Written by frobby
I've been trying to step back this fall and look at the Big Picture when it comes to the Orioles. Overall, I'm a little nervous about what I see.
Overall, we have a very nice core of position players. Our group ranked 5th in MLB in fWAR at 26.6. The team finished 4th in the AL in runs, and made the fewest errors in major league history, finishing second in the AL in UZR. Six players were nominated for Gold Gloves, three of whom won, including the Platinum Glove winner. We had three players win the Silver Slugger. Three players started the All Star Game, and a fourth made it as a reserve. We had the HR and RBI champ. The everyday lineup is good enough to be a playoff team now, when you consider offense and defense combined.
We have built an excellent team culture. These guys have each others' backs, they work hard, and they're hard nosed. They play great defense every night and make few mental errors. It's a very easy team to root for.
We have an above average group of pitching prospects. Bundy/Gausman/Harvey/EdRod is a very nice top four, and Davies/Wright/Berry are a pretty nice second tier.
Our present major league pitching staff is not playoff caliber, in fact, it's below average. We don't have a true ace, and everyone is pitching "up" one slot at least.
The talent we have in the minors is not ready to help. As I look back on 2013, the biggest tragedy was that Bundy needed to have TJ surgery instead of completing his minor league apprenticeship. Yes, there's a good chance he bounces back to be as good as we hoped, but he's not going to impact the major league team until 2015 at the earliest. Gausman was rushed a bit last year and needs another half-year in the minors at least IMO, and the others are further away than that.
Meanwhile, our offensive core is not that young (except Machado), and not under contract for that long. Hardy and Markakis could be gone in a year, and Davis and Wieters could be gone in two. If we are able to keep them, they'll be expensive and in their 30's. We may be precluded from keeping them and acquiring significant supplemental talent. (In Markakis' case, it's not clear he will be worth keeping at any price; it depends whether he bounces back to form in 2014, and even then, he'd need to take a significant pay cut.)
We have very little offensive talent in the minors. Schoop is the only player likely to make an impact in the next two years, and he is not ready and seems to have some holes in his offensive game.
So how good is this team for 2014-15, and where does that leave us?
We won 85 games last year, and to me, that's exactly what we were and figure to be if changes aren't made. I think our pitching could be a little better in 2014 if we resigned Feldman (after all, our ERA dropped from 4.39 to 3.93 in the second half). Our bullpen could get better results and we could have a better record in one-run games. So, there's a 90ish win upside if we leave the team "as is," but there's also an 80ish win downside if the team experiences injuries to one or two of its six core offensive players, none of whom had a single DL stint in 2013.
For me, "stay the course" makes little sense, unless we are trying to mimic the 2006-10 Toronto Blue Jays, who won 87, 83, 86, 75 and 85 games. Yet, the alternative courses are also dangerous. The free agent market is pretty mediocre, and the guys who clearly would help us will be very expensive and cost a draft pick. Even the guys who won't cost picks figure to be expensive with the new TV money that teams have available to spend. Shopping Hardy, as has been suggested, is not a bad idea, but it carries its own risks, as the infield defense is the strength of this team and it's unlikely that the combo of Machado at SS and whoever at 3B is going to be as good as Hardy/Machado have been. So, Hardy would have to bring back someone who very clearly would improve the pitching for a trade to make any sense.
Overall, I don't envy Dan Duquette. He's got his work cut out for him over the next two years, with a "pretty good" team that has a relatively short window in which to win, and very little help coming from the minor leagues in the foreseeable future. He's going to have to be both smart and lucky to put this team back in the playoffs while at the same time positioning the team to remain contenders in the longer run.
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