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Know Your Enemy: 2021 Baltimore Orioles

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New York Yankees v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The Baltimore Orioles in 2020 were bad, but unlike in previous seasons, they were bad with a purpose. They went 25-35 in the pandemic shortened season and enjoyed breakout seasons from several prospects and regulars in development. Several of their pitching prospects made solid debuts and their bullpen turned into a formidable weapon. While they never really flirted with contention at any point, they avoided being buried early and showed signs that their rebuild may already be starting to show signs of improvement. They continued to trade off older pieces and chance pick-ups into minor league prospects and their offseason has largely be limited to players with the opportunity to be moved at the trade deadline or reclamation projects.


Notable Departures

SS Jose Iglesias

2B Hanser Alberto

3B Renato Nuñez

RHP Alex Cobb

Arrivals

RHP Felix Hernandez

SS Freddy Galvis

RHP Matt Harvey

2B Yolmer Sánchez


Roster

Pitching Staff

Starting pitchers:

  • John Means
  • Félix Hernández
  • Matt Harvey
  • Dean Kremer
  • Keegan Akin

The Orioles starting rotation is going to be a bridge year, with former aces Harvey and Hernandez there to keep them from leaning too hard on rookies Kremer and Akin in 2021. If they can recapture any of their former brilliance and if the rookies can build on their impressive debuts, the Orioles could have a sneakily dangerous rotation to surprise the league with. Most likely, Harvey and King Felix will be there to eat innings, along with Zimmerman and Lopez once Kremer and Akin hit their innings limits. They might use this year to start the clock on some of their upper tier pitching prospects like Grayson Rodriguez, who are believed to be less than a step or two from major league ready.

The Orioles’ bullpen in 2020 was one of unexpectedly one of baseball’s best, completely turning around from 2019 where it was one of the worst in the league. Assuming that the results were not just small sample sizes, a healthy Harvey could anchor a dominant bullpen, which makes the Orioles capable of shortening games and perhaps surprising the AL East.

Catchers:

Pedro Severino

The last-minute pickup of Severino in 2019 gave the Orioles a relatively solid cheap catcher who ended up sidelining Chance Sisco from the starting role with his superior defense and an unexpected power surge. Sisco is the stronger offensive player who might get some at-bats in the DH role. But really, both are place holders for Adley Rutschman. The Orioles top prospect is close to MLB ready now, and it is likely he comes up for an extended look in 2021, especially if a trade opportunity opens up with one of their existing catchers.

First Base:

Trey Mancini

Mancini missed all of 2020 while recovering from treatment for Stage 3 colon cancer. The emergence of a legitimate range of outfield options allows them to move Mancini back to first base and out of his butchering of the outfield defense. No one is quite sure what to expect from Mancini but prior to his lost year, his power, plate discipline and walks steadily increased while his strike out rate dropped. It’s likely Mancini will get a higher number of off-days and starts at DH in order to manage his workload, but if he can regain his form, he’ll be the backbone of the Orioles offense.

Designated Hitter:

Chris Davis (sort of)

The Orioles have spoken about rotating players through the DH roles, like Austin Hays but assuming he survives Spring Training on the roster, Davis is likely unplayable anywhere else so we’ll slot him in her for now.

One positive is that Chris Davis is one year closer to the end of his contract, still owed $42 million through 2022, with roughly $4 million more in deferred money on top of that. Davis managed to get into just 16 games in 2020 before being shutdown and managed to run up nearly one full negative WAR in that time. He’s one of the worst defenders in the game and if he makes the Opening Day roster, at most he should be a part-time option at DH. Honestly, the time to cut bait with Davis was in 2019, but if they decide not to eat the money or if he manages another promising spring, he’ll get another chance to dig his value further down.

Second Base:

Yolmer Sánchez

The 2019 American League Gold Glove Award winner at second base, Sánchez has the inside track at the position after the Orioles claimed him off waivers and released Hanser Alberto this winter. Sánchez will face competition this spring from prospects Jahmai Jones and Rylan Bannon. Sánchez can move around the infield a bit if necessary, but he helps the team most defensively at second.

Third base:

Maikel Franco

As of writing, the Orioles are strongly rumoured to be finalizing a deal with Maikel Franco who would take over third. The incumbent, Rio Ruiz has options remaining, so he may end up back in the minors or released. Ruiz has a bit of pop but provided little overall offensive or defensive value at the hot corner, hitting hit .229 with 21 homers and a .692 OPS over the last two years.

Franco had an extremely solid year for the Royals in 2020, following his release from the Phillies. Traditionally an extremely poor defender, he put together a defensively average year while slashing .278/321/427 with 8 home runs in 60 games. He’s a contact hitter that relies on average, although controls the strike zone relatively well in terms of his strikeout rate. If the improvements he made last year continue moving forward, he’s an interesting piece that could be a useful trade chip for them mid-season.

Shortstop:

Freddy Galvis

Former Blue Jay Freddy Galvis signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal to replace José Iglesias as the Orioles everyday shortstop. After leaving Toronto, Galvis’ bat quickly regressed to his career norms and he remains a below average hitter with a little power who strikes out a ton. His main value will be defense up the middle for the Orioles, and if paired with Sanchez could make the middle of the diamond a big defensive plus for Orioles pitching. If he has another hot start like he did in Toronto in 2019, he could also be on the move at the trade deadline again.

Outfield:

Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander, Austin Hays, DJ Stewart

The Orioles are starting to show some results from their teardown, especially in their outfield. With the emergence of rookie Mountcastle, the long-awaited emergence of Santander and a solid bounceback in 2020 from Mullins, the Orioles look to showcase a solid outfield with good defense and offensive upside. Mountcastle particularly exploded out of the gates in 2020 and should be a Rookie of the Year candidate if he continues his production. Hays will likely face lefties in place of Mullins and spend some time at DH. Stewart, on the other hand, may find himself losing his spot if the Orioles don’t want a 5th OF on their bench.


Projections

Fangraphs Depth Charts: 67-95

PECOTA: 66-96

2021 Outlook

The Orioles could be a sneaky contender this year if everything breaks right for them, but most likely, they’ll continue at around the bottom of the division, continuing to accrue prospect depth and take an extra year of development. There’s a lot to like about Baltimore for once; their farm has a number of interesting pitching prospects advanced or on the cusp of the major league team, a number of impact rookies like Mountcastle and Rutschman producing or close to ready, and the ability to put together effective bullpens out of scraps. Their record in 2021 likely won’t reflect their true talent level and if Baltimore continues along this rate of producing effective players out of their system, they could be legitimate contenders as early as 2023.

Also, 2023 will mark the first year of Chris Davis finally being off the Orioles payroll. I want to spend a little time on him because there’s something so fascinating about him in his awfulness at this point. So let me tell you some interesting things about Chris ‘Crush’ Davis. As you may know, in 2016, he signed a 7-year, $161 million contract with the Orioles, who in true Baltimore fashion, outbid their own offer to land him. At that point, since coming over to Baltimore from Texas, Davis had hit 161 HRs and been worth almost 15 bWAR over 4 full seasons. He was a terrible defender, even for a first baseman, and was one of the strikeout leaders in baseball, but his power and bat to ball abilities outweighed those issues significantly, especially during his monster year in 2013. Davis went into the season as one of baseball’s wealthy elite and had another good year; hardly MVP calibre, but a solid if slightly down one from his excellent 2015 season.

But the Baseball Gods are fickle, and regardless of what you want to believe, like Icarus, Davis had flown too close to the sun. So they set his career on fire.

With napalm.

And nukes.

From orbit.

Since 2016, Davis has been worth -6.3 bWAR. Over the duration of his contract, the Orioles have paid Davis $115M for -3.2 bWAR in production. Meaning that if Davis had suffered a career ending injury thirty seconds after signing his contract, he would have been more valuable to the Orioles than playing the last 5 seasons.

Think I’m exaggerating? In 2018, Davis compiled a record of -3.6 bWAR. That is the fifth worst season in the entire history of major league baseball and he had four years remaining on his contract when he did so. His batting average of .168 is the lowest average of any player who qualified for a batting title in MLB history. In 2020, limited to just 16 games, Davis put up almost one full negative WAR. Expanded out to a full season, that’s a more than a -6 bWAR performance.

Chris Davis has been so legendarily bad for four straight seasons now, he’s passed comedy and tragedy and just become fascinating. He does everything right: he’s known to work relentlessly hard in the cage and with the coaches, has taken advice and tried to apply it, worked in the off-season with groups like Driveline and specialists, never skips workouts like other veterans can. And yet, he just continues to sink further into record breaking awfulness for huge sums of money. Even he seems bewildered by how he went from one of the most feared power hitters in the game to a painful joke within the span of one season.

Davis has become a kind of memento mori for the club; a symbol of futility and loss. With a crop of prospects emerging around him, the likelihood of his release coming at any day likely ending his professional career and the signs of light at the end of the tunnel, Davis represents the final tie to the club’s worst years, like his own, after the highs of playoff contention and superstardom respectively. If Baltimore realizes their ambition and returns to contention, it will be without their burnt former star; the final turn of the page and close of that chapter of Orioles baseball forever.


Poll

The Orioles will win:

This poll is closed

  • 52%
    Over 66.5 games
    (68 votes)
  • 47%
    Under 66.5 games
    (61 votes)
129 votes total Vote Now

Poll

The Orioles will finish __ in the AL East

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    First
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Second
    (1 vote)
  • 3%
    Third
    (5 votes)
  • 13%
    Fourth
    (21 votes)
  • 80%
    Fifth
    (126 votes)
156 votes total Vote Now