Was 2015 a good year for the Orioles?
For the first time in 30 years, the team secured, barely, its fourth consecutive non-losing season.
Chris Davis led the major leagues in home runs.
Manny Machado proved that two knee surgeries couldn’t prevent him from playing in every game as he demonstrated power and speed.
The bullpen continued to be terrific.
There were a number of not-so hopeful signs, too.
J.J. Hardy struggled offensively, and was often hurt.
Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman both had their poorest seasons in the Duquette-Showalter era.
As 2016 begins fans hope that it will be a better one for the Orioles, and there are signs that it could be.
A year ago, the Orioles had already lost three key members of their 2014 club to free agency: Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis and Andrew Miller.
There were questions whether Dan Duquette truly wanted to stay with the Orioles or move to Toronto to run the Blue Jays, and the team hadn’t done much in the offseason to improve on a team that handily won the American League East.
After 2014, only a World Series appearance would have been seen as an improvement, and that didn’t happen. The starting pitching wasn’t good enough.
But, so far this offseason, the Orioles retained two of their key free agents—and still haven’t lost any.
Matt Wieters returns—for 2016—at least, on a $15.8 million qualifying offer, and despite some fans fears, that hasn’t hindered the team from pursuing Davis.
Darren O’Day, who many considered a sure thing to leave, returns on a four-year $31 million contract, showing the fan base that the Orioles could accept the new reality of baseball economics.
Their offer to Davis, reported as 7 years, $150 million, probably doesn’t contain an opt-out and does contain substantial deferred money, is a fully competitive one—and far beyond what some of the frenzied fans thought they’d bid.
In fact, many of those who insisted that the Orioles couldn’t, absolutely couldn’t lose Davis, are now saying they shouldn’t spend that much money on the slugger and should look to spend the money elsewhere.
Well, they’re looking, and so are many other teams.
Seven weeks from now, spring training will be underway, and the team will look even more different than it does today.
Beyond the O’Day and Wieters’ signings, the Orioles acquired slugger Mark Trumbo, likely for a one-off in 2016, for relatively little, and signed South Korean outfielder Hyun Soo Kim, who no one has seen play.
It’s been a fascinating offseason, and the intrigue continues.
There are more free agents, quality ones, available at this stage than there have ever been.
Usually the term “January signing” takes on negative connotations. It’s a role player, a valuable one, but not likely one to change the team’s fortunes.
That’s not the case this time around. Davis, Yoenis Cespedes, Ian Desmons Alex Gordon and Justin Upton are all among the top 10 free agents on the market, and all are still available.
So are Wei-Yin Chen and Yovani Gallardo as well as some other credible starting pitchers.
Usually, there are only a few names still looking for new baseball homes and some decent players. This year there are both.
The number of teams looking to sign free agents has narrowed, too. Some have already spent big money, and others like the Orioles have not.
According to Baseballreference.com, the Orioles estimated payroll for 2016—including raises for arbitration-eligible players, is nearing $120 million. That’s about where it was last year.
Obviously, the payroll will be increased for 2016, and there’s still room for a quality signing or two, but Duquette and the Orioles seem to work better in a narrower field.
If there are fewer teams bidding on Chen or Davis, and there still aren’t any indications anyone else has stepped up for the slugger, that’s good news for the Orioles.
Normally, the time during the holidays is a quiet one in baseball, but the Los Angeles Dodgers, have two new free agent pitchers, Scott Kazmir and Japanese pitcher Kenta Maeda.
That would seem to remove another bidder for Chen.
At the outset of free agency, Duquette said he hoped to sign “a couple” of the Orioles free agents.
It would be unlikely, though not unwelcome if he began 2016 by adding a couple more.