Baltimore Orioles Season Preview
(Brian Pinter/birdwatcher.com)

With five consecutive winning seasons going into 2017, the Orioles were beginning to establish themselves as a team that could be successful year in and year out for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately for the Orioles, this theme of competitiveness came to a screeching halt during the 2018 season, in which Baltimore finished 75-87 and dead last in the ultra-competitive American League East.

The Orioles struggles last season exposed several holes in their roster and set the team back, so much so that they needed to make a decision this offseason as to whether or not it was time to rebuild.

Offseason Grade: C

Notable Acquisitions: Chris Tillman, Andrew Cashner

Dan Duquette had his hands tied for sure, the thing is it took him an awfully long time to untie them. Up until late February, the Orioles had done virtually nothing to improve on their roster from a year ago, and there were even rumors swirling around a trade involving Manny Machado.

I didn’t think the Orioles were ever really thinking about rebuilding. They still have a solid group of young talent on their roster, and if they weren’t going to get an exceptional package in return for Machado, then they weren’t going to move him. I turned out to be right, and once the Machado rumors began to quiet down, we saw Duquette get active in re-signing Chris Tillman for one year/$3 million and bringing in right-hander Andrew Cashner on a two-year, $16 million deal.

These aren’t eye-popping signings by any means, but they were deals that had to get done if the Orioles want any shot at contending in 2018. Before penciling these two into the rotation, their only sure things on the bump were Kevin Gausman and ace Dylan Bundy. Tillman had an abysmal year last year, going 1-7 with a 7.84 ERA in 19 starts, but the Orioles are banking on those being fluke numbers with him not being too far off from the 16 wins and 172 innings he ate up in 2016.

Cashner will most likely be a reliable number four starter for the O’s as he’s expected to get a significant boost in offensive support from years past with the Rangers and Marlins. With the improvements made in New York and Boston, Baltimore still has a ways to go if they want to have any shot this year. Look for them to add another starter to sure up a five-man rotation or a formidable bat to keep up with the offensive firepower that’s becoming a theme in the AL East.

Infielders: B+

With the Orioles seemingly parting ways with shortstop J.J. Hardy by declining his 2018 option and sliding Machado over to the six-hole, the infield at Camden Yards will undoubtedly have a different feel to it this year. As I said, the Orioles have a bunch of young, talented guys that could potentially put up some impressive numbers this year. Most of that talent resides in the infield with Tim Beckham at third, Jonathan Schoop at second, and Machado as mentioned above taking over at short in only his age-25 season.

Look for Schoop to solidify himself as a certified star this season after being one of the few bright spots for the O’s in ’17. The second baseman broke out in his first all-star campaign, slashing .293/.338/.503 while racking up a 5.1 WAR which was second among every day second basemen behind only Jose Altuve.

After a slow start last year in which he was hitting only .230 going into the all-star break, Manny Machado returned to his usual self to close out 2017 hitting .290 after the break and slugging .500. In a contract year, expect Manny to maintain that MVP caliber play that we’ve grown used to seeing out of him as he aims for a big payday a year from now. Tim Beckham sliding over to third to make room for Machado at short should be a relatively smooth transition as well, and lest we forget how productive Beckham can be at the top of that lineup, as he was also a bright spot for the O’s a year ago in only 50 games.

The one big question mark the Orioles have in their infield is at first base. Gone are the days of a 6.5 WAR and 53 home runs for Chris Davis, and if his steady decline in power continues, it’ll become more and more difficult for the Orioles to overlook his inability to put the ball in play. Paying $23 million a year for a player who strikes out 37% of the time while only hitting 26 jacks is what we call getting ripped off. Chris Davis needs to figure it out, or the Orioles need to figure it out for him.

Outfielders: B-

Any outfield with Adam Jones manning center is going to get the job done. He’s one of the most well-rounded and consistent players in the game and is showing no signs of slowing down at 32 years old. He’ll be a force to be reckoned with as always in the middle of the lineup and will carry that outfield defensively. Don’t expect anything different than what we’re accustomed to seeing out of A.J., and that’s a very productive everyday centerfielder.

To his right, he’ll have a budding star in Trey Mancini. If it weren’t for Aaron Judge and Andrew Benintendi playing in the same division, Mancini would’ve been the standout rookie by far in the AL East. He arguably had better all around years than both of those guys, hitting .294/.339/.503 with 24 home runs while Judge’s numbers were obviously more concentrated in the power categories and Benintendi was merely highlighted by playing in a bigger, more competitive market. The emergence of Mancini makes the top half of this Orioles lineup much more challenging to navigate through.

The uncertainty within Baltimore’s outfield lies in right field with Austin Hays, Anthony Santander, Joey Rickard, and veteran Colby Rasmus all looking for playing time there. Rickard will most likely be the odd man out, with Hays, Santander, and possibly Rasmus splitting the bulk of the time in right if Rasmus ends up making the big league squad. This could play out in any number of ways, so we’ll have to wait and see how each of those guys does throughout the spring.

Lineup: B

  1. Tim Beckham
  2. Jonathan Schoop
  3. Manny Machado
  4. Adam Jones
  5. Mark Trumbo
  6. Chris Davis
  7. Trey Mancini
  8. Caleb Joseph
  9. Austin hays/Anthony Santander/Colby Rasmus

Listen, any time you have a guy like Trey Mancini in your seven-hole, you’re probably sporting a pretty potent lineup. As I mentioned, the Orioles have a lot of talent; they just need to figure out a way to put it all together.

One guy that I haven’t mentioned yet that will obviously play a significant role in this team’s production is Mark Trumbo at DH. I’ve always liked Trumbo and his approach at the plate. The guy’s got loads of power generating from a short, compact swing, which allows him to spray the ball to all fields with conviction. As a Yankees fan, I was genuinely scared when the Orioles picked him up in 2016. While Trumbo had a down year last year, he’s only one year removed from the 47 home runs and 108 RBI’s he picked up in 2016, so I would expect him to return to form this season.

This group has the potential to score a lot of runs, the only questions being whether or not they can outslug their AL East counterparts and if their pitchers can keep them in ballgames.

Rotation: D+

  1. Dylan Bundy
  2. Kevin Gausman
  3. Chris Tillman
  4. Andrew Cashner
  5. Gabriel Ynoa

Like I mentioned above, with the signings of Tillman and Cashner, the Orioles starting rotation is much better than it was a few weeks ago. That being said, I don’t think it’s anywhere near where it needs to be in order for this team to be successful. Just looking around the AL East, I think it’s pretty clear that the Yankees and Red Sox both have much more complete rotations, and you can make an argument for the Toronto’s group as well.

The Orioles needed to sign the two guys above to just barely obtain respectable status in my mind, but unless they bring in a formidable arm that could tighten up the middle or back end of the rotation, they won’t have anywhere near the kind of success you’ll see from their division rivals. As a manager, you want to feel right about your starter every single day, and I find it hard to believe that Buck will have the utmost confidence in this group to get the job done every single day especially going up against the lineups they’ll be seeing within their division.

Bullpen: B-

The primary concern with the Orioles bullpen going into this season is the health of their closer Zach Britton. Britton ruptured his Achilles in December and will start the season on the 60-day DL. He’s scheduled to return sometime in May, so the Orioles will have to figure out an alternative strategy when it comes to closing out games until then.

Outside of Britton, the Orioles don’t have a lousy bullpen by any means, with right-handers Brad Brach and Darren O’Day leading a pretty reliable bunch going into 2018. With the uncertainty that lies with the starters though, the Orioles bullpen might have bitten off more than they can chew.

I foresee some games where the starter gets pulled earlier than expected, in which case the lack of Britton and a long-reliever might come back to bite them. This group should ready themselves for a heavy workload this season, and it’ll be interesting to see whether or not they’re up for the task.

Overall Grade: C+

Projected record: 80-82 (4th place in the AL East)

The Orioles needed to do a lot more this offseason to keep up with the Yankees and the Red Sox. Obviously, both of those teams drastically improved, so I’m not knocking the O’s for their lack of activity even though I do think they could’ve done more.

Basically, other than Bundy the arms they’ll be putting out there on a regular basis just won’t get the job done, so it’s hard for me to see how they’ll go into the Bronx or Boston and come away with a series victory against those lineups that just don’t end. You’ll find some offensive production from them as the order is substantial, but the bottom line is the teams they’ll regularly be facing will just be better top to bottom.