Peter Schmuck

Schmuck: The O's are keeping a power-packed lineup, but it might not be enough

Clearly, Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette knows how to play the market when it comes to free-agent power hitters.

He just re-signed 2016 major league home run champion Mark Trumbo to a very agreeable three-year deal and has largely reconstituted last year's power-laden lineup, but that is far from a guarantee that the O's will be good enough to return to the playoffs this season.


Duquette has essentially maintained the status quo after last year's wild-card run, but a pretty strong case can be made that the Orioles were very fortunate to deliver the goods with a starting rotation that ranked 24th in the majors in ERA and led the American League in walks (3.41) per nine innings.

That rotation has undergone just one change this winter — the departure of veteran right-hander Yovani Gallardo, who was traded to the Seattle Mariners for 34-year-old platoon right fielder Seth Smith. Though a case can be made that dealing Gallardo after an injury-shortened season and a career-high (by far) 5.42 ERA might be addition by subtraction, the Orioles will need to end up on the right side of a lot of variables to match their 2016 win total.


The club obviously is banking heavily on a great walk year from Chris Tillman, who will be in line for a very nice free-agent contract if he can replicate last year's 16-6 performance, and significant progress from young starters Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy. What they get from high-ERA veterans Ubaldo Jimenez and Wade Miley is anybody's guess.

No doubt, manager Buck Showalter will be auditioning a lot of potential long relievers and spot starters over the seven weeks of spring training, but Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson again appear to be the club's fallback position until someone else steps up to prove otherwise.

In other words, this team is pretty much last year's model. The Orioles have replaced Matt Wieters with a cheaper power-hitting catcher and altered the right-field/designated hitter chemistry by adding Smith instead of bringing back Pedro Alvarez, which leaves them with an offensive attack that appears to be statistically similar to the one that was shut out for the final seven innings of last October's playoff loss in Toronto.

The power is a given, so if there is significant overall improvement to be had at the plate, it will come from the on-base potential of Smith, Hyun Soo Kim and a healthy Joey Rickard.

The bigger question might be how the not-very-new-and-improved Orioles stack up against the rest of the division at this point in the offseason.

They certainly don't compare favorably to the defending champion Red Sox, whose combination of great young position talent and elite starting pitching has created the possibility — and maybe even the likelihood — that they will be the preseason favorite in the AL East for the next half-decade.

We're talking on paper here, of course, and the Red Sox have fizzled before, but they clearly have the rest of the division out-gunned even with David Ortiz retired and now giving tennis lessons on a funny Turbo Tax commercial.

The Blue Jays will have to replace the 66 homers and 184 RBI that headed out of town with Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Saunders, but they might be able to compensate with their deep starting rotation. The Yankees could land just about anywhere and the Rays almost certainly will be picked to finish at the bottom of the standings again after dealing away veteran starting pitchers Matt Moore and Drew Smyly.


All things considered, the Orioles face a competitive landscape in the AL East that also remains similar to what they contended with in 2016. If history is any guide, they'll be underestimated by the experts on Opening Day and still be in the hunt in late September.

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at