It has only been a couple short weeks since the Cubs clinched game 7 in Cleveland on the 2nd November and ended their 108-year curse. Yet the ruthlessness of Major League Baseball is evident in the fact that Theo Epstein, just named Executive of the Year in the biggest understatement of the 2016 season, is already back to work.
The Cubs, clearly the best team in baseball, are once-again looking forward to next year, so think how the other 29 GMs must be feeling. As soon as Michael Martinez grounded one to Kris Bryant at third and the ball reached the mitt of a jubilant Anthony Rizzo waiting at first, the off-season began. But to move forward you must first reflect.
That’s the purpose of this series of posts, highlighting the highs and lows, strengths and flaws of each franchise in turn during 2016. From this we can begin to evaluate what each club’s offseason might look like, which gaps will be addressed first and who might upset the apple-cart in 2017. This week we’re starting with the AL East:
2016 recap: A decision not to use star reliever Zach Britton in the AL wild-card has rightly left some Orioles fans wondering what might have been – and that’s a significant dampener on what was a successful 2016 for the Orioles. Securing third place in a super-competitive AL East and losing the lottery that is the wild-card game must not be considered a failure given the payroll situation in Baltimore, annually competing with the free-spending Red Sox and Yankees.
Offseason agenda: A good core remains in Baltimore for 2017, with Manny Machado, Chris Davis and Adam Jones on the offensive side sure to maintain Baltimore’s competitiveness in the AL East. Significant losses to free agency, however, have taken place: Matt Wieters now looks like perhaps the best option on the catching market, Mark Trumbo rejected the Orioles’ qualifying offer and deadline pick-up Steve Pearce, as well as Pedro Alvarez, also elected free agency. Gaps need to be plugged for the Orioles to maintain an impressive offensive production from 2016.
However, it was not hitting that prevented the Orioles from capturing the AL East crown, their pitching remained distinctly mediocre throughout. The starting rotation proved the difference between a team that had the offensive tools to make a run to the World Series and one that ended merely flirting with an extended run in October. In 2016 the Orioles used eight starters for any extended period, five of them had an ERA of above 5. The worst part? The majority are set to stay with the club and quality pitching options on the free agent market look scant at best. Whilst Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman represent a strong opening punch to the rotation, a back end of options including Ubaldo Jiminez, Yovani Gallardo and Wade Miley doesn’t provide a source of much encouragement for Orioles fans.
Final Word: A team that has contains Zach Britton, Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Chris Davis is never going to be completely out of the running for playoff contention in 2017, buta failure to address a fragile starting rotation and replace key offensive contributors may render 2017 a frustrating year for Orioles fans.