By Terry Cushman – @cushmanMLB
From the very out set of the Red Sox second consecutive abrupt exit from the playoff’s this past October, it was made very clear that upgrades would be pursued. As the Yankees made a stunningly unforeseen charge at a World Series appearance, only to fall short in a game seven loss to the Houston Astros, we all assumed the bombers would also look to bolster their already murderous lineup.
The Yanks acquired reigning 2017 NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton in typical Yankees fashion. At first they dismissed the idea, followed by down playing their dialogue with Derek Jeter and the Marlins once their talks were reported, and then predictably acquired the slugger shortly thereafter.
And so the dick measuring contest began…
The Red Sox eventually landed J.D. Martinez following long drawn out negotiations, and unlike their rivals, they managed to acquire their new premier slugger on relatively team friendly terms (five years, $110M). Boston also shored up their infield by also re-signing Eduardo Nunez for short money.
Getting lost in the shuffle was the Baltimore Orioles, who stubbornly have have been a competitive team since 2012. They reached the 2014 ALCS, and lead the AL East for much of 2016 before getting passed by the Red Sox, and then were subsequently ousted by the Blue Jays during extra innings in the AL Wildcard, when Buck Showalter infamously neglected to bring his best reliever into the game before it was too late.
For much of the 2017-2018 off season, much of the talk around Baltimore was whether or not they would trade their franchise player, Manny Machado, who will become a free agent following this final season on his contract. Many insiders and observer’s have assumed the Birds won’t be able to afford Machado. However, given the weirdness of this year’s free agent market, who really knows?
All was quiet in Baltimore’s Dan Duquette led front office until this past Wednesday, when former Tampa Bay Rays ace, Alex Cobb, agreed to a four year deal worth $57M. With this signing, the Orioles have put together a very formidable rotation.
2018 Orioles Starting Rotation
Here is how it projects out:
- Dylan Bundy (Opening day starter, emerging ace)
- Alex Cobb (Career 3.50 ERA, pitched entire career in AL East)
- Kevin Gausman (High upside, potential 15 game winner)
- Andrew Cashner (3.40 ERA in 2017)
- Chris Tillman (Finally healthy following shoulder issues)
Like the Red Sox struggled offensively in 2017 after leading the league in overall offense the previous year, the Orioles finished dead last in ERA last season. Both instances albeit apples and oranges, are most likely anomalies. Any of Baltimore’s five projected starters are very capable of producing 15 win seasons, with 3.00 something ERA’s.
Alex Cobb has been pitching in this division for several years, and will not be rattled by the high powered lineups of Boston and New York. Same could be said for Chris Tillman, who is reported to be throwing all of his pitches very fluidly.
Orioles Starting Lineup (2017 Home runs/RBI’s)
1B: Chris Davis (26/61)
2B: Jonathan Schoop (32/105)
SS: Manny Machado (33/95)
3B: Tim Beckham (22/62)
LF: Trey Mancini (24/78)
CF: Adam Jones (26/73)
RF: Colby Rasmus (9/23)
C: Caleb Joseph (8/28)
DH: Mark Trumbo (23/65)
As you can see this is a lineup who can utterly mash. Seven projected starters hit 20 or more home runs last season, which is practically unheard of. If their pitching lives up to it’s potential, they should have plenty of run support throughout the year.
Many casual baseball fans might not recognize Trey Mancini or Tim Beckham, but both were big contributors who flew under the radar due to the fact Baltimore hung around fourth in the standings all year long. Perhaps with some “pitching support,” both players will become more revered throughout the AL East.
Manny Machado Trade Speculation
The Orioles are the only team Machado has ever played for. Throughout much of this hot stove season, he was heavily pursued. No deals got made, and the face of their franchise will remain so for the time being, possibly even the duration of 2018.
One of the controversial aspects from this winter was the fact many teams opted not put a “competitive” team on the field, and elected to “re-build.” None of these teams will have any renewed motivation to pursue him before the non-waiver trade deadline this July. Furthermore, as the season wears on throughout the spring, several more teams will fall out of contention as well due to injuries, or under performance. So any potential trade market for Machado will shrink even more.
No position players were traded last July or August for significant prospects. J.D. Martinez was traded for a package of three prospects who will never likely make the major leagues. Only Justin Verlander and Sonny Gray garnered significant prosects for their out-going teams.
If the Orioles contend as I expect them to, they will likely hang on to Machado for the duration of the season. The “compensation” draft pick which they will receive once their third baseman rejects the qualifying offer might net them a future prospect of better value.
Additionally, if inquiring teams feel that the Orioles asking price for their star player is too high, those teams could go to the Royals and ask for Mike Moustakas, or possibly even the Mets for Todd Frazier.
Many insiders and observers will continue to raise possibilities that a blockbuster deal involving Machado could materialize, but it’s simply a much different market nowadays.
Newly hired rookie managers Alex Cora, and Aaron Boone won’t likely fool Buck Showalter during the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings of close baseball games. The Orioles manager is now the elder statesman in the division figuratively and literally. He already has the respect of his players, and knows how to utilize them accordingly.
It does not matter to Showalter that the lights are currently the brightest on Boston and New York. Or even his cross town Washington Nationals, whom have never even won a playoff series, unlike the Orioles.
While many believe the Orioles will simply drift towards the bottom of the standings, and probably struggle to win 70 games, I believe they are a wild card team at the very least. Of course it would be ballsy to pick them to win the division. I do not see that taking place, but having said that, I would probably be one of the least surprised out of anyone.
I expect the second wildcard to come out of the AL central. The Angels, Rangers, and Mariners from the AL West have plenty of talent on their teams, but have a multitude of ranging issues to which I cannot justify in picking them over the Orioles.
Don’t sleep on Baltimore.
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