What a difference a week makes: The Baltimore Orioles

Eric P. Mull-US PRESSWIRE

After four months of inactivity, Dan Duquette signs Ubaldo Jimenez, Nelson Cruz, and Suk-Min Yoon, drastically redrawing the Orioles offseason.

Two weeks ago, the Baltimore Orioles inactive offseason was the object of much consternation in Charm City. Outside of B'more, there was less emotional involvement, and the reactions were thusly more of the puzzled variety.

As S.E. Hinton titled her second book, that was then, this is now.

An offseason that a mere eight days ago had seen its highlights include the signing of Ryan Webb and reported signing Suk-Min Yoon for a combined guaranteed total of $10.075MM over five years--two and three, respectively--has been radically reinvented in the wake of the cagey, patient signings of Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz. When you go from having signed two possible middle relievers to having signed the only starting pitcher on the free agent market with two 5.0+ WAR (by either calculation) seasons under his belt and a career .268/.327/.495 hitter with a .353 wOBA and 114 wRC+ riding five straight seasons with at least 22 HR despite having passed 128 games played only once in that time.

Sure, Jimenez has lost 4.4 MPH on his average fastball (or 3.7 on his vFA, if using PITCHf/x data, which breaks an outlying 1.9% of his offerings out as cutters) since his 6.5 fWAR 2010 season. But of the available starters via free agency, only Hiroki Kuroda, Bartolo Colon, and A.J. Burnett--both at least seven years Jimenez's senior--had better 2013 campaigns in terms of fWAR. Of those three, Burnett clearly was superior last season. Jimenez sported a better FIP (3.43 to 3.56), SIERA (3.74 to 3.79), and tERA (3.58 to 4.33) than Kuroda, who bested him in xFIP by 0.02. Jimenez edged Colon in xFIP by 0.33, SIERA by 0.43, and tERA by 0.01 but was 0.20 worse in terms of FIP.

Given that the ceiling of Jimenez's production level in the past has proven to be significantly higher, it's hard to argue that he didn't at least provide the highest upside potential to his eventual destination.

182565543Photo credit: Tom Pennington

Cruz has his own warts that are not limited to the fact that he is hot off a suspension for his dealings with Biogenesis. Namely, his defense is rather unappetizing, and not just anecdotally, as was put on display very prominently in the Game Six of the 2011 World Series. For the past three seasons, Cruz has put up a cumulative -14.1 UZR and -21 DRS, mostly in right field. With the primary hole on the roster being at designated hitter, Orioles fans have to hope for Cruz's primary deficiency to be marginalized by keeping his glove and slowing gait in the dugout while their defense takes the field. Nolan Reimold's defense leaves much to be desired, so perhaps Cruz will get some time in the field against southpaws, but David Lough's glove stands a good chance at being above-average in left while getting the bulk of the playing time against right-handed pitching.

However, at the low, low price of $8MM on a one-year deal and the much lower penalty of a forfeited second-round draft pick after the Jimenez signing stripped the O's of their first-round pick, the Orioles only need to get roughly 1.4 WAR out of Cruz to get a positive return on their investment. With ZiPS and Steamer both projecting Cruz to exceed that level of production in 2014, one has to like the Orioles' odds of getting their money's worth and potentially netting a better compensatory pick in 2015 should Cruz prove worthy of extending a qualifying offer next offseason.

With Enrique Rojas tweeting the following:

it isn't hard to see the Orioles quiet [non-]dealings of the bulk of the offseason actually playing out in their favor. Should they sign Santana to a non-absurd contract, Dan Duquette will have quickly transformed this 2014 offseason into one of the sneakiest and most successful in baseball. The signing of Santana would mean that the Orioles would forfeit what is currently the 91st pick of the draft. Their draft budget would be comically miniscule at that point, but the addition of Santana would suddenly make the Orioles' pitching staff very deep with Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy waiting in the wings and the possibility of an upper-echelon rotation seeming more than plausible.

Moreover, one could deduce that with very little money available for the Orioles in the amateur draft Peter Angelos may allow Duquette to surpass their international amateur spending cap significantly and bite the bullet on the luxury tax.

Even if Ervin Santana isn't signed, the Orioles offseason of today starkly contrasts against their offseason just over a week ago. Signing a high-upside arm like Ubaldo Jimenez will have that effect. Regardless of what else happens, it is hard to fault Dan Duquette for executing a plan of prudence and patience, especially in regards to the slugger he just inked to a deal that is two-to-four years shorter than many had thought was likely just a couple months ago.

There is value to waiting for the market to play out. Dan Duquette saw that, and it looks to have worked out quite nicely for the Orioles of 2014. Should they also add Ervin Santana to the mix, it could thrust them squarely into the heart of the race for AL East crown.

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