Sunday, February 24, 2019

2019 Pre-Season Profile: Baltimore Orioles


Today might be Oscar Sunday in the movie world, but this weekend also started Spring Training games in baseball!  This is one of my favorite times of year.  The longest, most grueling season of all the sports brings about optimism and hope for all 30 teams.

Spring Training comes at the end of a wild off-season that saw two of the game's superstars change teams (well, one isn't quite settled yet).  Let me wrap up the off-season in one sentence.  The news of the off-season was more about how there was very little action once again as the market slowed to a halt waiting for the big names to sign while the big names had an epic stare down waiting to see who would sign first so the other could ask for more money and so many teams were interested they didn't want to sign anyone else until they knew for a fact they wouldn't be getting the superstars so many solid players are still sitting unsigned even though camp has already opened for all 30 teams.  That's the story of the 2019 off-season in one big run-on sentence for you.

Each season, I walk through the league and give a preview of each team's upcoming season and how they will fare.  This season feels a little more unpredictable than most with so many teams showing they are ready to compete.  We will go through the league from the bottom to the top, ending with my prediction for this year's World Series champion.

Starting at the bottom means starting with my predicted worst team in the league this upcoming season.  It may just be the same as the worst team in the league last season.

2018 Predictions
4th in AL East
Manny Machado, Adam Jones, and Zach Britton will all end the season on the Orioles' roster.

2018 Results

47-115, 5th in AL East

I knew the Orioles were on the decline heading into 2018, but 2018 was an all-out failure of epic proportions.  The 2018 Orioles had the 15th worst season in baseball history, and outside of the 2003 Tigers that lost 119 games, they had the worst winning percentage of any team since the 1960's.  It was an all-time horrible season.  Only two players on their team posted a WAR above 2.0, and both of those players (Manny Machado and Kevin Gausman) were traded at the Trade Deadline.  That leads me to my other prediction for last season.  The Orioles held on way too long before finally deciding to try to rebuild.  I thought they were going to continue to live in denial and refuse to trade their top players for the prospects needed to start over.  However, when you are that bad, it is hard to live in denial.  Machado and Britton were traded, along with Gausman, Brad Brach, and (surprisingly) Jonathan Schoop, who they gave up on after one disappointing season.  That helped start the rebuild of a lackluster farm system.

Additions / Subtractions

When a team like the Orioles opt to tear down and re-build, especially after that awful 2018 season, the subtractions far outweigh the additions.  In addition to the crew traded mid-season last year, the O's also said goodbye to infielder Tim Beckham and Adam Jones, the face of the franchise for most of the last decade.  The other notable subtractions bring about the most notable additions.  2018 saw the end of GM Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter.  Replacing these two old school baseball guys are two new school thinkers, new GM Mike Elias and new manager Brandon Hyde, formerly the bench coach for the Cubs.

Most Important Hitter
Chris Davis

Although the rebuild has started, the Orioles have a few bad contracts on the books with some underwhelming veterans that they would love to move.  The biggest of these is Chris Davis.  Davis had a historically bad year in 2018, hitting only .168 while striking out 192 times.  His strikeouts actually were higher than his batting average.  If that isn't an MLB record, it should be.  To top it off, he got paid $23 million for this production, which resulted in a -2.8 WAR, and is signed thru 2022.  This may go down as the worst contract in baseball history.  At this point, the only way Chris Davis can be valuable to the Orioles is play well enough to give him any sort of trade value so they might be able to get a prospect or two for him instead of just releasing him and eating all that money.  Davis's production (or lack of) will be one of the more interesting stories to watch throughout the Orioles' season.

Most Important Pitcher
Alex Cobb

Alex Cobb is in a similar position as Chris Davis.  Cobb signed late last offseason with the Orioles for 4 years, $57 million.  It seemed like a decent deal considering his production up to that point.  However, he was one of many disappointments in Baltimore.  Also, his signing was strange as they should have been working to rebuild, not sign veteran starters that won't be around long enough to be relevant.  Cobb needs a bounce back season so he can build up some trade value and be moved for pieces that will impact the Orioles' future.

Prospect to Watch
Dillon Tate

This season is not going to be a good one for the Orioles, however they have the potential of being pretty exciting come the second half of the season.  Six of the Orioles' top eight prospects are either scheduled to be ready for the big leagues in 2019 or have already had a taste of big league ball.  I was tempted to go with one of their top prospects here, like outfielder Yusniel Diaz (acquired in the Machado deal) or third baseman Ryan Mountcastle (2015 1st round pick), however they probably won't see the big leagues until 2020 to save some service time.  Instead, the player worth watching is going to be Dillon Tate.  At one point, Tate was the 4th overall pick in the 2015 draft by the Rangers and was thought to be one of the top power arms in the minors.  However, some struggles with injuries and inconsistent velocity have led to two different trades in his short career; first going to the Yankees in 2016 for Carlos Beltran, then to the Orioles last year in the Zach Britton deal.  If Tate can stay healthy and recapture what made him such a touted prospect, he could be a pleasant surprise for the O's in 2019.

2019 Prediction
5th in AL East

There are a lot of unknowns coming up in the 2019 season.  However, one of the safest bets of the upcoming season is that the Orioles will finish in the AL East cellar.  Denying the thought of rebuilding for so long and refusing to build for the future has left a below average farm system and a less than competitive major league roster.  They are going to be bad, and it might end up worse than last year.

Fearless Prediction
The Orioles will pick in the top 5 in the MLB Draft for five straight seasons.

This is a long term rebuild in Baltimore.  It is going to take them awhile to be competitive again.  Also, being historically bad to build up a farm system has been proven to work (look at the Astros and Nationals).  That is what the Orioles need to do.  They already have the top pick this year.  They have a good chance at losing their way to the top pick in next year's draft as well.  Their prospects will start to work their way to the big leagues in the next couple years, but this farm system has little elite talent.  It is going to take a couple waves of prospects to get them back to being competitive, especially in that division.  Look for the Orioles to be one of the worst teams in baseball for the foreseeable future.  Trust the process!

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