A team that loses 19 of its final 23 games to finish in last place, and has 10 potential free agents and a handful of stars entering the final year of their contracts, is bound to be faced with plenty of questions. They come in all shapes and sizes.
The questions and the players.
Let’s tackle a few of them this morning. The questions, not the players.
Is Tim Beckham a leadoff hitter?
They used nine different players in the leadoff spot, including Beckham in 41 games. Smith led the team with 54 games while working in a platoon and eventually disappearing.
Beckham has the desired speed, but he struck out 167 times in 575 plate appearances this season and owns a career .310 on-base percentage. He isn’t an ideal solution, but he swung a scalding bat in August and elevating him allowed manager Buck Showalter to again lower Adam Jones in the order.
Unless the Orioles sign or trade for a better candidate, Beckham could remain as leadoff hitter with Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop and Jones following him. It won’t be Smith, who’s expected to leave as a free agent. It won’t be Hyun Soo Kim, who led off in two games before the Orioles traded him to the Phillies.
Joey Rickard led off in 22 games, but he isn’t assured a roster spot on opening day and he profiles as a platoon/backup outfielder. Also not a full-time solution if the Orioles are seeking one.
Austin Hays batted first in five games, but someone had to do it. Beckham was out with a hamstring injury.
Is Mike Wright a starter or reliever?
Making the assumption that Wright stays in the organization, the Orioles need to figure out his role and keep him in it.
I’m far from an expert on pitching development, but it can’t be easy to go from Triple-A Norfolk’s rotation to the Orioles bullpen in a back-and-forth that plays out every summer. And his relief stints varied this year, with Wright entering games in September in the first, fourth, fifth and eighth innings.
Is Wright’s future as a starter, long reliever or late-inning power arm? Let’s make a decision and run with it.
The Orioles have been forced to use their Triple-A starters in relief out to necessity. Any fresh arm in a storm. Twenty-two of Wright’s 43 major league appearances have come out of the bullpen, including all 13 this summer.
Wright is 5-9 with a 6.32 ERA and 1.500 WHIP in 21 starts with the Orioles. I’ve heard talk of how he could morph into another Tommy Hunter, but there are questions about his ability to bounce back quickly between appearances.
If the Orioles don’t consider Wright a candidate to fill one of their rotation vacancies next spring, it makes sense to find out whether he’s equipped to serve in whatever capacity in relief.
Is Chance Sisco ready for the majors?
Sisco got a brief look after the Orioles were eliminated from the wild card race and went 6-for-18 with two doubles and two home runs. He was 0-for-5 on runners attempting to steal, but Machado’s failure to hold onto a throw cost him on one attempt. And always consider whether the pitcher gave him a chance by holding the runner and being quick to the plate.
Defense matters most to the Orioles and Sisco has made positive strides. Working with bench coach/catching instructor John Russell will accelerate his development.
Sisco’s uncertain status largely is tied to Welington Castillo, who holds a $7 million player option that he’s likely to decline. If Castillo pulls a shocker and exercises it, the Orioles must choose between Sisco and Caleb Joseph as the backup. They both can be optioned.
If Castillo leaves, the Orioles must decide whether they’re comfortable with a tandem of Sisco and Joseph or if they’d prefer a veteran signed to a one-year deal who could allow Sisco a little more time to hone his skills in Triple-A.
The guess here is that the Orioles would go with the tandem while adding a veteran to a minor league contract in case Sisco needed to be sent down.
Is Miguel Castro a starter or reliever?
There’s little doubt that the Orioles will give Castro a shot at starting with only Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy assured of being in the 2018 rotation. He has the necessary assortment of pitches and calm demeanor. The audition won’t rattle him.
The downside is losing a rubber-armed reliever who can cover innings and insist in a day or two that he’s ready again. And he didn’t just eat those innings, he kept the Orioles engaged.
Castro seemed to run out of gas toward the end, but it didn’t mar his season. He emerged as one of the most valuable pitchers on the staff and an astute acquisition by executive vice president Dan Duquette.
The ideal setup would keep Castro in his present role while the Orioles were flush with starters, but that isn’t the case.
Castro received a start on Sept. 30 at Tropicana Field, where he allowed three runs and six hits in 3 1/3 innings. It was a taste. The Orioles weren’t judging his capabilities on a single outing after he already eclipsed his previous high in innings.