The Orioles’ 2017 expectations took another big hit Tuesday, when the Boston Red Sox pulled off the first major deal of the winter meetings and added a third Cy Young caliber starting pitcher to their rotation.
Chris Sale hasn’t won a Cy Young Award, but he always seems to be in the running and he’s going to be matching up against the Orioles fairly regularly over the next few years, which might improve his chances if their recent success against left-handed pitchers is any indication.
So the outlook for the next incarnation of the O’s continues to dim, which does not make this offseason much different from any of the previous five that Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter have been running the team.
Orioles fans have gotten used to being the Rodney Dangerfield of the American League. The various analytics sites have been projecting them to finish below .500 in each of those seasons and have been half right once, when the O's finished 81-81 in 2015.
Look for them to double down in 2017 and bet that not even Showalter can make another silk purse out a projected sour year. Everybody’s going to pick the well-heeled Sox.
“I would too,’’ Showalter said. “People equate when you add money that you’ve gotten better. And we’ve done our share of that, too. The game is about so much more than just about who is paying the most and these players have worked hard to warrant these type of contracts, and God bless them, and Red Sox, Yankees? I’m sure I’d do the same thing. But this is a lot more fun, I can tell you that, the way we do it."
O's projected to finish last: FanGraphs already is projecting the Orioles to win 76 games and finish in last place in the AL East, which should be easy enough to dismiss if you simply look at the way that site's vaunted algorithm has gotten it so wrong so many times.
Trouble is, all those mad baseball scientists have missed so often that they've got to hit the target eventually and — based on where the Orioles stand as we reach the midway point in the offseason — the future doesn't look very bright.
Though Duquette tends to make his biggest moves in late January and early February, he hasn't given any indication that the Orioles will be in a position to do anything dynamic to improve their offensive lineup or upgrade the pitching staff.
It might make perfect baseball sense for him to stick to his current mantra that the team is intent on finding a part-time catcher and improving its outfield defense, but that isn't the kind of thing that sends season-ticket orders flying into the outgoing mail slot.
The Orioles appear likely to lose the major league home run leader (Mark Trumbo) and one of the top catchers in the game (Matt Wieters), and it wasn't like they sailed into the playoffs. They got in with the second wild card and got out shortly thereafter, so it's not like they had talent to spare. Showalter almost won another Manager of the Year award because he got to the playoffs with what was widely viewed as one of the worst starting rotations in either league.
Duquette didn't do much to dispel that negative outlook when he met with reporters Tuesday at the winter meetings. He conceded that the Sale deal was a strong move by the Red Sox, but pointed out that the Orioles have a .296 combined batting average against him over the course of his career.
Payroll outlook: Then Duquette pointed out that the Orioles' payroll — which won't move much either way with the potential departures of Trumbo, Wieters and Pedro Alvarez and the additions of arbitration-driven salary increases — already is more than representative for the market size of the team.
Maybe this is too cynical an outlook, but when you combine that assertion with Duquette's upbeat projections for minor league prospects Trey Mancini and Chance Sisco, it seems like he is making it pretty clear that there isn't significant money to spend on anybody to recoup those 86 home runs and 223 RBI.
So, as things stand right now, it appears the Orioles will be hoping for more minor league magic and banking on the otherworldly managerial skills of Buck Showalter to prove all those critics and analytics wrong once again.
That's certainly not out of the question, since the O's have left all those experts trying to explain away the gaping holes in their methodology four of the last five years, but this time they appear to have a pretty good chance to be right.