In an off season where we’ve seen the departure of long time second baseman Brian Roberts and back to back 50 saves closer Jim Johnson, cult hero comeback LF’er Nate McLouth, and Starting Pitcher Scott Feldman, the Orioles have done what they usually have in the past. They sit back and wait for the market to come to them. Is that necessarily a bad thing? Most people would say yes and I might be in that camp, but let me first point out a few things.
First of all the O’s have shown the willingness to sign their own stars to long term contracts, such as the case for Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Brian Roberts. This year they face the prospects of locking down C Matt Wieters and 1B Chris Davis. These players will not come inexpensively and made the need to move Jim Johnson rather clear. Jim Johnson was reportedly seeking a 4 year deal worth around $45 million.Do you want to spend $10 million a year on a closer who impacts 50 games a season, or put that money into one of the best catchers in the game and/or 1B who impact nearly every game you play? Closers also come rather cheaply and the Orioles have bombed with signing big money closers in the recent past. There are some in house arms that might be capable. I see former starter Bud Norris being mentioned, former starter turned reliever Tommy Hunter, and recently acquired reliever Ryan Webb. Both Hunter and Norris see a spike in velocity when they have been in the ‘pen. Webb features a heavy sinker like Johnson’s and was second (just barely) to Jim Johnson’s ground ball rate.
So what have the Orioles done so far?
They have re-signed oft-injured OF Nolan Reimold who has shown remarkable hitting prowess when he’s been healthy. If he can come back and stay on the field and is anything like he once was, he could be a very nice sleeper for the LF/DH slot. I am not holding my breath on him staying healthy.
When the Orioles traded Jim Johnson, they received Jemile Weeks, a possible second baseman option. While promising in the minors and in his first year in the majors, Weeks struggled to find that stroke again. A typical Dan Duquette move.
They have signed RP Ryan Webb who at the very least will be a very useful back end of the bullpen arm and as I said earlier, might be the favored in house closer option.
They have signed OF Francisco Peguero. Disappointing so far in the majors but also hampered by an injury, he has a solid minor league hitting profile who hits for average and a doubles hitter with some speed. Not a lot of power and also a rather undisciplined swinger. This could be Felix Pie ver.2.0. But even so, could be good depth option if he doesn’t pan out in a starting role.
They have signed minor league RP Kelvin De La Cruz
They have signed RP Edgmer Escalona.
They have signed 2B Cord Phelps.
What are they planning? Who knows, but the Orioles have been linked to several names on the free agent market and also via trades:
What do I think they will do? They are going to go with as many in house options as possible. The starting rotation could be helped by a resurgence of Brian Matusz, a healthy Dylan Bundy, or a more polished Kevin Gausman. Bud Norris is also still in house along with Wei Yin Chen, Chris Tillman, and Miguel Gonzalez. I don’t see them breaking the bank on the FA market for a front line starter. They will do they typical thing and either sign a guy that has upside or is looking to bounce back from injury, or they may try to make a prudent trade for a “steady” guy like they did getting Hammel, Feldman, and Norris.
For closer I see them going in house. They might sign either Axford or Balfour, but I seriously think Webb might be the guy.
For LF, I see them having open competition with Urrutia, a healthy Reimold, and Peguero. Nelson Cruz if they get him is primarily a DH now.
For 2B they have Jemile Weeks, Cord Phelps, Jonathan Schoop, and Ryan Flaherty in house and they will let them all battle.
I don’t see the Orioles really spending big money, but seeing them linked to potential names like Kemp and Ethier means they might be willing to take on some salary for the right guy. The sticking points in the deals for Kemp and Ethier though was how much of their contracts the Dodgers would absorb in a trade. There are some cheaper alternatives still on the FA market such as Raul Ibanez who can still play LF somewhat, though not very well, and former O’s 3b/1b Mark Reynolds.