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American League East Preview: Baltimore Orioles

A look at the division rivals starts in Baltimore

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next few days, as we continue to get ready for the start of the regular season (the crowd goes wild), we are going to take a look at the rest of the American League East. We’ll look at what’s changed with each team, what’s stayed the same, and some best- and worst-case scenarios. We’ll be going in reverse order of last year’s standings, which means we’re starting with the Baltimore Orioles.

What’s Changed

The Orioles didn’t exactly have a massive offseason, but that doesn’t mean everything is as it was a year ago. Their biggest move came just a few days ago when they signed Alex Cobb to a three-year deal. Baltimore’s rotation has been an issue for what seems like forever, so it makes sense that they targeted one of the best on the market, though it’s weird that it took so long for them to make this kind of move. To be fair, they did also add Andrew Cashner, who had weirdly good results in 2017 despite truly, wildly underwhelming peripherals. That was it for rotation additions, and while they didn’t make any major moves in the bullpen they did select a couple of relievers in the Rule 5 draft in Nestor Cortes from the Yankees and Pedro Araujo from the Cubs. It’s unclear if either or both will remain with the club out of camp. On the offensive side, Baltimore mostly stood pat, making just a couple of minor moves. They added Colby Rasmus, Danny Valencia and Alex Presley on minor-league deals, and both are projected to make the Opening Day roster, per Roster Resource. They also brought back Pedro Alvarez on a minor-league deal, though he is not projected to make the roster.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

In terms of what they lost, it wasn’t a terribly tumultuous offseason for the Orioles, though there were a few notable losses. In the lineup, they lost two regulars, though only can be considered anything close to a major loss. That would be catcher Welington Castillo, who signed with the White Sox. The Orioles will look to prospect Chance Cisco to take over that job with Caleb Joseph filling in. They also declined a team option on J.J. Hardy, an easy decision to make after how well Tim Beckham performed late in 2017. On the pitching side, Baltimore said goodbye to Wade Miley in their rotation. Though they didn’t lose any relievers to a transaction, they did lose closer Zach Britton to his second major injury in as many years. The lefty is projected to miss at least a couple months this year with a ruptured ACL.

What’s Stayed the Same

While there are some new players in Baltimore and some old players on new teams, the shape of the Orioles is largely the same. For 2018, at least, they are still centered around Manny Machado. The infielder, who is expected to shift to shortstop full-time this year, was involved in plenty of trade rumors this winter but never actually was sent packing. He’ll still be surrounded by a good, if a bit inconsistent and aggressive, core of Joanthan Schoop, Adam Jones and Chris Davis. On the pitching side, the Orioles still have the same questions in their rotation, though there appears to be more potential here than there’s been in years past. Baltimore has some upside at the top in Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, both of whom are very talented though haven’t been able to consistently put it together to take the next step. Alex Cobb gives them a relatively reliable midrotation arm with some success in the division. Chris Tillman and Cashner will fill out the rotation and, well, they’re better than the alternatives. The bullpen isn’t quite as deep as it’s been in the past, but Brad Brach, Darren O’Day and Mychal Givens are all coming back as a solid trio of righties for late-game situations.

Best-Case Scenario

The lineup excels with Manny Machado playing like an MVP candidate, Jonathan Schoop maintaining his gains from last year and veterans Adam Jones, Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo partying like it’s 2012. The rotation outperforms our expectations with Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy taking steps forward towards acedom and Alex Cobb stays healthy. Zach Britton comes back before the All-Star break and pitches like the elite arm he was two years ago. All of that would put this team firmly in playoff contention.

Worst-Case Scenario

Machado is merely fine rather than outstanding at the plate, the veterans decline in their 30’s, and Schoop takes a step back after his breakout. Bundy and Gausman continue to be inconsistent and frustrating and injuries force Baltimore to dip a little too deep into their nonexistent depth. This scenario leads to a slow start and a firesale at the deadline that includes a Machado trade for far less than they could have gotten this winter.

Overall Thoughts

I think the Orioles have more potential to do damage than people are giving them credit for, and they clearly think so too. They decided against a rebuild this winter — a decision which would have been justifiable, at least — and brought the band back together. I wouldn’t be totally shocked if they hung around all year, though ultimately I have them as one of the two worst teams in the division.