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Baltimore Orioles State Of The Union For 2015

Baltimore Orioles

By Nicholas Delahanty (MLB Reports Writer)  

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Even with some key players being out of the lineup for long periods of time (due to injuries/suspensions), the Baltimore Orioles still found a way to win 96 games during the 2014 regular season, and advanced to the ALCS after sweeping the Detroit Tigers in the ALDS.

Unfortunately, the Orioles’ World Series hopes were crushed by the Kansas City Royals in the Final Four, as the O’s struggled mightily against this year’s “Cinderella story.”

It turned out to be an ugly end for a great season, but the Orioles now need to look forward to the off-season.

With some key players heading towards free agency and arbitration, the Orioles need to make some moves in order to put themselves in contention to compete once again come 2015. 

 

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2014 Roster Breakdown

The 2014 Orioles roster had a payroll that exceed $100 MM for the first time in franchise history, and for the most part the money that Owner Peter Angelos and crew spent paid off.

As the team’s payroll consistently increased, the talent on the field became better, thus leading to better teams (such as the AL East Division Champion team in 2014).

As of this moment, the Orioles have five players under contract for the 2015 season (not including guys who have options on their contracts and arbitration eligible players.)

Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, Dylan Bundy, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ryan Webb. Those five guys alone will be due to make $41MM combined, so if the team decides to stay in the same payroll range as 2014, they will have close to $70 MM to work with. 

Here’s a breakdown of contract situations for rest of the Orioles: 

Nelson Cruz is a free agent this off-season. Cruz, who had a monster 2014 campaign, will probably demand a huge pay day, and many teams should be very interested in the 34-year-old’s services

FREE AGENTS: 

Alexi Casilla

Nelson Cruz

Kelly Johnson

Andrew Miller

Delmon Young

With regards to the Orioles’ FA, the two names that stand out on the list are Nelson Cruz and Andrew Miller. Both guys had very productive 2014 campaigns, and definitely are in line for huge pay days this off-season. 

Cruz arguably could be considered one of, if not the best, FA signing this past winter. The 34-year-old belted a career high 40 HRs with 108 RBIs in 159 games, and definitely should receive a raise after settling for a 1 YR/ $8 MM dollar contract this off-season. 

After he was traded from the Boston Red Sox at the trade deadline, Miller became a very valuable piece in Buck Showalter‘s bullpen, as he was dominant in his 20+ IP (including the postseason).

His impressive 2014 campaign lines him up as one of the best relievers on the FA market, and most likely will choose from a group of teams who will bid heavily for his services. 

Even though the club would love to retain both players, it seems very unlikely that either one will be back, as the bidding wars will probably go out of a range that the Orioles are willing to spend.

Both players will be very tough to replace, but it seems as if the club will look in another direction as they try to revamp the roster. 

Delmon Young is another interesting player, as the Orioles could bring him back as a full-time DH if Nelson Cruz does sign elsewhere.

Young is very limited (as he really isn’t much of a fielder), but his bat is still very productive, which could lead to the club signing him to a low-risk, incentive based deal. 

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Darren O’Day had a great 2014 season for the Orioles, and should also fit very nicely into their bullpen come 2015. He has shown the ability to get key outs in crucial situations, and has been very reliable for manager Buck Showalter

PLAYERS WITH 2015 OPTIONS: (Contract Information courtesy of rotoworld.com)

Wei-Yin Chen -$4.75 MM club option ($0.372 MM buyout)

Nick Hundley– $5 MM club option

Nick Markakis-$17.5 MM mutual option ($2.0 MM buyout if club declines, no buyout if player declines)

Darren O’Day– $4.25 MM club option ($400,000 buyout)

The two definite players on this list that will most likely have their club options picked up are Wei-Yin Chen and Darren O’Day.

Chen, the 29-year-old starting pitcher, had an impressive year for the O’s, as he went 16-6 with a 3.54 ERA, while O’Day was an asset in the bullpen, showing the ability to get big out in crucial situations.

Especially if the team feels they can’t afford to keep Miller, O’Day is a player that will help keep the strong Orioles bullpen in tact. 

It also appears likely that the club will decline the option on catcher Nick Hundley. Hundley filled in for Matt Wieters nicely, but for the Orioles to spend $5 MM on a backup catcher, that price seems way to high.

The team also has Caleb Joseph (a much cheaper alternative) to fill the backup catcher void, so Hundley will probably have to look elsewhere for a job this winter. 

The one that seems very interesting to everyone is the option on OF Nick Markakis.The long-time Oriole has spent the last 9 seasons with the team, but his $17.5 MM option seems too pricey to some people around the industry

. If the Orioles do decline the option on the 30-year-old RF as reports have indicated, there are teams, such as the New York Mets, who are rumored to be interested in Markakis’ services. 

It would be a smart move for the Orioles to try and work out a deal with  Markakis. As a fan-favorite, it would be a shame to see the relationship between the two sides become tarnished over a ugly contract negotiation.

After making $15 MM last season, the Orioles definitely would want to bring Markakis back, but it would have to come with a “home-town discount.”

Plus, the FA market for outfielders is very weak this year. Guys like Nelson Cruz and Melky Cabrera are going to demand for and most likely get top dollar from teams in need of a quality OF/DH.

When those two pieces sign their contracts, Markakis could be a guy who gets a nice pay day as well, as teams who lose out on the Cruz and Cabrera sweepstakes might turn their attention to Markakis.

If on the open market, Markakis is projected to get a 3-4 year deal. 

Although it doesn’t fully solve his contract situation (as the club will have to decide once again to resign him or not next off-season) I feel it would be a smart move to bring him back.

Markakis is definitely an upgrade over most FA options and also internal replacements the club could turn too (such as Alejandro De Aza, David Lough or even Daniel Alvarez), and the 2015 roster could definitely benefit from him.

With question marks concerning Matt Wieter’s health and Chris Davis‘ struggles, picking up this option seems like a no-brainer, as Markakis will add a stable presence to the lineup that might end up playing a big role for the Orioles moving forward. 

 

After being sidelined due to Tommy-John surgery, Matt  Wieters looks to bounce back in 2015 once healthy. Wieters is arbitration eligible for the final time before hitting free agency for the first time in 2016, so he hopes to have a bounce back season in 2015 to raise his stock.

After being sidelined due to Tommy John surgery, Matt Wieters looks to bounce back in 2015 once healthy. Wieters is arbitration eligible for the final time before hitting free agency for the first time in 2016, so he hopes to have a bounce back season in 2015 to raise his stock.

ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE (With Non-Tender Candidates):

Zach Britton

Chris Davis

Alejandro De Aza (Non-tender candidate)

Ryan Flaherty

Miguel Gonzalez

Tommy Hunter

Steve Lombardozzi (Non-tender candidate)

Brian Matusz

Evan Meek (Non-tender candidate)

Bud Norris

Steve Pearce

Chris Tillman

Matt Wieters 

When it comes to arbitration, most cases result in the player receiving a slight bonus in pay, so the Orioles will have to dish out some extra cash to pay their 10 arbitration guaranteed players.

Due to mid-season trades, the club also has three non-tender candidates, so it is unclear whether the team will offer them contracts or let them head into free agency. 

All three non-tender candidates have a case to be offered arbitration by the Orioles. De Aza was acquired from the Chicago White Sox and fit in nicely, possibly giving him an opportunity to be a fourth outfielder or part-time DH in 2015.

If the club declines the option on Markakis, expect De Aza back, as he would probably be an early favorite to earn more playing time. 

Lombardozzi is a guy that could be back for the right price, as his ability to play multiple positions adds to his value. With the uncertainty with some key injuries, the team could bring him back as a security blanket in case someone isn’t ready to return come opening day.

Meek didn’t have the best 2014 campaign, but if the Orioles saw something they liked out of the right hander, there definitely is a chance they bring him back to see if he can figure things out. If he is able to, he could be another nice asset out of the bullpen. 

Team Needs

Let’s face the facts: not many people expect the Orioles to be players for the big names on the market.

Although the team could use an ace at the front of the rotation, don’t expect for the club to throw top-dollars at guys like James Shields, Jon Lester and Max Scherzer, as the team is very hesitant to give big contracts to FAs, especially to pitchers.

The biggest contract to a FA pitcher came last year, when the team gave a 4 YR/48 MM contract to Ubaldo Jimenez (and by the way that turned out so far, I wouldn’t blame the Orioles front office to be a little bit hesitant about giving out big contracts to big name FA pitchers). 

However, the team does have a few holes that they need to fill, and there are some guys that they could most likely reach a deal with for a lower price. Here are some the positions the Orioles need to improve on during the off-season: 

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Outfield:

Before the outfield situation becomes a position to worry about, a lot of what the Orioles will do with regards to this will be based on what happens with Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s likely that Cruz goes to the highest bidder this off-season (which most likely won’t be Baltimore), and Markakis has an option that involves a lot of money (which most likely will be declined according to sources).

If both of these guys do leave for their respective well-deserved pay days, the Orioles need to fill at least one hole in the outfield. 

Looking internally, the Orioles have some guys that could fill in as role players. 4

David Lough is a guy that the Orioles think highly of, and the team could also bring back Alejandro De Aza, who has played significant time in the outfield in the past.

The team also has some prospects that they can try out (such as Daniel Alvarez), but right now, the Orioles need a major-league ready player to fill that void. 

If the Orioles do try to stay within the organization to find the replacements, could they possibly try out Jonathan Schoop in right field?

Mike Franz of birdswatcher.com brings up the possibility, adding that Schoop has an above-average arm and could fit in well in the outfield for the O’s. 

Although this sounds like a good idea, it is highly doubtful that the Orioles try this. Schoop is a very good fielding second baseman, as he posted a .987 fielding percentage this past season with 89 turned double plays.

Although the range that he showed at second base could suit him well in the outfield, it appears unlikely that the Orioles will move him away from the position.

A major reason for that comes from his issues at the plate in 2014. Schoop showed he does have the ability to hit for power (as he hit 16 HRs this season), but he lacked the consistency at the plate that the Orioles desired, as he only hit .209 in his time in the big leagues.

Until Schoop gets going at the plate, expect to see him playing second base, a position where he is very comfortable playing. 

If the Orioles must go out and get an outfielder, there’s a few possibilities on the free-agent market that I could see them making a run for.

Guys such as Michael Morse, Jonny Gomes, and Nori Aoki make sense, as they are players that could possibly be signed for a lower price tag but can be very productive when given the opportunity to play on a daily basis. 

When attacking the outfield position, it would be wise for the Orioles to try to bring Markakis back, as their aren’t many options out there that can provide the same type of production at a similar price range. 

Designated Hitter:

With the possibility of losing possibly Nelson Cruz and Delmon Young this off-season (who combined to serve as the Orioles’ DH for 127 games in 2014), the Orioles have to find a way to replace the power and production that those two players brought to the table. 

Don’t expect the Orioles to be serious bidders when it comes to arguably the best DH on the market in Victor Martinez, but expect the club to bring in a big bat that can DH and partially play the field (just as Cruz and Young did this year). 

Resigning Young would be a smart move for the club, as he is very good against left-handed pitchers and could fit nicely into a lineup that is looking to return some big bats (such as Manny Machado, Chris Davis, and Matt Wieters).

If the Orioles were able to sign a player like Morse or Gomes to play the outfield, they could also platoon these guys in as a DH as well, using the spot in the lineup to give regular position players days off regularly while keeping their bats in the lineup.

The club could also use the DH spot to get Matt Wieters’ bat back in the lineup. Wieters, who is coming off Tommy-John Surgery, might not be 100% right away, but if the Orioles are able to get his bat in the lineup, it could really benefit their lineup.

Wieters right away might also be a defensive liability if his arm strength isn’t close to 100%, so this could be a win-win situation for the Orioles if they can find a way to get him in the lineup. 

Bullpen:

Pitching is crucial if you want to be successful, and having a strong bullpen can definitely help you succeed (just ask the Kansas City Royals).

The Orioles must add at few arms to the mix to add to the strength of the bullpen, as they need to compliment the pieces they already have in place.

As the Royals have shown this postseason, when you’re able to shorten up the game and turn the game to your bullpen, it could be a very nice recipe for success.

The Royals found their “three-headed monster” with Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis, and the Orioles should try to find this same mix. 

Andrew Miller is the one piece that I would hate to see the Orioles let go, as he fit in very nicely in his short time playing in Camden Yards. The Orioles should try to bring him back, even if it means getting into a bidding war with other clubs, because Miller could be a great set-up man for closer Zach Britton. 

With Britton and O’Day most likely returning to their same roles, the O’s need to find one of two guys who are capable of pitching late in the ballgame.

There are guys with experience on the market (Such as Sergio Romo, Jesse Crain, Jose Veras, and Joba Chamberlain), so there is a possibility that the Orioles try to sign some of these similar types of pitchers that have the experience they look for. If they can add one or two quality arms, the bullpen can become very tough to beat for opposing lineups. 

Buck  Showalter and crew look to bounce back in 2015 after being swept in the ALCS by the Kansas City Royals. In order to compete in 2015, the Orioles have some work to do with regards to their roster.

Buck Showalter and crew look to bounce back in 2015 after being swept in the ALCS by the Kansas City Royals. In order to compete in 2015, the Orioles have some work to do with regards to their roster.

Once Again, Don’t Count the O’s Out

Whenever the Orioles were doubted this season, it seemed as if they proved everyone wrong. As many people doubt that they will make a big splash this off-season,

I wouldn’t count them out just yet, as it seems like their window of opportunity to compete for a World Series title is slowly closing on them. 

Yes, the Orioles do in fact have a lot of work to do this off-season, as they have some holes that need to be filled.

What is certain, however, is that the Orioles have some quality pieces returning, and if they are able to put together some good off-season acquisitions, this team definitely could compete once again next season for not only the AL East Division Title, but also the AL Pennant. 

 

The Orioles last won the World Series in 1983, and were closest next in the 1997 ALCS, before being ousted by the Indians prior to this year's sweep to the Royals in the 2014 ALCS.  Naturally, anything less than another trip to the Final Four next year would be considered a retreat.  Baltimore will have a decent shot to repeat as AL East champs, and have plenty of young players that could improve within to take the next step.

The Orioles last won the World Series in 1983, and were closest next in the 1997 ALCS, before being ousted by the Indians – prior to this year’s sweep to the Royals in the 2014 ALCS. Naturally, anything less than another trip to the Final Four next year would be considered a retreat. Baltimore will have a decent shot to repeat as AL East champs, and have plenty of young players that could improve within to take the next step.

*** The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of mlbreports.com and their partners***

A big thanks goes out to our Guest Writer Nicholas Delahanty for preparing today’s featured article.  Nicholas is a current student at Felician College, studying Broadcast Journalism with a minor in English.

He served as the Broadcast and Media Relations Intern for the New Jersey Jackals in 2013, and also hosts a radio show on WRFC Felician College Radio Station called ‘Around the Bases.’

Nicholas recently started working as a broadcaster for Felician College Basketball games, and is a student-writer for the college’s monthly magazine.

He volunteers as a baseball and basketball coach in Garfield, New Jersey, and also volunteers as the announcer for the town’s Junior Boilermaker Football program.

You can Follow Nicholas on Twitter 

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About nickdelahanty

Nick is a recent graduate of Felician College in Rutherford NJ, and already has a lot of experience in the Communications field. He spent the 2013 season as the New Jersey Jackals Broadcast and Media Relations Intern, and was promoted to Assistant Media Director in 2014. Before writing for Baseball Essential, Nick served as a Team Correspondent Writer for MLB Reports, and continues to write for them as a Featured Writer. You can follow Nick on Twitter @Nick_Delahanty

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