How did it come to this? A review of the missteps, mishaps and miscalculations that led to the Orioles' 2018 debacle - Page 4 of 7 -
Paul Folkemer

How did it come to this? A review of the missteps, mishaps and miscalculations that led to the Orioles’ 2018 debacle

3. They backed the wrong horses.

In recent years, the Orioles have faced a number of decisions on whether to re-sign their pending free agents. In almost every case, as it turns out, they’ve made the wrong choice.

Let’s jump back to 2014, after the Orioles completed a 96-66 season in which they sailed to the AL East pennant. Three prominent Orioles — Nick Markakis, Nelson Cruz and Andrew Miller — were eligible for free agency. Ultimately, the Orioles decided the price for each was too steep, and all three signed elsewhere.

The decisions were defensible. Each player had question marks; Cruz, his age (33) and 2013 suspension for involvement in the Biogenesis PED scandal; Miller, his hefty price tag for a relief pitcher (he signed a four-year, $36 million deal with the New York Yankees); and Markakis, his two years of declining numbers and injury concerns about his neck.

The Orioles’ decision to pass on those three, though, has come back to haunt them. Cruz continued tearing the cover off the ball for the Seattle Mariners, hitting 39 or more homers and topping a .900 OPS in each of his first three years. Miller has been brilliant for the Yankees and the Cleveland Indians, posting a 1.82 ERA and 14.4 strikeouts per nine innings. Then there’s Markakis, who was a steady performer for the Braves before busting loose with a career year in 2018, while the Orioles continually struggled to find an adequate replacement for him in right field.

Even worse, when the Orioles did opt to re-sign their own players, most of the contracts went horribly wrong. A year after losing Miller, they re-signed steady reliever Darren O’Day to a similar deal — four years, $31 million — only for him to suffer a litany of injuries since, which have landed him on the disabled list five times. They re-signed shortstop J.J. Hardy at the end of the 2014 season, but he spent the next three years battling injuries and struggling offensively.

The most colossal mistake, of course, was the Orioles’ seven-year, $161 million deal for Chris Davis, a contract that is now one of the biggest albatrosses in baseball. Davis is batting .157 with a .512 OPS, 10 homers and 30 RBIs in 80 games. The Orioles are faced with the uncomfortable question of what to do with the expensive, unproductive Davis, who’s signed through 2022.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but if the Orioles had made some different decisions about which players to hang on to — and which to let go — they’d likely be in a very different situation today.

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