract, I figured he could be had for relatively cheap from a prospect standpoint and I could get Miami to cover some of the money to boot. Ultimately, the ask from their side started with Sisco and Mountcastle.
We offered initially:
- DL Hall
That got us on the board, but Miami was still fielding offers. In the end, they went with a package better than I think I was willing to offer:
- Xavier Bogaerts,
- Jackie Bradley Jr.
- Brian Johnson
- Blake Swihart
I think Boston took on all the contract too. We were willing to do that, but I felt that offering an equivalent package would have eroded a little too much of what we were getting back.
- I wanted to make a run at JD Martinez for my big splash bat, but he ended up going for 7/$170M, well above what I was looking for.
- St Louis inquired a few times on Schoop, outfielders, and relievers. Ultimately the talks fizzled out.
- After trading Britton, I tried trading for Britton Jr. in Scott Alexander, but the Royals and I couldn't work out a deal as he was in talks elsewhere for Alexander. When Hildenberger came over, that closed the lid on Alexander for us.
- We also inquired about several other guys to replace Britton: Andrew Chafin, Edubray Ramos, Kyle Barraclough, Alex Claudio, Emilio Pagan, Daniel Coulombe. Even potentially taking a cheap flyer on Sam Dyson, but the ask was too high.
- I wanted to sign Kyle Gibson after he was acquired then non-tendered by the Padres. I went as far as offering him $2M guaranteed with multiple team options ($5M each) and a $1M buyout each year. Not a bad deal I didn't think for someone who was just non-tendered ($4M guaranteed with the potential to make $12M). I wanted him for the bullpen, but he wanted to get paid starter money.
- We shopped around with the Cubs too for their main relievers but the price was higher than we wanted.
- The Pirates inquired on trading for Miguel Andujar, fearing that Jung Ho Kang won't be stateside next season, but we wanted to keep Andujar to help the farm a bit.
- We were in talks with Houston on Evan Gattis for DH, but the cost was too high for us.
- One of the very first deals that was discussed, though it ended very quickly, was some sort of Chris Davis for David Price bad contract swap (Orioles needed SP, Red Sox wanted a power bat 1B). We were open to listening, but the money didn't work and they asked for Hays/Sisco.