The Orioles team that begins the 2017 season will look awfully similar to the 89-win team from 2016, with the exception of the loss of C Matt Wieters, who signed with the Nationals; C Welington Castillo, who played for the Diamondbacks last season, is expected to replace him as the starter. The Orioles’ biggest addition this offseason was trading for OF Seth Smith from the Mariners; he is expected to patrol right field for the O’s, joining Hyun Soo Kim and Adam Jones in the outfield. It took a while but the team eventually re-signed free-agent DH Mark Trumbo.
The Orioles’ .256 average was middle of the pack in MLB last season, but they led the majors with 253 home runs, led by Trumbo and 1B Chris Davis, who hit 47 and 38, respectively. To go along with his career-high and MLB-best home run total, Trumbo hit .256 with a .850 OPS. Davis hit just .221 last season, which represents a 41-point drop from 2015; he also had the most strikeouts in the majors with 219. Elsewhere on the diamond, 3B Manny Machado set career highs with a .294 average, 37 home runs and a .876 OPS. His 6.7 WAR ranked seventh in the American League. Jones hit .265 and launched 29 home runs while playing the hot corner.
The team’s 4.22 ERA and 1,248 strikeouts ranked in the bottom half of the majors, but the bullpen’s 54 saves was the fourth most. Leading the way in the rotation was SP Kevin Gausman, who posted a 3.61 ERA with 174 strikeouts in 179.2 inning, but he went just 9-12 in his 30 starts. SP Chris Tillman had a 3.77 ERA and 140 strikeouts in 172 innings to go along with a 16-6 record in his 30 games. In the bullpen, RP Zach Britton pitched to an impressive 0.54 ERA with 74 strikeouts in 67 innings. His 47 saves were the most in the AL.
Going from Wieters to Castillo behind the plate should present just a minimal loss on offense — if any — and with the rest of the lineup remaining pretty much intact, the offense shouldn’t take much of a hit this season compared to last year. The problem is the team can’t always rely on the long ball to have a successful season so if the batting average doesn’t improve much, the Orioles won’t be in a much better situation than in 2016. A significant improvement in batting average isn’t likely in the cards, though, with guys like Davis and Trumbo, who can hit the ball out of the park but struggle with making contact if they’re not hitting home runs.
The biggest change in the starting rotation is the subtraction of SP Yovani Gallardo — who was sent to Seattle in the Smith trade — and young Dylan Bundy taking on a full-time role as starter after splitting his time between the rotation and bullpen last year in his first season at the major-league level. He wasn’t overly impressive last year, with a 4.02 ERA, but if he can take a step forward in his sophomore season it would be a boon to a pitching staff that could use some help to get better. At the back end of the rotation, SPs Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jimenez have a history of inconsistency. If the starters can get the lead to the bullpen, and the relievers hold the lead until Britton gets into the game, the closer should be able to finish games, although he shouldn’t be expected to finish the year with another sub-1.00 ERA. But with 37, 36 and 47 saves, respectively, in the past three seasons Britton has proven himself to be a reliable closer at the end of games.
The Orioles tied the Blue Jays for second place in the AL East last season with 89 wins, but I don’t think they’ll do that good this season. The Yankees should be better than they were last season with some of their young prospects finally making it up to the majors. I see the Orioles being more of a .500 team this year that will likely finish third or fourth in the division so I’m not expecting another playoff appearance for the Orioles.