Happy New Year, Orioles fans! Dan Duquette and the Orioles just made 2017 a little brighter with the trade yesterday of Yovani Gallardo and cash to the Seattle Mariners for outfielder Seth Smith.
It seems the Mariners are the new Cubs for the Orioles in terms of frequent trade partners. Unlike when the Orioles have traded with the Cubs however, they’ve come out pretty good trading with Seattle and this recent trade seems like another deal that will turn out in the Orioles’ favor.
Gallardo was a disaster in Baltimore. He was a typical Dan Duquette late offseason signing, but only when the Orioles had misjudged the market for pitchers and lost out on better options like Scott Kazmir and were spurned by others. Gallardo’s declining strikeout rate and velocity continued to get worse in Baltimore and the shoulder injury concerns that caused his original deal to be shortened, were valid as he spent time on the DL for shoulder problems. To make the deal worse, the Orioles had to surrender their first round pick – the 14th overall – in the 2016 draft to sign him. Thankfully the new CBA will make a situation like the one with signing Gallardo to have less consequences in terms of draft pick compensation.
Duquette deserves some credit though for finding this match. He shopped around at the Winter Meetings for an outfielder, only to have those with outfield depth like the Mets and Rockies talk about Brad Brach or Kevin Gausman as compensation. I don’t think anybody thought he’d be able to get anything of value for Gallardo, much less find that outfielder the Orioles needed. Seth Smith was available however as the Mariners wanted more speed and better defense, and needed rotation depth so the trade was made.
So now for that 14th pick and an undetermined amount of cash, the Orioles get at least 1 year of their left-handed hitting outfielder in Seth Smith.
Smith is actually an outfielder as well, not a DH or first baseman forced to play the outfield. His defense however, while an upgrade over Trumbo, is only average at best with a +4 DRS in RF over the past three seasons. Average though is an improvement for the Orioles.
Offensively, Smith gives the Orioles another patient bat at the top of the Orioles’ lineup. Smith’s offensive skill set is similar to Hyun Soo Kim’s as he has a career O-Swing of only 26.4% (including a career low 22.7% last season) and he has a career 10.6% BB%.
He is a strict platoon player with a career wRC+ of 121 and wOBA of .357 against RHP and only 60 and .268 vs. LHP, but he’ll see the majority of the playing time facing only RHP.
Smith seems to be in that line of acquistions like Wilson Betemit and Pedro Alvarez – players that Duquette has acquired to have good platoon numbers against RHP – and should have a good year as the Orioles’ RFer against RHP, and will probably see some time as a DH as well.
So with Smith now in the fold what is next for the Orioles to complete their roster before Opening Day?
Duquette has mentioned the Orioles still could use outfield depth, so that tells me that they still aren’t sold on Joey Rickard coming back from his injury. A right-handed outfielder makes the most sense given the platoon need for Smith and potentially for Kim.
As I mentioned in my plan for the Orioles offseason at Eutaw Street Report, Desmond Jennings could fill this role because he’s relatively cheap, can hit LHP pretty well, knows the AL East pitchers, and can play all three outfield positions with solid defense.
With Smith, though, that still only gives the Orioles three left-handed bats in their lineup to face RHP so they need one more left-handed hitter.
Bringing back Pedro Alvarez makes the most sense here. He was excellent down the stretch when Buck Showalter played him and he fits in well with the rest of the team in the locker room. Sure you tie up the DH spot, but the Orioles could get a lot of value from that spot with Alvarez against RHP full time – more than they did last season with Trumbo and Alvarez sharing the role.
The Orioles should also carry a Rule 5 pick, just because the two players they selected seem to have a pretty good skill set for excellent value. I believe Aneury Tavarez will be the one carried simply because Anthony Santander is coming back from offseason shoulder surgery, so he’s almost a lock for the 60 day DL, if the Orioles choose to carry him at all.
With Alvarez at DH, Jennings as the 4th outfielder, keeping Tavarez and the bench only having so many spots, that would make Mancini the odd man out. He has crushed LHP in the minors, but the Orioles simply can’t carry a platoon DH against LHP only. I imagine he’ll find his way into the Baltimore lineup somehow if he’s not traded, but just not on Opening Day.
So how do the Orioles fill that DH slot against LHP and not take up an additional roster spot? My solution would be to have them platoon Alvarez with catcher Welington Castillo. Castillo has hit LHP quite well in his career, including last season and his bat is better than his glove. By platooning Castillo, you keep his bat in the lineup to give you that extra value instead of just having him catch. The Orioles haven’t done this under Buck Showalter as Matt Wieters never really displayed a advantageous platoon split more than other players batting right-handed on the roster, but Castillo does with a career wRC+ of 124 against LHP which is better than Wieters’ 114 and leads the Orioles. Castillo would also likely adapt to the part time DH role better because as a catcher he would be used to not playing a position everyday.
As for concerns about Joseph being injured with Castillo batting, the Orioles at worst would lose their DH and have the pitcher hit for a few ABs which they could also pinch hit for, and then if Castillo were to be hurt in the same game – something extremely unlikely – then Flaherty can be the emergency third catcher. The point is it is one game of risk versus a full season of added production and being able to keep a Rule 5 pick instead of carrying Mancini.
Let’s take a look at the Orioles’ new lineups with all these moves:
Lineup vs. RHP
Bench: OF Jennings, C Joseph, UT Flaherty, OF Tavarez
Lineup vs. LHP:
Bench: OF Smith, DH Alvarez, UT Flaherty, OF Tavarez,
With Gallardo gone, the Orioles’ rotation is set with Tillman, Gausman, Bundy, Jimenez and Miley. For my last entry, I said Bundy is better off in the bullpen, and this still holds true, but he’s going to be there on Opening Day.
The Orioles still need pitching depth, and lefty reliever Boone Logan would be a good signing to add some quality depth to the bullpen. I originally thought that he’d sign a 3 year/$18 million contract, but this late in the offseason and with other relievers out there, the Orioles could probably get him on a 2 year/$12 million contract.
Let’s not forget about all those starting pitchers that are left unsigned as well. There are plenty of pitchers that will not be getting major league deals, and Duquette has been not shy about stashing some depth in AAA with June opt-outs if they don’t make the Orioles’ roster. I’d expect the Orioles to sign at least one free agent starter, possibly two with minor league deals and Spring Training invites, to serve as depth.
C.J. Wilson is somebody that would fit this category as would his former Angels’ teammate, Jered Weaver. Some other names to consider: Colby Lewis, Mat Latos and Kris Medlen
With those moves let’s take a look at the Orioles’ projected pitching staff on Opening Day:
If Bundy’s arm and shoulder, hold up (a big if) that rotation is pretty average with some upside considering how Miley and Jimenez pitched in September.
There’s no doubt the Orioles would have one of the best bullpens in baseball and it’s likely going to be heavily used against next season as well, as all teams are getting fewer and fewer innings from their starting pitchers.
The Orioles surprised me and a lot of other fans with the Gallardo for Smith trade, but they filled an immediate need on the roster without sacrificing any strength they had. By presumably keeping all of their bullpen talent, they can now take advantage of a frozen free agent market to make a few more depth additions with good value and definitely have a better and deeper team than they did last season.
Top image: CC Image courtesy of Keith Allison on Flickr