Welcome to Overreaction Of The Week, my over the top, uninhibited, Baltimore sports-fan takes on this week’s Orioles activity.
The Orioles have all but announced the 2018 Opening Day roster, and oh boy, let’s jump right in. Not so long ago, the Orioles had a problem. No splash free agent signings, no Manny Machado trade, no notable improvements to the starting rotation, no Adam Jones‘ contract extension, and the list goes on. Pundits and casual fans had the Orioles destined for the cellar of the American League. The doom and gloom loomed large over Camden Yards.
However, in the past few weeks, the Triumvirate (Dan Duquette, Brady Anderson, and Buck Showalter) have made some key moves to create another problem, but this one’s much different. Whether anyone outside, maybe even inside, Baltimore knows it or not, a real playoff contender is about to carefully jog down the Orange Carpet.
Here’s a quick look at the Opening Day roster:
Several of these guys, I say about 15 of them, were virtual locks to make the roster early on in Spring Training. There are a handful of All Star candidates there, including Jones, Machado, Schoop, and my guy Kevin Gausman, to name a few. How the Triumvirate put together the other ten was an, albeit confusing and unconventional, work of art.
Rule 5 Additions
In recent history, the Orioles have dipped their toes in the Rule 5 draft pool. This time around, they cannonballed in. Again, this could be a problem. Since 2011, the Orioles’ Rule 5 picks have combined to provide less than 1 Win Above Replacement. So why do we keep doing this?
Here’s why: the Orioles will start the season with three Rule 5 picks that can contribute immediately. Outfielder Anthony Santander (from previous year) and relievers Nestor Cortes and Pedro Araujo showed enough in Spring Training to make the roster and seem a little different than previous Rule 5 draftees. Santander had one of the best springs out of all Orioles and can be a force as a switch hitter. Buck has also indicated Santander is no longer a liability in the outfield and reminds me of a guy like Jimmy Paredes, slashing from both sides of the plate. He could even grow into a role as a DH or right fielder against lefty pitchers.
Cortes pitched to contact and can eat some innings as a middle reliever or spot starter, while Araujo showed his ability to battle big league hitters throughout Spring Training. Yes, unproven is an apt description for them, but they should not be overlooked. These unheralded players could provide quite a bit of value to the team in well defined roles. Something else they have in their favor, at least early on, is that their scouting reports aren’t so extensive. These three have an opportunity to take advantage of that and help the Orioles get off to a hot start.
Colby Rasmus, Pedro Alvarez, and Danny Valencia all made the Opening Day roster as non-40 man roster members, Alex Cobb will join them shortly after. That means four players will have to come off the 40-man roster, which could be tricky, depending on who the Orioles think will pass through waivers. Jose Mesa Jr. has already been designated for assignment, while someone like Joey Rickard or other pitchers on the 40 man roster could face the same fate.
The Triumvirate was able to add Rasmus as a low-risk, high reward lefty bat in the outfield, one of the glaring needs for the team. In limited time last year, he posted an .896 OPS and seems re-energized and ready to produce as the every day right fielder. Valencia has pounded lefty pitching throughout his career and is a serviceable all-corners utility man. The Orioles won’t need a substitute up the middle all that often, with Jones, Machado, and Schoop starting every day. Cobb was a big time pickup for the pitching staff for four years, showing not just a investment in this year, but for the future as well. Pedro Alvarez is also on the team.
Chance Sisco and The Taxi Squad
Chance Sisco made his first Opening Day roster, which is a great success for the Orioles’ farm system. He was highly regarded since he was drafted and progressed enough earn the backup catcher position behind Caleb Joseph. Sisco could also provide pop off the bench as a late game lefty pinch hitter on the days he’s not catching. Sisco may have a bigger role than anticipated, as Joseph has never played in more than 100 games in a season. Sisco’s bat and improved defense could even earn him the starting job at some point this year, or at least a platoon with Joseph.
Something Sisco has in common with the presumed Taxi Squad, Miguel Castro and Richard Bleier, is minor league options. Buck has manipulated minor league options to keep fresh bullpen arms at the major league level. The others players with options are Machado, Schoop, Mancini, Joseph, Gausman, and Givens, who are all less than likely to be sent to the minors.
I think Castro is electric. With due respect to Gausman and Givens, Castro boasts the best fastball on the staff, so I hope he’s not spending too much time shuttling back and forth. That leaves Bleier to keep the lefty reliever role fresh with minor leaguers Josh Edgin, Joely Rodriguez, and possibly Donnie Hart. These guys could combine to have a solid season and help alleviate some of the stress caused by Zach Britton‘s absence.
With the Rule 5 picks and veterans without options remaining, there may be an issue with essentially no roster flexibility. Buck will have to get creative in his use of the bullpen, but with a reliable starting rotation, I’m not too worried. I anticipate some manipulation of the Disabled List and designating veterans for assignment to alleviate some of the roster gridlock.
Keep This In Mind
Alex Cobb and slugger Mark Trumbo aren’t on the Opening Day roster, but are imminent boosts on the horizon. As mentioned above, it will take two moves to make them active. Cobb’s value is a bit more apparent, while Trumbo had a down year and struggled mightily before going down with a quad injury this spring. If he can regain a fraction of his 2016 form, he lengthens the lineup as a threat to “wave it bye bye” at any time.
On the surface, leaving outfielder Austin Hays off the 25 man roster was a surprising move that I did not like at all, especially when I saw Craig Gentry make the team. After getting called up last season and making his Major League debut, Hays got injured in Spring Training and missed significant time. He recovered to hit .300 after his return, though a sub-par .243 for the entirety of the spring.
Keeping Hays in Double-A Bowie was actually a great move that accomplished a few things. First, he’s close to Baltimore for an emergency call up. Second, since he missed time this spring, the at bats in Bowie will help him settle in and make sure the injured shoulder is 100 percent, and serve as an unofficial extended spring training. The third and most forward thinking, is maintaining another year of team control over Hays’ services. If Hays is kept in the minors until May 10, the Orioles can keep him around for another year without him reaching free agency, which is always a good thing when you’re talking about your top prospect. Despite my excitement for what Hays can bring to the table, I must admit the Triumvirate nailed this one.
With three Rule 5 draft picks and key expiring contracts, the Orioles may have the most unique Opening Day roster in the league. The Triumvirate has pieced together a team that will shake things up atop the American League standings. There are potential contributors from top to bottom, and talented reinforcements set to join soon. We know most of the production will come from the usual names, but the Orioles can look forward to plenty of complementary value from the unsung 10 guys that earned their spots this spring.
The Opening Day roster usually doesn’t always end up being the roster in September and October. Nevertheless, these 25 men have been assembled to compete and win now. If the Vegas line for wins is in the 70s, I am smashing the over. A veteran starting rotation, dependable bullpen, powerful lineup, top-notch defense, capable role players, and an ever-wily skipper, the 2018 Baltimore Orioles have all the ingredients of a winner. That’s a problem for everyone else.