The Baltimore Orioles were not very special in 2015. They looked average, played average, and finished average at a record of 81-81. One year after winning the division, the most excitement the team saw last season was a game played in front of zero fans during the Baltimore riots. Other than that, not a whole lot remarkable happened at Camden Yards. The graph of the division paints a similar picture for the team from Maryland:
On offence, Chris Davis and Manny Machado provided the spark leading the squad in nearly every important category worth looking at. Meanwhile the pitching staff contained just a lot of mediocrity and inconsistency. No starter broke 200.0 innings or had a FIP under 4.00, which definitely makes it difficult to win in the tough AL East. The bullpen, featuring standouts like Zach Britton, Brad Brach, and Darren O'Day held their own, but didn't have many leads to work with leading to the exactly average 81-81 record.
Entering 2016, there's slightly more optimism surrounding the team thanks to an offseason that saw them re-sign Chris Davis, Darren O'Day, Matt Wieters, along with new arrivals in Yovani Gallardo, Mark Trumbo, and Hyun-soo Kim. But those moves all scream "Orioles" (or "OrioLOLS" if you are so inclined) as they're the usual middle of the road acquisitions that keep the team in the middle of the AL East for years on end. The organization spends money in seemingly all the wrong places on all the wrong players as they still have the same holes they did last year. They also seem to embarrass themselves on a yearly basis, bidding against themselves for Chris Davis and somehow losing free agent Dexter Fowler after the move was reported as complete.
So despite spending $280 million this winter, the team looks to be a long shot to contend for the division crown unless they get some of their patented Orioles luck. If a bird is going to win the American League East this year, it probably won't be the Orioles.
Yovani Gallardo (RHP), Hyun-soo Kim (OF), Pedro Alvarez (DH), Mark Trumbo (RF/1B).
Wei-Yen Chen (LHP), Steve Pearce (UT), Gerardo Parra (OF).
Catcher: Matt Wieters
The O's catcher became the second player ever to accept a qualifying offer back in November as he locked in his salary for 2016 at $15.8 million. Last season saw the switch-hitter play just 75 games thanks to injury problems and his lack of playing time really hurt (no pun intended) his free agent attractiveness, which is likely the reason he took the QO to rebuild his value. He's not a terrible catcher when he's healthy and can hit a bit, so he shouldn't be a weak spot for the team in 2016 despite getting paid a fair amount of money for likely just 1-2 WAR.
First Base: Chris Davis
The Orioles paid Davis $161 million to remain in Baltimore for seven more years, although some of that money is deferred making the present value of the deal slightly less. The newly-turned 30-year-old should have some productive years left in him although all of the value he provides comes from the offensive side of the ball. He's going to hit home runs this year, that's a certainty. Will it be enough to carry the Orioles throughout the year? It seems unlikely.
Second Base: Jonathan Schoop
A year ago when I did this preview of the Orioles and looked at Schoop I wrote:
The Curacao native had his first full season in the major leagues in 2014 and impressed on the defensive side of the ball, but not really the same can be said with the bat. A line of .209/.244/.354 and a K-rate of 25.4% began to resemble the package that Ryan Goins brings to the table as a defence-first second baseman.
One season later and I'm no longer sure what to believe. The righty-hitting infielder slashed .279/.306/.482 in 2016 thanks in part to a BABIP nearly a 100 points higher than the year before but saw his defensive metrics regress a bit. He still strikes out a quarter of the time and almost never walks so Schoop's 2015 campaign was pretty close to his ceiling but he looks to have rounded into a solid regular at second. In 2016 he'll want to focus on playing strong defence and putting up another 2015-esque performance at the plate.
Shortstop: J.J. Hardy
Hardy had a rare down year in 2015 for the Orioles, as the shortstop had an OBP of just .253 while he also didn't win a gold glove for the first time since 2011. The 33-year-old is as boring as it gets and that's saying a lot for the Baltimore Orioles who feature those types of players all over the place. Look for him to hit better in 2016, although his reign of constant Gold Gloves is probably over for good with Francisco Lindor and other young studs breaking onto the scene.
Third Base: Manny Machado
The other half of the two All-Star corners for the O's is Manny Machado. The fun-to-watch third baseman, despite being a bit of a hot head, upped his game even further in 2015 boosting his wRC+ to 134 while hitting 35 home runs and stealing 20 bases. The five-tool man at the hot corner is easily the best player on the O's and is still just 23 years of age making $5 million. The rivalry of third basemen in the AL East will be taken to another level this year as Josh Donaldson defends his MVP against Machado, while Evan Longoria and Chase Headley are no slouches either.
Left Field: Hyun-soo Kim
The 28-year-old from Korea signed with the O's in December for two years and $7 million. He's obviously a wildcard entering the season with only foreign numbers to go off of, but the lefty hitter projects to be slightly above average at the plate and mediocre in left field. The import has been awful at the dish during spring training, but how much that will translate to the regular season is anyone's guess. The Orioles hope it is very little or they have a problem on their hands.
Centre Field: Adam Jones
The 30-year-old is slowly giving in to age as he had a down year in 2016, beginning to truly create a downward trend over the last four years or so. His 127 wRC+ in 2012 has not come close to being eclipsed since then and his defensive value isn't getting any better either. Despite all that, the centre fielder is still criminally underpaid making just $16 million in 2016 even though he's cleared 3.5 WAR in each of the past four years. We'll have to wait and see what 2016 brings for Jones.
Right Field: Mark Trumbo
The last year before Trumbo becomes a free agent will be a important one for the slugger, as his value really isn't all that clear despite amassing nearly 700 games in the big leagues thus far. Can he get on base enough for his power to be worth it? Can he survive in right field? Is he a major league starter? All questions that Trumbo will work to answer in Baltimore this season as he is paid just under $10 million in his final year of arbitration. Traded to Baltimore by the Mariners this offseason, the power hitter will start the year in right field and it's anybody's guess where he ends up when it's all said and done. A big year could see him land a sizeable contract while a bad 2016 could see him getting a much cheaper deal as he's still never proven himself to be a consistent hitter at the major league level.
Designated Hitter: Pedro Alvarez
The Orioles took a flyer on Alvarez this offseason with a one-year $5.75 million deal to see if the lefty hitter can make any noise in the American League after spending six years in Pittsburgh. The power hitter is a terrible fielder and will be glad to make his home in a league where players can hit without every wearing a glove during the other half of the inning. He doesn't hit lefties very well and is a true three-outcome player, so it's unlikely Alvarez provides too much value for Baltimore this season.
The O's rotation is pretty set in stone as it looks like the 2015 staff of Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, and Miguel Gonzalez, will be joined by Yovani Gallardo who takes the departed Wei-Yen Chen's spot. The Baltimore rotation is annually the most average, boring group of guys so it makes sense that the team went out and got the free agent who fit that mould perfectly in Gallardo. For years on end Tillman and Gonzalez have put up okay numbers for the Orioles while being joined by a collection of average free agent signings who provide very little value. This coming season looks to repeat the trend and will once again likely be the team's downfall.
Gausman still looks to be the most exciting of the five, but he's yet to come close to reaching his ceiling despite debuting all the way back in 2013. He could be a sleeper candidate to really propel the Orioles to the next level in 2016, but it's hard to bet too much on that until he shows more of his (vast) potential.
The Orioles relievers are much stronger than their rotation, as the team boasts three of the AL's best bullpen arms in Darren O'Day, Brad Brach, and Zach Britton. O'Day was re-signed by the team on a four-year $31 million contract this offseason, which is a solid deal for a man who's been great for the O's over the past four years (other than when he faces Jose Bautista). Britton has been a quality closer in Baltimore for the past two years now and is usually automatic when he gets a lead given to him in the ninth.
The back-end of the 'pen is strong too, with guys like Brian Matusz and T.J. McFarland bridging the gap as well as the return of Dylan Bundy. The former 1st round pick and top prospect has seen injuries derail his career, but the 23-year-old is ready to take a spot in the bullpen due to his lack of options and eventually work his way back to being a starter. If Bundy returns to his pre-Tommy John form then he could be a big surprise for the Orioles and their fans. He was drafted out of high school so time is still on his side, but if the righty struggles as a reliever the O's will be forced to expose him to waivers and risk losing their former #1 prospect.
As you can probably tell, the Orioles are not expected to make too much noise this year. Their offence is alright, their bullpen is solid, their rotation is probably going to be mediocre and all those pieces put together just won't be enough to compete in the tough AL East. If they were able to bottle up some of their good fortune from years past then they may have a chance to stick around in the playoff hunt, but the rotation will probably be unable to hang around in enough games for the team to survive.
Orioles fans will get to watch an exciting team hit a lot of home runs, but the front office seems to have made the mistake that they make nearly every year. They surround a solid offence with a bunch of league average players and hope the luck swings in their favour. They spent a lot of money just to retain Davis, Wieters, and O'Day, but that collection of guys only won 81 games last year. Additions like Gallardo, Trumbo, and Kim seem unlikely to be enough to shake up the hierarchy of the AL East barring unforeseen circumstances. Baltimore certainly isn't a bad team, and they're going to win games in 2016. But it's not going to be enough and it seems like most Orioles fans are aware of this fact. It's a shame they have the ability to throw money around in free agency, but consistently end up throwing it at players who don't fix any of their problems.
Unless some 2014 magic is still left in Camden Yards, I predict the Orioles will win 82 games this year and finish fourth in the division. They'll probably make a run at some point in the year as they always seem to, but they won't play enough consistent baseball to be anything more than a regular ole' mediocre Baltimore team.