For the first time in several years, the Orioles entered the offseason with excess starting pitching -- six established arms for five rotation spots -- and executive vice president Dan Duquette said he relished the starting depth the club potentially possessed entering spring training.
But in the middle of another slow-developing Orioles offseason – and an even more methodical free-agent market -- the club came to the realization that shopping one of its starting pitchers could be one of the best ways to improve in other areas.
With the Orioles focused on upgrading their corner outfield spots, preferably with a left-handed bat, the opportunity to acquire veteran Seth Smith was a move the Orioles were willing to make. The Orioles acquired the 34-year-old outfielder from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for right-hander Yovani Gallardo and cash considerations, the team announced Friday.
“We dealt from an area of surplus,” Duquette said on a conference call Friday. “We had six starters and to fill an area of need, and that was left-handed hitting and on-base capability and an outfielder. So we liked the trade from that perspective. We re-allocated some of our resources from that perspective and I think in the process we strengthened our team.”
In acquiring Smith, the Orioles get a career .261/.344/.447 hitter who hits right-handed pitching exceptionally well. He owns a .272/.355/.472 career hitting line against right-handers, and gives the club a component it lacked in terms of drawing walks and working at-bats.
“I think the important thing that I want to emphasize today is that we added a good veteran hitter to help us in a couple areas,” Duquette said, “to help us in the field and help us with getting on base and setting up the rest of the order, working the pitchers and also driving in runs. I think that’s what Seth can do for us and we’re looking forward to having him on the team.”
Smith, 34, is a 10-year veteran who played five seasons with the Colorado Rockies, two with the Oakland Athletics, one with the San Diego Padres and the past two with the Mariners. He fits the Orioles’ power profile – he hit 16 homers last year while driving in a career-high 63 runs for the Mariners -- and he struck out 89 times in 378 at-bats. But he also drew 48 walks and his .342 on-base percentage in 2016 would have ranked third among Orioles starters behind Hyun Soo Kim and Manny Machado.
Smith will likely remain a platoon piece after getting most of his career playing time against right-handed pitching (85 percent of his 3,711 plate appearances). He will likely see most of his playing time in right field, but can also fill the designated hitter spot and play left field and first base, so he adds significant defensive flexibility.
“I work hard to hit right-handers and I work hard to hit left-handers the best I can,” Smith said Friday. “As for me as a player, that’s kind of what it is. I try to have good at-bats. I try to be the best player I can be in whatever role I am asked to produce in, whether its playing in the outfield, DHing, hitting against right-handers or left-handers.”
Smith said Friday that he received several text messages from former and current Orioles players telling him he will enjoy his new home.
“You hear through the grapevine of playing and being around a while about organizations and Baltimore is one I’ve never heard a bad thing about,” Smith said. “So people speak positively about it. I’m excited to be a part of it.”
As important as the addition of Smith is, the trade also could foreshadow further movement by the Orioles this offseason.
The move provides the Orioles with added payroll flexibility. Even though the Orioles included money in the deal, it will save the club $4 million in payroll, according to an industry source, which could potentially allow the team to make another acquisition this offseason. The Orioles have been focused on retaining slugger Mark Trumbo, but the reigning major league home run leader remains a free agent.
“We’re going to continue to build the club,” Duquette said. “We’re looking to add depth. We may sign another outfielder and we may also look to add some pitching depth.”
The Orioles signed Gallardo to a restructured two-year deal guaranteeing him $22 million last spring training after an initial agreement was squashed because of concerns about the pitcher's shoulder that emerged in the club's physical exam.
The Orioles still owed Gallardo $13 million – an $11 million base salary for 2017 and a $2 million buyout for a $13 million club option for 2018. Smith, who is in the final year of a three-year, $19.75 million deal, will make $7 million this upcoming season before becoming a free agent.
Gallardo came to the Orioles with a resume of durability. He averaged 32 starts and 191 innings over the seven seasons before signing, but his one year in Baltimore was a disappointment. His diminished velocity was a storyline during spring training and he landed on the disabled list with a shoulder injury just four starts into the regular season. He remained on the DL for nearly two months, and posted a 5.13 ERA in 19 starts after his return.
Gallardo told The News-Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.) that he felt 2016 was a lost year for him, saying that signing one week after pitchers and catchers reported set the stage for his down season.
“Last year wasn’t fun for me,” Gallardo said. “… It didn’t start off the right way, showing up for spring training late after signing late, getting started a little bit later than normal, then having that injury. It was very frustrating. I think this year, this offseason, I’m doing everything I can to prepare myself to avoid [repeating] that for the rest of my career. I’m looking forward to a bounce-back year. That was the first time I’ve been in the DL with a shoulder issue. It was frustrating, but it’s just a matter of having to change certain things, your workout program to maintain that strength.”
This offseason, the Orioles seemed primed to unload one of their veteran starters. Besides Gallardo, the Orioles owe right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez $13.5 million this upcoming season and are set to pay left-hander Wade Miley $8.92 million for 2017. So unloading one of the three would have freed up valuable payroll money.
Gallardo seemed to be the most difficult of the three to move, but the Orioles found a familiar trade partner in the Mariners.
“Gallardo gives us the veteran presence that we have been searching for,” Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “He has a track record of durability and success as a starting pitcher. After examining the free-agent and trade market, Yovani is the best fit for our club as we move forward this offseason.”
Last offseason, the Orioles acquired Trumbo in a trade with the Mariners in exchange for backup catcher Steve Clevenger, a move that ended up a lopsided trade when Trumbo led the majors with 47 homers. One of the club’s best trades in franchise history also came at the expense of the Mariners, when the Orioles acquired cornerstones Adam Jones and Chris Tillman in a deal for left-hander Erik Bedard before the 2008 season.
The downside of losing Gallardo is that barring an acquisition, the Orioles’ starting pitching depth is thinner, with the continued development of young arms like Tyler Wilson, Mike Wright and Logan Verrett becoming more important. Both Wilson and Wright made the Orioles’ Opening Day roster and showed flashes of being capable starters, but also struggled in 2016 and found themselves on the shuttle between the majors and Triple-A Norfolk. The Orioles re-acquired Verrett, one of their former Rule 5 picks, from the New York Mets in November after he appeared in 53 games (16 starts) over the past two seasons.