The Baltimore Orioles in 2018 were really bad. Not even train wreck bad. They were the train hurtling off a cliff and plummeting straight into the fiery heart of a garbage star bad. Their 47-115 record was the lowest of any team in baseball in the last 15 years. They became just the second team in baseball history to finish more than 60 games behind in their division, joining the 1962 New York Mets. Chris Davis earned the dubious honour of the lowest batting average for a player who qualified for a batting title since 1901, as well as the fifth worst season of any player in the history of baseball. The offseason acquisitions of Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner combined for just 9 wins and ERAs of 4.90 and 5.29 respectively. 27 players for the Orioles generated negative WAR. All of this happened in a season which Baltimore entered into expecting to compete for a Wild Card spot.
On July 18th, Baltimore officially waved the white flag on the season and traded Manny Machado to the LA Dodgers. Over the next two weeks, they moved most of their players with any value for prospects; Gausman, Britton, Schoop, O’Day, and Brach. Shortly following the end of the season, both Manager Buck Showalter and General Manager Dan Duquette were fired. Much like the Jays, it took just one season for Baltimore to transition from a playoff team to a contender for last. Unlike the Jays, even the mass sell-off of any player remotely worth anything was only able to move their farm system from one of the worst in baseball to just above the bottom ten.
The hiring of Mike Elias from the Astro’s organization has been lauded by both the media and other organizations as a smart first step, and Elias has been open about the challenges facing the team. The amount of turnover will see the Orioles field a significantly different team than we saw crash and burn in 2018.
SS Manny Machado
RHP Kevin Gausman
LHP Zach Britton
2B Jonathan Schoop
RHP Brad Brach
RHP Chris Tillman
RHP Darren O’Day
OF Colby Rasmus
OF Adam Jones
C Caleb Joseph
2B Tim Beckham
Manager Buck Showalter
GM Dan Duquette
RHP Nate Kerns
C Jesus Sucre
C Pedro Severino
SS Richie Martin
3B Rio Ruiz
2B Jonathan Villar
Manager Brandon Hyde
GM Mike Elias
The Orioles planned to roll out the following brace of starters: Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner, Dylan Bundy, David Hess and Michael Wright. However, a groin injury seems to have sidelined Cobb possibly for a week or two, forcing Nate Karns into the starter’s role, despite pitching just 9 innings all spring. As mentioned, Cobb and Cashner were disasters last year, although Cobb finished the season strongly. Bundy, a former top prospect, has been middling and inconsistent over his career. Considering how bad the starters were last year, this is actually the most likely area to see improvement from on the team in 2019.
The once dominant Baltimore bullpen has been firmly dismantled. Mychal Givens will likely be the closer, with some combination of Miguel Castro, Richard Bleier, Pedro Araujo, Paul Fry, and John Means, and Jimmy Yacabonis behind him. There’s a couple of guys with some upside there, but really, league average is about the most you can dream on for this bullpen.
Catcher: Pedro Severino
Up until a few days ago, it looked like Chance Sisco’s excellent spring had won him a big league job, but the Orioles swooped in to grab Pedro Severino off of waivers from the Nationals. A former top catching prospect for Washington, Severino is a plus defender with an excellent arm. Much like his back-up Sucre, he has no offense upside or power to speak of.
Designated Hitter: Mark Trumbo
Technically, Mark Trumbo will start the season on the IL, with Chris Davis and Renato Nunez rotating through the DH role while Nunez’ bicep issue keeps him from being able to throw effectively. Injuries limited Trumbo to just 90 games in 2018 and saw his power continue to decline. When healthy, his bat is one of the few legitimate power threats in the Orioles’ lineup even if it is no longer as potent as it once was. When he returns in late May, he’ll likely end up at the heart of the order.
First Base: Chris Davis
As mentioned before, it would be almost impossible for Chris Davis to be as bad as he was last year. His decline in 2017 turned into a full on collapse in 2018 as his offensive stats dropped across the board. He is also an extremely poor defender, but the logjam with Trumbo keeps him on the field at first. Counting this season, the Orioles have 4 years left on Davis’ contract at $68M. If he continues to perform at a similar level as last year, it is hard to see how the Orioles keep him in the lineup. The only vague positive is that the new Front Office may be willing to eat the rest of the contract and release him if he can’t play.
Second Base: Jonathan Villar
Villar came over to Baltimore in the Schoop trade at the deadline and was the most valuable player for the team between then and the rest of the season. Villar’s main weapon is his speed, swiping 35 bases with an 85% success rate. He can take a walk and flash sneaky power at times, while providing solid defense. Villar is most likely a piece to be moved at the deadline, especially if he builds on his success in Baltimore last season.
Shortstop: Richie Martin
Martin is a Rule 5 pickup from the Oakland Athletics. A soft hitting, glove first shortstop, Martin showed a significant offensive jump on reaching AA for the second time in 2018, slashing 300/368/439. Despite slowing down significantly from a hot start at the plate in spring, the Orioles are ready to plug his superiour glove in their infield and see if the bat comes around.
Third Base: Rio Ruiz
Ruiz was claimed off waivers from Atlanta in the winter, a former prize prospect of Huston’s. Ruiz has been a work in progress for awhile, improving his defense to stick in the hot corner and trying to translate what is considered a plus hit tool into consistent contact. He’s had a very strong spring, showing power that scouts have been expecting to develop.
Left Field: Trey Mancini
Mancini, who is not an outfielder by any reasonable measure, has been pushed into left field by both Trumbo and Davis in the lineup. Per FanGraphs, Mancini posted -12 defensive runs saved, worse than all but 3 other AL outfielders (before any one starts feeling smug about this, one of the 3 was Teoscar Hernandez). The sophomore slump on defense carried over to the plate as well, significantly behind his 2017 production. Mancini’s power is a vital piece of Baltimore’s lineup, and the sooner they can get him out of the field, the better.
Centre Field: Cedric Mullins
Mullins is a speedy, defense first fielder, called up last year and seemingly the replacement for Adam Jones in centre. While his calling card is speed on the basepaths, he showed decent power in the minors, which the Orioles hope will transition to the big leagues. Mullins is a switchhitter but his bat from the right side was extremely poor last season and there is discussion of having him bat exclusively left.
Right Field: Joey Rickard
Rickard is pretty much the poster boy for the 2019 Orioles hopes: you know he’s not going to do anything well, but you’re hoping he’s just kinda bad instead of flat out terrible. Rickard is another fielder with limited power and offensive upside. He can play all three outfield positions mostly competently. Despite a pretty good spring, Rickard isn’t a lock to stay as a starter or even a major leaguer, which is good news for Dwight Smith Jr and Baltimore’s OF prospects in AAA.
Fangraphs Depth Charts: 61-101
Despite the turnover of players and infusion of youth, barring a real breakout from some of their young players, the Orioles will still be bad in 2019. Their young players don’t have much upside and the Front Office seems to be favouring defense to try and bolster their weak pitching. Which makes sense, since the only way to wring any value out of pitchers like Cobb and Cashner is if they are good enough to be attractive at the trade deadline.
Fortunately, being bad has already been taken as a given by the Baltimore media and the fanbase. I asked Stacey Folkemer of SB Nation’s Camden Chat what she thought Baltimore fans would consider ‘success’ for the team in 2019.
“For the 2019 Orioles, the results in the win column mean very little. They aren’t going to win many games, and that’s ok. There are two ways to measure success on the field this year. One is the development of the young players who might be part of the next good team. That would be players like Austin Hays, Cedric Mulllins, and Chance Sisco. It’s unlikely any will be stars, but if they develop into solid players that will help tremendously going forward. The other thing that could help the team is if the veterans play well enough to be traded for something that could help in the future. Most of the veterans are bad, so that probably won’t happen much. But here’s hoping! The biggest developments will take place off the field as the new management begins laying the groundwork to stock the minor league system with good young players, and those results won’t be known for a few years.”
The silver lining is that Baltimore will have the number one overall pick in the draft this year, and possibly for a couple of years to come to bolster their farm. With little pressure to win, they have time to sort through their farm, and continue to be aggressive with waiver claims and in carrying Rule 5 claims. Baltimore is facing several years of being a non-factor in competition for the playoffs, but they have a chance to be a very interesting team to watch piece itself back together and move forward.