Galdi examines three Orioles issues for which we’ll have answers by the end of spring training
Orioles pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Sarasota, Fla. on Feb. 13. This team is in a very strange place. You have the likes of Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Zach Britton and Brad Brach entering contract seasons. You have Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette entering the final seasons of contract extensions signed in Jan. 2013. You have the O’s coming off their first losing season since 2011 and coming off a season in which they lost 19 of their final 23 games in a September collapse the likes of which you rarely see. You have the team being ripped by so many – including myself – for not having sold off a number of assets prior to last season’s non-waiver trade deadline. You have the club competing in an American League East that seems as top heavy as ever with how loaded the Yankees and Boston are.
But there is always hope – that’s what spring training is for. The O’s have had a penchant for overachieving under Buck, and they do still have a number of talented players.
Here are the three biggest spring-training questions facing the Birds:
1. What do the O’s do to fill the rest of their rotation?
The Orioles’ rotation was atrocious last season, during which Orioles starters had the worst ERA in the majors (5.70). The O’s have done next to nothing this offseason to upgrade that rotation. Of course, few teams have done much of anything in this offseason of the frozen free-agent market. So there’s still ample opportunity for the O’s to do something to fill out their rotation beyond Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, who aren’t exactly slam-dunk stud starters themselves.
But what will that something look like? MLB insider Jerry Crasnick of ESPN and Baseball America tweeted the following this past Wednesday (Feb. 7): “The #Orioles have checked out Lance Lynn, Andrew Cashner, Jason Vargas, Alex Cobb and Chris Tillman, among others. They appear content to wait in hopes of signing someone to a short-term deal. Peter Angelos hesitant to commit to 4-year deal after the Ubaldo Jimenez experience.”
That all makes sense. But the O’s are in a position, especially given that Oriole Park at Camden Yards is such a hitters’ park, where the team more than likely will have to overpay to get a truly good starting pitcher.
The Orioles don’t like to spend big on free agents in general. Their farm system has been an embarrassment from a starting-pitching standpoint. They have inexplicably punted on the international market for years. It is very hard to see a realistic path by which the rotation is appreciably better this coming season. The hope is that they’re able to land a bargain signing or two, and/or make a trade for starting-pitching help and/or develop an internal candidate like Miguel Castro, who is being stretched from reliever to starter.
2. How does the new left side of the infield look?
Does Machado finally get traded? And, if not, how does he do in his move from third base to shortstop? And how does Tim Beckham do in his move from shortstop to third base? The O’s have not been a good defensive team over the last three seasons. Assuming that they don’t trade Machado, they need him to be a stud this season at one of the most important defensive positions on the diamond.
Additionally, does Machado behave himself? Consider the following:
3. To what extent does the Orioles’ new blood make an impact?
If there is good news for the O’s in recent days it is that there much-criticized farm system (of which I have been a major critic) is starting to turn a corner from a position-player standpoint. The Orioles’ crop of pitching prospects is still woeful and one of the principal reasons to argue that Duquette should not be retained beyond this season. But the O’s had three guys ranked on Baseball America’s Top 100 MLB Prospects, which came out on Jan. 22: outfielder Austin Hays (no. 21), catcher Chance Sisco (no. 68) and third baseman Ryan Mountcastle (no. 71). And MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects, which came out on Jan. 27, included Hays at no. 23 and Mountcastle at no. 98. Add in Trey Mancini, who would have been the 2017 American League Rookie of the Year if not for the Yankees’ Aaron Judge, and the O’s have some real momentum in terms of position-player prospects for the first time in years.
Hays and Sisco have at-least-decent shots of making the Orioles’ opening-game roster.
Hays was terrific for High-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie last season (.958 OPS over 563 plate appearances) before struggling over 63 plate appearances at the major-league level in September and October. If he’s the player the O’s hope he is, he beats out the likes of Anthony Santander and Joey Rickard and wins the Orioles’ starting-right-fielder job.
Sisco wasn’t that great for Triple-A Norfolk last season and still has some defensive issues. Caleb Joseph seems to be the likely opening-game starter at catcher for the O’s, especially given his 1.2 dWAR last season. But Sisco has the potential to be the Orioles’ catcher for years to come.