While the Orioles aren't out of the playoff race, sitting 5.5 games back of the second Wild Card team means they probably won't be playing baseball after the regular season. They unfortunately haven't been able to put together a long stretch of sustained success, and the front office will likely turn their full attention to preparing for the offseason in the near future.
The Orioles can enter the winter months with optimism because GM Dan Duquette has created financial flexibility for his club. For the next three seasons, Baltimore has commitments of $41.8, $43.8, and $17.3 million, respectively; with nothing set in stone for 2019 and beyond. This stands in contrast to a team like the Mariners, which has little maneuvering room because they have at least $70 million already spent per year through 2019.
Baltimore's commitments have largely worked out. Adam Jones has remained valuable for the Orioles, as his 3.9 fWAR confirms. In 509 plate appearances this season, he's hit 24 HR's, and produced a slash line of .279/.318/.491. In fact, Jones has managed to improve in a few categories, as his ISO, wOBA, and wRC+ are all currently better than his 2014 figures. Over the past three seasons, Jones has given the Orioles $104.1 million in value, but he's cost just $32.28 million.
Ubaldo Jimenez hasn't been as effective as he once was, but according to FanGraphs, he's also been more than worth the money, as he's provided $15.7 million in extra value. J.J. Hardy has unfortunately regressed significantly in 2015, as his ISO has decreased for the second consecutive year, while his wRC+ has plummeted to 52.
As for arbitration eligible players, the Orioles have Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Zach Britton, Ryan Flaherty, Manny Machado, Brad Brach, and Steve Clevenger. Tillman, Gonzalez, and Flaherty are all non-tender candidates, but the remaining four will undoubtedly be back with the club.
Britton has turned in an excellent season in the follow-up to his breakout 2014 campaign; Brach has posted a K/9 of 10.32 along with an ERA of 2.69; Clevenger has been excellent in very limited action; and Machado has established himself as one of the league's best players.
What should the Orioles offseason look like?
Baltimore has a few players that will become unrestricted free agents once the season is over, and they'll need to go about replacing them. First base and catcher are seemingly their biggest needs, as Chris Davis and Matt Wieters will likely leave to the highest bidders. While Baseball America ranked the Orioles farm system 29th overall, they have more than a few prospects that could turn into legitimate cost controlled contributors for the club.
Christian Walker is a 24 year old first baseman who's posted a line of .256/.324/.417, with a wOBA of .341 and a wRC+ of 115 at the AAA level. As of today, he was unsure about whether or not he'd receive a call-up now that rosters have expanded, but it would undoubtedly be in the team's best interests to give him some playing time over the final month of the season. If Walker can prove to be effective, the Orioles could give him a chance as the opening day first baseman for the 2016 season, which would allow the front office to focus their financial resources on other areas of the team.
As for the catching position, Baltimore might need to explore a possible trade, or look to the free agent market to fill their impending vacancy. While it's possible that Wieters could return after the year, he's a client of Scott Boras, who will without question try to extract every last dollar possible during the bidding process.
Their best prospect, Chance Sisco, hasn't progressed past AA and will need more time in the minors. Alex Avila could likely be signed to a deal that's low in both years and value, which could intrigue the Orioles. Other available solutions could be Chris Iannetta, Dioner Navarro, or Brayan Pena.
Aside from first base and catcher, the Orioles will need to acquire starting pitching. After Jimenez, their rotation is comprised of Tillman, Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen (a free agent after this season), and Kevin Gausman. Fortunately there will be a number of pitchers on the market for the Orioles to target; and some may be relatively "good buys."
While it's assumed that the Giants are going to try and re-sign Mike Leake, he'd be an excellent addition to Baltimore's staff, and he wouldn't cost as much as someone like David Price or Johnny Cueto. Scott Kazmir would seem to occupy the same tier of pitcher as Leake, and he would give the Orioles a left-handed starter to replace, and outperform Chen.
Doug Fister and Justin Masterson are two buy-low candidates, as they've each had success in their respective careers, but have unfortunately regressed over the last two seasons. The Orioles have Hunter Harvey and Dylan Bundy in their minor leagues, but for different reasons, neither seems likely to step into the rotation at the outset of 2016.
While the Orioles have Jones patrolling center field, he's their only guaranteed starter heading into next season. Dariel Alvarez could play his way into a starting role, and given the Orioles' impending need for an outfielder, they should give him a significant amount of playing time in September to see how he reacts to major league pitching on a regular basis.
At the end of the year, if the Orioles don't feel comfortable with Alvarez, they'll have a better idea of what they need for 2016 and beyond. Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton, and potentially Alex Gordon will be free agents, and Baltimore could target all three depending on their situation.
Fortunately for the Orioles, their infield doesn't need much work, as Machado has third base covered, Hardy is signed through 2017, and Jonathan Schoop has proven he deserves to be the starting second baseman. Regardless of what Baltimore's front office does concerning free agents, they should immediately try to sign Machado to an extension.
He's entering his first year of arbitration, and the Orioles would be doing themselves a favor by locking him into a deal now. Rather than re-negotiating on a yearly basis, and going through a process nobody seems to like, they could give themselves and Machado some financial security and buyout his remaining years of arbitration. He's set to become a free agent at the end of the 2018 season, which would make a six year deal in the neighborhood of $70-$80 million seem possible.
The Orioles weren't able to follow up their fantastic 2014 campaign, but because they haven't mortgaged their future, a quick rebound is possible. By using their financial flexibility to upgrade pitching, add an outfielder, and lock up a homegrown star, Baltimore can challenge for the AL East crown once again.