Baltimore Orioles 2016 Preview and Prediction

Orioles expect to contend in AL East. Will starting pitching hold up?

As pitchers and catchers report this week in Florida and Arizona, Athlon Sports will preview every team in Major League Baseball. Outlooks for every team and so much more information, including rosters, advanced stats and anonymous scouting reports, are featured in the Athlon Sports 2016 MLB Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and in our online store

 

The Orioles have followed 14 straight losing seasons with four in a row at .500 or above, but they failed to make the playoffs in 2015 because the rotation regressed and they didn’t adequately replace outfielders Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz. They’re showing more of a willingness to spend money, which is long overdue, and they figure to contend again with the chance to get back into the postseason if their starters bounce back and they do a better job in free agency or on the trade market. The core group of players and the bullpen are reasons for optimism, but that probably won’t be enough to win the AL East. This team is good — just not good enough when stacked up against the top dogs in the American League.

 

 

Rotation

 

The starters’ ERA rose from 3.61 in 2014 to 4.53 in 2015, the primary reason why the Orioles finished at .500 and failed to defend their division crown. Executive vice president Dan Duquette was searching for an arm to slot into the front end of the rotation. Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez were disappointments. Ubaldo Jimenez regressed in the second half. Kevin Gausman failed to take the next step. The most consistent starter, Wei-Yin Chen, was destined to leave via free agency. Tillman’s ERA jumped from 3.34 to 4.99, and Gonzalez’s jumped from 3.23 to 4.91 while he battled injuries. Jimenez, coming off a brutal debut season with the Orioles in 2014, went 7–4 with a 2.81 ERA in the first half and 5–6 with a 5.63 ERA in the second. Gausman, the former first-round pick, will finally break camp with the team as a starter and take the ball every fifth day. The Orioles claimed Vance Worley off waivers, and he’ll compete for a job in the rotation or bullpen. Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson made their major league debuts last May and remain in the mix.

 

Bullpen

 

The bullpen remains the strength of the Orioles, with the back end particularly formidable. Orioles relievers ranked third in the AL with a 3.21 ERA last year, and the unit returns closer Zach Britton, setup man Darren O’Day, righthanders Brad Brach and Mychal Givens and left-handed specialist Brian Matusz. Britton has gone from failed starter to shutdown closer, making his first All-Star team and recording 36 saves last season and also leading qualified relievers in ground ball percentage (79.1) and ground ball/fly ball ratio (8.47). O’Day, the bullpen leader, received a four-year, $31 million deal to stay in Baltimore. He’s a dominant setup man. Brach posted a 1.92 ERA in his last 42 appearances. The Orioles could go in many directions to fill the other two spots. Lefthander T.J. McFarland is a valuable innings-eater backing up the right-handed starters, but he has an option and may start in Triple-A. Worley could be in the bullpen if he isn’t starting. Chaz Roe was outstanding in the first half last season and terrible in the second. Former first-round pick Dylan Bundy is out of options and may need to be stashed in the pen.

 

Middle Infield

 

The Orioles are strong defensively up the middle with shortstop J.J. Hardy and second baseman Jonathan Schoop, a budding superstar who came back from an early-season knee injury. Hardy’s a three-time Gold Glove winner who’s battled a variety of injuries over the past few seasons, including one to his left shoulder last March that hindered him throughout the 2015 season. He batted only .219/.253/.311 with eight home runs and 37 RBIs in 114 games. Schoop is 24, and he’s only going to get better. Ryan Flaherty can back up at all four infield positions and is trusted defensively anywhere he plays.

 

Corners

Third base is in great hands with Manny Machado, winner of two Gold Gloves. Machado replaced Markakis in the leadoff role, though the Orioles would like to move him down in the lineup and take better advantage of his run-producing skills. He posted career highs across the board while being the only player in the majors to appear in all 162 games. First baseman Chris Davis, who led the majors in home runs for the second time in three seasons, was re-signed in mid-January to a lucrative deal that will keep him in Baltimore for the next seven seasons.

Outfield

 

Few center fielders in baseball can brag that they’re better than Adam Jones, and none can say that they play harder. Jones was banged up for much of the season and still became the first outfielder in club history to smack at least 25 home runs in five straight seasons. Hyun-soo Kim, signed out of the Korean Baseball Organization, was the early favorite to start in left field after signing a two-year, $7 million contract. Kim, who turns 28 in January, is a career .318/.406/.488 hitter in 10 seasons. He brings the on-base capabilities that the Orioles desperately need, plus a batting eye that allowed him to draw 101 walks and strike out only 63 times in 630 plate appearances last season. Kim also can play right, but his arm is better suited for left. There’s no clear-cut choice for right, the candidates including Nolan Reimold and Dariel Alvarez. The Orioles selected Joey Rickard in the Rule 5 draft, and he plays all three outfield spots.

 

Catching

 

Matt Wieters became only the second player, and the first Scott Boras client, to accept a qualifying offer. Returning from ligament-reconstructive surgery on his right elbow, Wieters will make $15.8 million and test the market again next winter. He’s still one of the best offensive catchers in baseball, and he’s expected to take on a much heavier workload behind the plate. He used to be a plus-thrower, and the Orioles are hoping that hasn’t changed. Caleb Joseph is more than capable of backing up Wieters. The staff ERA actually is lower with him behind the plate, and he’s got some pop. Joseph also is capable of playing a few other positions.

 

DH/Bench

 

Mark Trumbo was acquired as insurance in case the Orioles failed to re-sign Davis. Now, he figures to see the bulk of his at bats while serving as the designated hitter, though he will also play first base and the corner outfield. Joseph doesn’t have any real competition for the backup catching job, and he also could play first base on occasion. Flaherty plays all four infield positions, and he can move to the outfield if needed. Jimmy Paredes was the story of spring training, and he hit .299/.332/.475 with 10 home runs in the first half. However, he slumped to .216/.252/.265 with no home runs in the second. He’s below average defensively at third base, and he tried to improve his standing in the organization by playing right field in winter ball. He’s more suited for the designated hitter role. Rickard may stick as an extra outfielder, and the Orioles also have Reimold, Alvarez and Henry Urrutia on the 40-man roster.

 

Management

 

The Orioles are fortunate to have Buck Showalter in their dugout. He’s one of the game’s best managers, and no one is better at handling a bullpen. He’s earned the respect and admiration of his players, who are fiercely loyal to him. Duquette could use his own bounce-back season after failing to properly address the losses of free agents Markakis and Cruz. The Orioles kept having to DFA players he acquired via trade and free agency. Majority owner Peter Angelos seems willing to spend more money, but the Orioles’ payroll never is going to move into the upper tier in baseball.

 

Final Analysis

 

Showalter has changed the losing culture in Baltimore, which explains the four straight seasons at .500 or above and two playoff berths. But it’s always challenging in the AL East, especially when everyone except the Rays is walking around with deep pockets. The Orioles expect to contend now, but getting back into the playoffs will be difficult without a dominant starting pitcher to anchor the staff.

 

Prediction: 4th in AL East

 

Lineup

 

3B Manny Machado (R)

LF Hyun-soo Kim (L)

CF Adam Jones (R)

1B Chris Davis (L)

C Matt Wieters (S)

DH Mark Trumbo (R)

RF Nolan Reimold (R)

2B Jonathan Schoop (R)

SS J.J. Hardy (R)

 

Bench

 

INF Ryan Flaherty (L)

C Caleb Joseph (R)

OF Joey Rickard (R)

UT Jimmy Paredes (S)

 

Rotation

 

RHP Chris Tillman

RHP Kevin Gausman

RHP Miguel Gonzalez

RHP Ubaldo Jimenez
RHP Vance Worley

 

Bullpen

 

LHP Zach Britton (Closer)

RHP Darren O’Day

RHP Brad Brach

LHP Brian Matusz

RHP Mychal Givens

RHP Dylan Bundy

RHP Chaz Roe

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