The Orioles are in an unexpected territory this offseason with an overstocked pitching rotation. Baseball fans will be quick to point out that you can’t have too much depth in terms of starters. However, the Orioles have to be careful with tying up their payroll with individuals that will not be contributing to starting games. Thus comes the Ubaldo Jimenez dilemma of not being able to realistically be able to dump a player into the bullpen as a twelve million dollar long man. And as we pointed out on Bird’s Eye View, the Orioles realistically should hold onto Jimenez in hopes that he can bounce back by finding his effectiveness with his slider once more.
Let’s analyze the rotation on where it stands now and over the next three years until 2018. Upon 2018, the majority of the current pitchers on the team will be entering free agency including Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, and Ubaldo Jimenez.
- 2015: $35.4 Million
- 2016: $27.7 Million
- 2017: $36.0 Million
The Orioles have been getting off relatively cheap over the past few seasons in terms of starters impact on the payroll due to numerous players still within arbitration including Tillman, Gonzalez, and Norris. Chen is also signed to a very club friendly deal with team option in 2015 that is around $4.75 million. Going into 2015, the Orioles top paid starters will be Ubaldo Jimenez ($12.25 million) and Bud Norris who will be entering his final year of arbitration (projected salary of $8.7 million).
In addition, the following players have options if necessary to be dropped to the minors:
- Wei-Yin Chen (Three Options Remain)
- Miguel Gonzalez (One Option Remaining)
From a resource allocation, would the Orioles consider putting one of these starters into the bullpen to serve as a long man? Or would they even consider optioning one to the minors to start the season while they made that determination? Both options realistically don’t make much sense for payroll allocation. This team stated last year that they were willing to trade Jim Johnson specifically for resource allocation in the bullpen. I can’t imagine the Orioles would be willing to move a starter into a role that they are not getting sufficient value.
Instead, the Orioles need to consider moving one of their starters at this time to free up space and payroll allocation. Trading Jimenez is not an option after last season. Even trading a bad contract for a bad contract like has been rumored (i.e. Nick Swisher) does not seem like it is in the Orioles best interest. Instead, the Orioles need to determine what pieces they are missing that could best be better obtained via a trade than through free agency. In terms of value and trade pieces, there is one player that pops out as being the most enticing trade piece:
How in the heck can you trade a player like that away? The likelihood is that Norris is going to command a heavy price in free agency next season. You essentially have him as a one year rental right now as the Orioles aren’t going to sign him with prospects that could project into the top of the rotation such as Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey and back of the rotation prospects like Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright.
In addition by trading away Norris, you are opening up an additional eight million dollars that could be of value in keeping payroll from increasing exorbitantly this offseason. The Orioles finished last year with a payroll around $108 million. With increases in arbitration and the expected resigning of Nick Markakis, the payroll is looking to increase to $125 million (15.7% increase) prior to signing any additional free agents. These numbers can be reduced further by trading away Norris and non-tendering a player like Brian Matusz to bring the increase to $113 million (4.6% increase) which still allows options in terms of picking up significant role players on this team which Duquette has thrived on in the past.
These role players could as well be included in a potential Norris trade with likely emphasis being placed on finding an athletic infielder to play SS/3B in preparation for the eventual JJ Hardy back tweak and/or a minor league LHP starter to be groomed as a potential replacement for Chen if and when he leaves.
In addition, Norris will likely see a bounce back year next year in terms of effectiveness. He’s showed a decline in his K/9, but more importantly his BABIP in 2014 (.279) was at a career low compared to his average (.306). It’s possible that the Orioles defense may be assisting on this due to once again an ERA and FIP deviation that has been prevalent on this team. However, his batted ball profile appears very similar for line drives indicating that regression is likely next year.
It’s difficult to cast off a player like Bud Norris. As a fan, I was devastated last year when the Orioles traded away Jim Johnson. However, the Orioles need to be able to make these tough moves as a business even though as a fan it pains us. The Orioles can also provide the necessary depth that this team will need to be competitive once again in the AL East.