The Baltimore Orioles were a slow-starter this offseason. With so many pending free agents of their own, it's somewhat understandable.
The Orioles had Chris Davis, Wei-Yin Chen, Darren O'Day, Matt Wieters, Gerardo Parra, and Steve Pearce all as pending free agents. Those would be significant losses, and it was paramount that Dan Duquette and the Orioles front office explored all options before resorting to any sort of backup plan.
Unfortunately, that meant some idling. While teams may want to sort their options out as quickly as possible, the opposite can be true for some free agent players. And where there was idling, there were some small victories for the Orioles, but also some small losses.
The Orioles didn't dabble much in the trade market. In total, throughout the offseason, they made six trades. Four of the trades were cash-for-player trades, which is kind of amazing in its own right. That makes two player-for-player swaps this offseason for the Orioles.
The Seattle Mariners -- seemingly desperate to rid themselves of Mark Trumbo -- packaged their first baseman up with the newly-acquired C.J. Riefenhauser in exchange for Steve Clevenger. That's right. The Orioles forfeited Clevenger for lefty-masher Trumbo and a young LOOGY. Trumbo, who was entering his final year of arbitration, was set for a pretty substantial pay raise. However, at just over $9 million, there's a chance that he still provides some surplus value.
Other than that, the Orioles acquired Odrisamer Despaigne as much-needed pitching depth. After a great rookie campaign in 2014 with the Padres, Despaigne struggled to hold a job in the rotation last season. His home run rate skyrocketed in a strange year in which it seemed like all Padres pitchers had home run troubles. His strikeout rate isn't good either, but the Orioles will likely need some rotation depth at some point this season. They only had to part with 19 year old, Low-A prospect Jean Cosme, so this move seems to be about staying relevant now.
The Free Agents
As one of the most active teams in free agency, the Orioles never really came off as all-that active. At least, until recently.
The majority of their efforts seemed focused on retaining their departing talent. It started with Wieters accepting his qualifying offer. Prior to this offseason, a qualifying offer had never been accepted by a player. Along with Colby Rasmus and Brett Anderson, Wieters became the first to finally accept one. As a Scott Boras client, Wieters accepting his was very surprising. After only being available for 282 plate appearances last season, it seems Wieters opted for security and took the $15.8 million one-year deal. If he has another year like 2013, perhaps he will test free agency next offseason.
The consensus top-tier reliever on the open market, for a while it seemed as if the Orioles would whiff on re-signing O'Day. Instead, O'Day became the first of many failed free agent attempts from the Washington Nationals, and inked a four-year, $31 million deal with his former team.
Finally, after a months-long negotiation battle, the Orioles and Davis also agreed to a seven-year, $161 million deal. In the days leading up to the signing, the Orioles reportedly started courting Yoenis Cespedes. However, that seems to have just amounted to leverage.
On top of just retaining players, the Orioles signed Hyun-soo Kim from the KBO to a two-year, $7 million deal. The on-base wizard still doesn't have a clear-cut spot on the roster, but he'll likely find reps in an outfield that currently employs Nolan Reimold and Dariel Alvarez.
In total, the confirmed deals listed above are worth nearly $215 million. Then, take into account the fact that both Yovani Gallardo and Dexter Fowler are expected to sign with the Orioles and you have a dark horse winner of the offseason. At the moment, the Chicago Cubs have spent the most of any team on free agents. And, if Gallardo and Fowler get confirmed, there's reason to believe the Orioles will eclipse their $246.5 million total.
Reasons to worry
Do these moves really make a contender though? The Orioles have essentially maintained status quo while at least two other teams got better in their division. They lost Chen, which is a pretty substantial blow to a team projected to allow the third-most runs per game by Depth Charts -- only better than the Milwaukee Brewers and Colorado Rockies.
Furthermore, while signing Gallardo and Fowler are good additions to their roster, they will also cost the Orioles a draft pick if the deals are finalized thanks to the qualifying offer compensation. While this may end up suppressing their dollar value, there's a reason other teams haven't signed them. It's too early to pass judgment because, frankly, we don't know the terms of the deal as of yet. Both Gallardo and Fowler can definitely make a team better, but is it actually worth the Orioles forfeiting their 15th-overall pick?
Furthermore, will Davis actually age well over the course of that seven-year deal? That seems like an unbelievably substantial commitment for someone who, in very recent memory, was really bad. Of course, when he's good, Davis slugs as well as anyone in the majors. While his walk rate is quite good, his strikeout rate is very high. If Davis isn't hitting the ball out of the yard, his production takes a significant dive. Sometimes power doesn't age well.
Lastly, every projection system doesn't like them. There's a reason the games get played, but it's never a great start to the season when both PECOTA and Depth Charts pick you to finish last in your division.
Reasons for hope
Despite the general pessimism above, there are definite reasons to be hopeful for the Orioles in 2016. They have one of the best up-and-coming closers in the game in Zach Britton. Adam Jones is one of the most elite players in all of baseball, and might be the second-best centerfielder in the American League -- with due respect to Lorenzo Cain and Mookie Betts. Manny Machado is one of the best third basemen in the entire league as well.
Other than that, there are a couple interesting 'ifs.' After being ranked the 20th prospect in the entire sport by Baseball America, Kevin Gausman has put up two fairly good -- though somewhat disappointing -- seasons. Because his fastball can hit triple-digits, there will always be hope for Gausman to catch fire. He is only entering his age-25 season so it's well-within the realm of possibility that everything comes together in the near future.
It's just that an awful lot is riding on a cast of returning characters, a couple great position players, some breakout candidates, and a bad rotation.