It seems as though the Orioles are on the verge of signing Pedro Alvarez, who was non-tendered in December, to a one year deal worth about $5.75 million. Though their medical staff may seek to veto yet another acquisition for Baltimore, Alvarez will likely pass his physical and fit in as a platoon DH against right-handed pitchers in a park that suits his power perfectly.
The Orioles have now assembled an impressive collection of raw power between returners Chris Davis, Manny Machado, Adam Jones, and recently acquired Mark Trumbo, but their overall team balance has not improved this offseason despite their $300 million spending spree. The Yankees, on the other hand, have not spent a dollar in free agency but have addressed several needs to tread water or improve.
The Orioles boast the best infield defense in baseball led by third base savant Manny Machado. Chris Davis plays a solid first while JJ Hardy and Jonathan Schoop make up one of the best double play duos in baseball, and Matt Wieters provides a sturdy presence behind the plate. Early in the offseason Wieters accepted Baltimore's $15.8 million qualifying offer and Davis penned a deal that pays $17 million in 2016 to maintain the status quo. Their greatest strength remains intact.
However, their greatest weakness, outfield defense, has been exasperated at the expense of power. The Orioles signed Korean outfielder Hyun-Soo Kim to a modest two-year, $7 million pact to provide a steady bat in left field, but Kim is hitless in 18 at-bats this spring at the time of this writing. Worst still is what the Pedro Alvarez acquisition means for their right field situation.
Baltimore could have used an additional fielder to provide league average offense and defense, such as Dexter Fowler or Austin Jackson, but instead signed Alvarez which forces Mark Trumbo to play innings in right field. Trumbo has been awful in right field throughout his career and other options include Dariel Alvarez, who is 27 years old and has played a total of 12 major league baseball games. That leaves Adam Jones as the only decent defender in Baltimore's outfield and he isn't great. Trumbo also worsens the Orioles strikeout problem, which will be something to monitor throughout the season.
Orioles starting pitchers hurled quality starts in only 44% of their games in 2015, which was the same rate as the Yankees and 6% below league average, and they recently lost to free agency their steadiest starting pitcher, Wei-Yin Chen. Chen had quality starts in 20 of his 31 performances in 2015 and maintains a career 56% mark. To replace Chen the Orioles signed Yovani Gallardo to a two-year deal that will pay him nine million in 2016.
Gallardo had a decent year with Texas last season, posting a 124 ERA+, but his 12 quality starts in 33 were a career low. He compliments a rotation consisting of Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Kevin Gausman. The talent is there, especially in the case of Gausman, but the loss of Chen will put additional strain on their strong bullpen led by Darren O'Day, who received a four-year contract this offseason that will pay $6 million in 2016.
2015 payroll: $121.0 million
2016 payroll: $141.2 million
New York's offseason
The Yankees spent their offseason in a different way than the Orioles but they may have addressed their greatest needs more effectively. Like Baltimore, New York finished with middling starting pitching statistics in 2015 and will similarly rely on the improvement of talented young pitchers to improve the overall unit. Kevin Gausman is to Baltimore as Luis Severino is to New York, while the Yankees hope for Tanaka and Pineda to stay healthy and for Nathan Eovaldi to be more consistent. Where Baltimore slips with the change from Chen to Gallardo, New York slips with the loss of Adam Warren.
The Yankees were able to add most of a season of Aroldis Chapman for relatively lowly regarded prospects while the Orioles were forced to spend money to maintain their potent bullpen led by O'Day and Zach Britton.
Brian Cashman and the Yankees organization also wanted to get younger this offseason, which they accomplished in two ways. First, they prioritized holding onto their high-ceiling prospects, such Aaron Judge, Jorge Mateo and Gary Sanchez, refusing to include any of them in trades. Second, they took positions of depth (backup catcher, bullpen talent) and converted them into multi-positional young starters in Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks. Hicks replaces Chris Young, who went off to hit moonshots over the green monster, while Castro represents the best second base option the Yankees have had since Robinson Cano left for Seattle. New York worked hard to develop a contingency plan for all scenarios with a relatively injury-prone roster, and those improvements have cost them almost nothing financially and expectedly little by way of future prospects.
2015 payroll: $217.8 million
2016 payroll: $221.6 million
No "right" answer
Just because the Yankees spent less money does not necessarily mean they had a better offseason than Baltimore. Neither free agent spending nor financial conservatism translates consistently into wins because other players, prospects and coaching have a say in team success as well. Furthermore, Baltimore was in a position to greatly diminish their chances to compete in 2016 if they decided not to spend on their own free agents this offseason while the Yankees had a particularly fortunate year in terms of important expiring contracts. However, contrasting the approaches of two teams in the American League East shows it is possible for a team to commit $300 million in future money just to maintain a mediocre status quo while another can opt out of free agency overall while maintaining aspirations to improve on the field.