We’re moving on to the AL East in our previews of all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2016 season. We begin the division’s previews with the Baltimore Orioles, who finished in third place in the division last season.
Coming off of a division title in 2014, had a disappointing third-place finish last year, with a .500 record. The Orioles didn’t have a great offseason. After going after free-agent OF Dexter Fowler — with media reports even indicating the sides had reached an agreement on a contract — he ended up forgoing the reported three-year deal Baltimore offered to go back to the Cubs on a one-year contract. Missing out on Fowler means the Orioles will be relying on 27-year-old rookie OF Dariel Alvarez as a starter in right field. They did sign veteran Mark Trumbo to take over their DH position. They also landed a pitcher they were after, but even that didn’t go as expected for the team. They signed SP Yovani Gallardo, but after initial reports indicated it was a three-year, $35 million contract, the deal was restructured and finalized a few days later as a two-year deal, with a club option for 2018.
The offense was led by 1B Chris Davis, who hit 47 home runs in a bounceback season that also saw him drive in 117 RBI while hitting at a .262 clip. 3B Manny Machado had a breakout year, hitting .286 to go along with 35 home runs and 86 RBI. Second-year 2B Jonathan Schoop took a step forward offensively in 2015 despite missing nearly half the season with injury, hitting .279 with 15 home runs in just 86 games. Overall, the team finished the season tied for the fourth-worst batting average (.250 ) in the American League but finished in the top half of the league in both home runs (217) and RBI (686). The team’s 4.05 ERA was slightly below league average. SP Wei-Yin Chen led the pitching staff, going 11-8 with a 3.34 ERA. No other starter on the team had an ERA below 4.00, with SPs Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez both having ERAs above 4.90. Gallardo, meanwhile, had one of the better seasons of his career with the Rangers, going 13-11 and a 3.42 ERA. In the bullpen, closer Zach Britton had a good season, with a 1.92 ERA, 36 saves and 79 strikeouts in 65.2 innings.
With a couple young players on the team, Davis and Machado will need to repeat their seasons from last year to keep the offense going. Gallardo’s addition to the rotation replaces Chen, who signed with Marlins in the offseason. Other than Gallardo, the rotation remains the same, so Tillman, Gonzalez and Ubaldo Jimenez will have to step up their game to improve the team’s overall starting pitching. SP Kevin Gausman, who has shown some promise despite not starting more than 20 games in any season of his major league career, could be a key to improving the rotation if he can take stay in the majors for the whole season and improve upon his 4.21 career ERA.
After a third-place finish last season, the AL East doesn’t look to get easier for the Orioles to overcome and third place is probably the best they can hope for this year. The Blue Jays are still the best team in the division and the Red Sox made moves to improve their team in the offseason, while the Yankees finished in second last year, but didn’t make many big moves this winter, and will still be competitive in the division.