Oops: About those Orioles ...

From Mitch Edelman via Facebook, regarding the post on the least-improved teams:

It's difficult to see how the Orioles missed the list of leasts, after a lost offseason. They lost power -- a power bat, who Cruz'ed away, power arm, Miller, who got Yanked out of the bullpen. They lost their steady RF'er, Markakis. So they basically lost some crackerjack players and have the empty box. And an empty lineup. Sigh ...

OK, Mitch certainly has a point. Of course, he didn't understand that I wasn't factoring in the Orioles because general manager Dan Duquette died last October and owner Peter Angelos hasn't realized it yet, so the team has been operating without a front office.

I kid! Duquette is still alive, although he's been maneuvering to get a new job with the Blue Jays as their president and CEO, a move that may finally happen soon.

The lack of activity on the part of the Orioles, combined with Duquette's impending job change to a division rival, certainly creates the look of impropriety on Duquette's part, which is why this should have been finalized weeks or months ago. Shame on Bud Selig and incoming commissioner Rob Manfred for letting this linger so long.

Anyway, to Mitch's argument. Yes, the Orioles have lost Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis and Andrew Miller and made no significant transactions other than re-signing platoon DH Delmon Young.

But remember: Inactivity isn't always a bad thing just as activity doesn't ensure improvement. What have the Orioles lost? They've lost some 2014 value: Cruz was worth 4.6 WAR, Markakis 2.7 WAR and Miller 1.0 WAR (with the Orioles). The general consensus, however, is that the Mariners overpaid for Cruz (four years, $57 million) and the Braves overpaid for Markakis (four years, $44 million). Miller was just a rental and was going to leave anyway. Cruz turns 35 on July 1 and Markakis is entering his age-31 season, had offseason surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck and has a .371 slugging percentage over the past two seasons. It's understandable that the Orioles didn't want to commit nearly $100 million to those two guys.

The question is how much 2015 value did the Orioles lose? Cruz wasn't a good bet to hit 40 home runs again and Markakis is OK -- if he's healthy -- but replaceable. The most difficult aspect of replacing those two is that Cruz played 159 games and Markasis 155, giving Showalter stability that he won't have in 2015.

Plus, the Orioles can hope for internal improvement on offense from Chris Davis, a better season from sophomore second baseman Jonathan Schoop and injury-free seasons from Manny Machado and Matt Wieters. On the pitching side, Kevin Gausman should spend the entire year in the rotation and Dylan Bundy is waiting in the wings as a potential impact starter.

Does all that mean I don't think the Orioles aren't going to decline? No. They won 96 games in 2014 and teams that win 96 games usually decline the following season. Here are the last 10 teams to win 95 or more:

2013 Red Sox: 97 to 71

2013 Cardinals: 97 to 70

2013 Athletics: 96 to 88

2012 Nationals: 98 to 86

2012 Reds: 97 to 90

2011 Phillies: 102 to 81

2011 Yankees: 97 to 95

2011 Rangers: 96 to 93

2011 Brewers: 96 to 83

2011 Tigers: 95 to 88

They all declined. The last team to win 95-plus games and improve the next season was the 2010 Phillies, who jumped from 97 wins to 102 after signing Cliff Lee.

The point: The Orioles were good bets to decline no matter what they did this offseason. If they'd brought back Cruz and Markakis they'd be good bets to win fewer games and they'd have two risky contracts on their books. Maybe Duquette should have been creative and made a trade or two -- Justin Upton would look good in right field, for example, but would you give up Bundy for one season of Upton? That's probably what it would have cost the O's considering the Padres gave up a potential No. 1 starter in Max Fried.

The FanGraphs projection doesn't like the Orioles at all -- 79 wins, worst in the AL East. That's in large part because it doesn't like the Orioles' starting rotation because it's a low-strikeout group; because of the lack of K's it views the Baltimore rotation as having overachieved in 2014 and due to regress. That may be the case, but the O's do have depth in numbers and if Gausman is a legit No. 2-caliber starter as many believe, the rotation may be a lot better than the projection systems indicate. And the defense should be strong to help compensate for the lack of whiffs.

I doubt the Orioles win 96 again but I do think they'll win more than 79. If Davis bounces back to some degree (a good bet), Machado stays on the field and the rotation is respectable, the O's will be right in the thick of the AL playoff race.