Close your eyes and think of the Orioles. No, this isn't some weird version of Of Mice and Men. It's baseball writing in March. Bare with me for a moment.
Close your eyes and think of the Orioles. Sure, there's Adam Jones and Manny Machado. They're two of the best players in the game. One is slick and powerful and oh so very fun to watch, and the other is Adam Jones. When you start your roster with those two guys, it's a good day at the office. Let's add Chris Davis and his Paul Bunyan power to the mix, and the hope-springing-eternal "This is the year!" potential of Matt Wieters. Consider the still largely untapped talent of Kevin Gausman and the possibility of Hyun-Soo Kim's game translating well to North America. There's something going there. There's some baseball in that mix.
Now add what may quietly be one of the best bullpens in the game. Zach Britton is a death sentence. Darren O'Day is good in the most amusing way possible, with a Jamie Moyer fastball and a wonky delivery. Mychal Givens spews liquid fire and Dylan Bundy is at long last going to be thrown at people again. Brad Brach is a fine reliever in his own right.
Now, let's take a look at the rest of the depth chart.
Ah, well, yes, the rotation is a bit of a mess. A bit more than a bit of a mess, actually. It's an Ubaldo Jimenez-shaped disaster in which Yovani Gallardo has been called upon to play the role of savior. Baltimore has also willingly traded for Mark Trumbo, and now, in an even greater act of madness, they're going to willingly play him in right field.
That's because the Orioles have signed Pedro Alvarez to a one-year, $5.75 million deal. There's a number of effects this signing will have, the most immediate of which is on the the team's defense. Alvarez will slot in at DH to balance out the Birds' righty-heavy lineup, which bumps Trumbo out to right field. Trumbo has been worth -10 DRS in right over 579.2 innings at the position, and he just turned 30, so it's not like he's about to get more spring in his step. His outfield defense is something akin to a hippopotamus trying to sprint across the Serengeti while its legs turn into cinderblocks. It's not what you want.
This is what Dan Duquette has signed up for. Alvarez is limited to the corner infield positions and honestly shouldn't ever see the dirt or anything resembling a glove, so he's the DH. Besides, Davis and Machado are currently entrenched at the corner spots, and Alvarez's work at the hot corner brings this little bit of joy to mind. So, yeah, DH.
Now close your eyes and think of Alvarez. What do you see? Strikeouts. All of the strikeouts. The same is true of Trumbo and Davis. The Orioles already had a super-strikeout slugger in Davis, and now they've added two more.
Baltimore was second in the AL in strikeout rate in 2015, just a smidgen behind the Astros. 22.2 percent of the Orioles' plate appearances resulted in a punchout. Given the amount of playing time that Alvarez and Trumbo project to get, that figure will probably go up. Alvarez managed to have a 114 wRC+ last year, and moving to the tiny confines of Camden Yards will only give him more home run potential. The same is true of Trumbo, who spent most of last year in Seattle. Baltimore is a team that lives and dies by its offense and Alvarez will help in that regard.
However, the addition of Alvarez only exacerbates an already-dire run prevention problem and adds to the heaps of strikeouts that the team's offense will accumulate. It's as if Dan Duquette looked at his roster, decided that there wasn't enough risk and volatility, and took out his checkbook. For every run gained by a ball clearing the fence, one has to wonder how many are given back by Trumbo's presence in right field.
What if Davis is hurt and Alvarez is pressed into duty in the field? What if Davis' offense tumbles back down to 2014 levels? With as many runs as this rotation projects to surrender, there's too much potential for disaster here for the Orioles to be running Trumbo out as the everyday right fielder. The Orioles were already going to be pretty bad after paying an arm and a leg to Davis, O'Day and Wieters to field the same team as last year. Then they replaced Wei-Yin Chen with Gallardo, and then they signed Alvarez.
This move, in retrospect, isn't very surprising. If there's one thing that Baltimore needed, it was yet another defensively inept high-strikeout power hitter. Totally. At least Duquette knows what he likes.