Orioles center fielder Adam Jones made no secret of what he feels is one of the Birds’ biggest weaknesses for the upcoming 2017 season.
“I think we need to improve the outfield defense,” Jones said at FanFest Jan. 28. “Just get more speed, more athleticism out there.”
The Orioles’ outfield defense was one of the worst in baseball in 2016, ranking last in the majors in FanGraphs’ defensive runs saved (-51). The Orioles’ three regular outfielders — Jones, left fielder Hyun Soo Kim and right fielder Mark Trumbo — all rated poorly in advanced defensive statistics, as did part-time outfielder Joey Rickard.
This offseason, the O’s have added veteran outfielder Seth Smith, which will presumably push Trumbo and/or Kim to more designated hitter duty. However, Smith, known for his left-handed bat, is not considered a significant defensive upgrade.
“We don’t have the strikeout pitching staff, so our defense is used quite a bit,” Jones said. “And you see our infield defense is unbelievable. We’re still competitive in the outfield, but we just need to get more athletic, from my point of view. I’ve been out there for a while and I’ve seen the changes, so those are just a little bit of my ideas.
“Just get more athletic guys. And I’m not saying that Trumbo and Seth Smith aren’t athletic. They’re very good athletes, but they’re not top of the line defensive players first.”
The O’s could be in the market for another veteran outfielder, such as Michael Bourn, who played well defensively after the Birds acquired him last August. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette also suggested that the two outfielders the O’s selected in the Rule 5 draft Dec. 8 — Aneury Tavarez and Anthony Santander — could help improve the defense.
“I think the outfield defense is an area where the club can improve,” Duquette said. “And I think we can improve with adding additional foot speed and youth to the outfield, and that’s why we drafted Tavarez from the Red Sox — he’s got excellent speed — and also Santander from the Indians. … So we’re going to take a look at them. Beyond that, I think that there’s some things that we could do to make our outfield defense better. There’s ways that you can measure that defense more precisely now. There’s some tools out there. And I think that’s one area where the 2017 club could look to improve over 2016.”
Elsewhere, Duquette is also looking for additional starting pitching help. Although the Orioles’ five-man rotation for 2017 appears on paper to be set — consisting of Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Wade Miley, in some order — nothing is certain in baseball. Injuries happen and players underperform, so Duquette wants to be prepared for such eventualities.
“We’re just looking for some more pitching depth,” Duquette said. “When we traded [Yovani] Gallardo to Seattle and acquired Seth Smith, we sent a veteran pitcher. I always like to have veteran pitchers to start the season, and more than what you need. We have some young pitchers that could develop into good major leaguers, but ideally we’d like to have some more veteran depth for our ballclub to start the season.”
Several veteran starters remain on the free agent market, including Doug Fister and former Oriole Jason Hammel. The O’s might prefer to sign someone who will sign a minor league contract, which would prevent them from having to remove anyone from their 40-man roster.
“That’s a possibility this time of year,” Duquette said. “We’re at 40 and we took a player off the roster this week [outfielder Adam Brett Walker] and he was immediately claimed, so it’s kind of tight until you get into spring training and see how your team shapes up, and see who you’re going to add and who you can take off from your current list.”
The Birds’ search could lead to a reunion with Vance Worley, who served as a swing man last season — making four starts and 31 relief appearances — and posted a 3.53 ERA. The O’s non-tendered the arbitration-eligible Worley Dec. 2, not wanting to give him a sharp increase over his $2.6 million 2016 salary.
“I don’t know where that’s going to go, but Vance had a good year for the Orioles last year, and we’ve made an offer to him,” Duquette said.
In other news, Duquette said the O’s intend to go to hearings with their three remaining arbitration-eligible players — Kevin Gausman, Brad Brach, and Caleb Joseph — rather than settle prior to trial. During Peter Angelos’ tenure as owner, 10 of the Orioles’ 11 arbitration cases have been awarded in favor of the team over the player.
“The club took the stance that if you file, there’s a trial,” Duquette said. “It looks like we’re going to have to go to arbitration with a couple of them. But we’re prepared. We’re not afraid of the process. The Orioles have done well in arbitration. It’s not our first choice. We tried to get a deal with all our players. But we weren’t successful in this case, and to the extent that we’re at this stage of the season, I expect that we’ll go to trial.”
Arbitration trials are considered an unpleasant experience for players, who are forced to sit in front of a panel and listen to their employers essentially disparage them — or at least make an argument about why the player isn’t worth what he’s asking. Neither Gausman nor Brach, however, seemed worried about going through arbitration.
“It’s not as stressful as you think,” Brach said. “You just have to find [comparable cases], and the team finds comps. We just weren’t able to get something done by the deadline, and I didn’t want to go to a hearing, but it’s part of the process, and I’m just going to go there and see how it all plays out.”
Brach is arbitration-eligible for the second time — he settled with the Orioles for a $1.25 million deal in 2016 — while Gausman is a newcomer to the process.
“It’s part of the business,” Gausman said. “The first time you go through it, it’s definitely going to be a little weird. I didn’t really know much about the process before really this offseason. So it’s been cool to kind of learn about everything that’s going to happen, and I’m definitely looking forward to it. It’s going to be good.”