Where do the Orioles go from here?
Hopefully, pretty far into the playoffs. After a wild card-clinching victory in game 162, the Orioles will face the Blue Jays tonight at 8 p.m. But that’s not what I refer to when I pose that question. Rather, I want to focus on what comes after the playoffs: the free agent market. For the second consecutive offseason, multiple key contributors have the opportunity to leave Baltimore. Will the O’s decide to bring them back? If so, how many of them and for how long?
On the pitching side of things, pretty much every relevant player will remain under team control for 2017. The real questions arise when we move our attention to position players. Three of the Orioles’ key hitters in 2016 - Mark Trumbo, Matt Wieters and Pedro Alvarez - are free agents when the postseason concludes. In all likelihood, with arbitration raises for several young players in the cards, Dan Duquette and company won’t be able to increase payroll by much. Which of these big-boned batters will Baltimore bring back?
Trumbo might be the biggest wild card of the trio. He followed up his torrid first half, where he set the world on fire en route to 2.1 fWAR, with a replacement-level post-All Star break performance. Unless you buy that the second half was a fluke - and I don’t fall into that camp - Trumbo retains the profile he had when the O’s acquired him: an inconsistent designated hitter/nominal outfielder. As such, he probably deserves a two- or three-year deal, at no more than $10 million per season, following a qualifying offer.
Trumbo will likely elicit some comparisons to Nelson Cruz, who has continued to chug along in Seattle after Baltimore let him walk. But Cruz performed much better for the Orioles in his lone campaign with the club, and he’s a bizarre exception anyway. With his 31st birthday coming in January, Trumbo probably won’t get any better from here, and the Orioles should approach his free agency with that in mind.
Wieters is a little trickier. He’s already accepted the qualifying offer once, and he did that following a much better campaign than this one. Late-season heroics notwithstanding, his offense fell off the table this year - he plummeted to a .243/.302/.409 batting line. His arm has bounced back completely from Tommy John surgery, and he’s anecdotally called games well; without the imposing bat that he used to have, though, his ceiling remains low. A 1.7-fWAR 2016 has a good chance of recurring in 2017, and if Baltimore extends him a qualifying offer, he might accept it for the second straight year.
Then we come to Alvarez. He offers no defensive value whatsoever - seriously, he managed to cost the O’s four runs over just 53 innings at third base this season - and his baserunning, like that of Trumbo and Wieters, doesn’t really stand out. A team could tolerate all of that from a player who clobbers the ball consistently, but we can’t say that for Alvarez, the owner of a lifetime .205/.271/.334 triple-slash against lefties. This profile has some value; after all, Alvarez did compile 1.1 fWAR for the Birds this season. However, that kind of production can come cheaper, however. Put it all together, and the player the Orioles paid $5.8 million in 2016 might not see much of a raise come 2017.
The wild card in all this is the first baseman/designated hitter the Orioles already have: Trey Mancini. He followed up his breakout 2015 with a solid 2016, batting .282/.357/.458 as a 24-year-old farmhand. His September cup of coffee went down smooth, as he clubbed three home runs in a mere 15 plate appearances. He can at least play a competent first base if needed, and he probably wouldn’t fare much worse in the outfield than Trumbo has. With Mancini in the mix, the Orioles might consider letting both Trumbo and Alvarez walk and taking a chance on the cheaper, homegrown option.
Of course, none of these decisions, ideally, will come for a little while. For every playoff game the Orioles win, they postpone their offseason decisions another day. I certainly hope they continue to advance, not only because I want to cheer them on, but because then I won’t have to worry about these choices. Regardless of what happens to Trumbo, Wieters and Alvarez over the winter, they’ll remain Orioles for at least one more game in the fall.
Ryan Romano blogs about the Orioles for Camden Depot. Follow the blog on Twitter: @CamdenDepot. His thoughts on the O’s appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.