Baltimore Orioles 2018 season preview: Ranking free agents

WASHINGTON — Back in 2014, the Baltimore Orioles caused a bit of a local stir when they placed billboards just six miles from Nationals Park, near the border of Maryland and the District.

In 2015, they did it once again featuring superstars Manny Machado and Adam Jones hyping the team as the AL East Champions after the O’s came off a season where they won the division and advanced to the ALCS.

Nowadays, more of the chatter seems to be about whether this is the last shot the Orioles have to make a serious run before both of those faces potentially leave the mid-Atlantic region entirely.

The billboard’s long gone, and the Orioles have not won the division since hyping that success for all D.C. commuters to see. Last year, the O’s finished in last place in the AL East, their starting rotation posting an MLB-worst 5.70 ERA.

Machado, Jones, Zach Britton, Brad Brach, Chris Tillman — as well as manager Buck Showalter and current General Manager Dan Duquette — are all free agents after this season.

Rumors have swirled for years that Machado will end up in pinstripes and Jones has said he wants to play for a World Series contender next season.

Brach could be a trade piece if the Orioles fall out of contention and Britton is still recovering from an Achilles injury.

Chris Tillman’s in a bit of a “prove you can still pitch” situation, signed to a one-year deal worth $3 million after a 2017 season where his ERA was a porous 7.84 in 93 IP.

Buck and Dan are probably in wait-and-see scenarios — but if the team finishes in last place again, it’s hard to see a scenario where both are back after this year.

The Orioles do have two 26-year-old hitters with pop-in outfielder Trey Mancini (24 HR, 78 RBI in 543 AB) and All-Star Jonathan Schoop (32 HR, 105 RBI in 622 AB). Veteran first baseman Chris Davis isn’t young and hit for a paltry .215 average last year, but did lead the team in walks last year and clubbed 47 home runs as recently as 2015.

Tim Beckham Jr. is a former first overall pick who will be the team’s everyday third baseman, with Machado moving to short. Beckham showed signs of a career revival when traded to the team July 31, racking up 50 hits in the month of August, second-most in a single month in team history behind only Cal Ripken Jr.’s 53 in September of 1983.

The rotation has nowhere to go but up, and O’s fans should be at least satisfied that Duquette went out and addressed the team’s biggest weakness through free agency. The signing of Andrew Cashner should be welcomed, as he’s a career 49 percent ground ball pitcher, which should play favorably at hitter-friendly Camden Yards.

Also new to the pitching staff is Alex Cobb, an intra-division acquisition from the Tampa Bay Rays where he sported a solid 3.50 ERA in six big league seasons. Their top two younger pitchers, Dylan Bundy (25-years-old) and Kevin Gausman, 27. have had rocky moments throughout their upbringing, especially Gausman last year.

Taking a closer look, the gallery below is a ranking of the importance of each of the team’s pending free agents, who need to be great for the Orioles to stay in contention with the loaded New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.

This is a 2008 file photo of Chris Tillman of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team. This image reflects the Orioles active roster as of Monday, Feb. 25, 2008 when this photo was taken. (AP Photo/Rob Carr)
5. Chris Tillman Remember that robbery the O’s pulled off when they shipped Erik Bedard to Seattle? Most people remember that as the Adam Jones trade, but Tillman was also a part of that deal. The soon-to-be-30-year-old was in a contract year last season, and missed out on a hefty payday as lingering shoulder problems led to a horrifying 7.84 ERA and 1-7 record in 24 appearances (19 starts). Tillman was one of Baltimore’s most consistent pitchers for years prior, though, making at least 30 starts and winning 11 or more games each of the four previous seasons. Tillman’s final Spring Training appearance was rough, but neither he nor manager Buck Showalter seemed to be all that concerned. If the Orioles could get 170 innings with an ERA around 4.00 out of him in 2018, they’ll certainly take it. This is a 2008 file photo of Chris Tillman of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team. This image reflects the Orioles active roster as of Monday, Feb. 25, 2008 when this photo was taken. (AP Photo/Rob Carr) (AP/Rob Carr)
FILE - This 2013 file photo shows Brad Brach of the San Diego Padres baseball team. The Baltimore Orioles have acquired right-handed reliever Brad Bach from the Padres for a minor league pitcher, Monday, Nov. 25, 2013.  (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
4. Brad Brach Despite converting 18 saves last season, Brach will open the 2018 season as part of a closer committee — with Darren O’Day and Mychal Givens — until Britton returns. The 31-year-old right-handed pitcher introduced long distance running into his offseason workouts in an effort to be consistent all year after stumbling post All-Star break in each of the last two seasons. FILE – This 2013 file photo shows Brad Brach of the San Diego Padres baseball team. The Baltimore Orioles have acquired right-handed reliever Brad Bach from the Padres for a minor league pitcher, Monday, Nov. 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
Baltimore Orioles pitcher Zach Britton throws in the second inning during a spring training baseball game against the New York Yankees in Sarasota, Fla., Monday, March 7, 2011.  (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
3. Zach Britton After battling some forearm tightness in the middle of the season last year, Britton ruptured his Achilles during offseason workout sprints back in December, and will start the season on the 60-day DL. Britton could return in late May, and the Orioles will need arguably the most legendary closer in team history to help secure leads, especially since the starting rotation is still a question mark. Baltimore Orioles pitcher Zach Britton throws in the second inning during a spring training baseball game against the New York Yankees in Sarasota, Fla., Monday, March 7, 2011. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
This is a 2008 file photo of Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team. This image reflects the Orioles active roster as of Monday, Feb. 25, 2008 when this photo was taken. (AP Photo/Rob Carr)
2. Adam Jones One of the most consistent power hitters in Major League Baseball, Jones has clubbed 25 or more homers each year since 2011 (the only MLB player who can claim this) and hasn’t batted worse than .265 since becoming a regular player in the majors in 2008. Jones has been the face of the franchise for years, and was instrumental in leading this team from a laughingstock bottom-feeder in the early 2000s to a legit contender and division champion. If the team does indeed let Machado walk after the year, the front office could turn their attention to the less costly proposition of making sure Jones finishes his career in Baltimore, as he’ll be 33 in August. This is a 2008 file photo of Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team. This image reflects the Orioles active roster as of Monday, Feb. 25, 2008 when this photo was taken. (AP Photo/Rob Carr)
This is a 2012 photo of Manny Machado of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team. This image reflects the Orioles active roster as of Thursday, Mar. 1, 2012 when this image was taken. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
1. Manny Machado Machado has made the switch to shortstop this season, which should further increase his value on the market as he has already shown he’s a capable defensive third baseman, winning Gold Gloves in 2013 and 2015. He’s also hit for 33+ home runs each of the last three seasons and will be just 26-years-old in July. Machado could be looking at a contract worth $300 million, but it could hurt his potential payday and the Orioles chances at the playoffs if he hits .216 into July again like he did last year. This is a 2012 photo of Manny Machado of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team. This image reflects the Orioles active roster as of Thursday, Mar. 1, 2012 when this image was taken. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
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This is a 2008 file photo of Chris Tillman of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team. This image reflects the Orioles active roster as of Monday, Feb. 25, 2008 when this photo was taken. (AP Photo/Rob Carr)
FILE - This 2013 file photo shows Brad Brach of the San Diego Padres baseball team. The Baltimore Orioles have acquired right-handed reliever Brad Bach from the Padres for a minor league pitcher, Monday, Nov. 25, 2013.  (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
Baltimore Orioles pitcher Zach Britton throws in the second inning during a spring training baseball game against the New York Yankees in Sarasota, Fla., Monday, March 7, 2011.  (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
This is a 2008 file photo of Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team. This image reflects the Orioles active roster as of Monday, Feb. 25, 2008 when this photo was taken. (AP Photo/Rob Carr)
This is a 2012 photo of Manny Machado of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team. This image reflects the Orioles active roster as of Thursday, Mar. 1, 2012 when this image was taken. (AP Photo/David Goldman)


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