So far the big free agent signing this off season for the Orioles has been relief pitcher Ryan Webb. You’ll be forgiven if the question of, “Who,” pops into your mind. This is also the reason that many fans are rather upset with the Orioles apparent lack of movement on the free agent market to help improve this team. The team has been closer than it has been in a long time to competing for a championship, yet it seems reluctant to take that next step necessary to put them over the top. In an off season that has seen closer Jim Johnson traded away for two cast offs (Jemile Weeks and David Freitas), Brian Roberts sign with the Yankees, Nate McLouth sign with the Nationals, and starting pitcher Scott Feldman sign with the Astros, many fans are wondering what the front office is thinking due to their lack of replacements.
Devil’s Advocate here, the Orioles have some options and have gone this route so far. They tried to bring in closer Grant Balfour on a two year deal worth $15 million. Had that deal gone through I think most fans would have been a bit more relaxed. But a last minute failure of a physical which was hotly debated by Balfour and two doctors (his former team physician, and the physician who repaired his shoulder) saw the offer rescinded. The Orioles got beaten up by the fans and some in the media, but Balfour still sits out in free agent limbo, so perhaps there is something to his injury after all? This is nothing new to the Orioles who have nixed deals on players with spotty health records (Aaron Sele, Xavier Hernandez, and Jeromy Burnitz) and have been vindicated by their fast break downs. Their back up plans seem to revolve around in house candidate Tommy Hunter, free agent closer Fernando Rodney, and free agent closer/reliever Francisco Rodriguez. I would say right now the Orioles are looking at Hunter. Some murmurs have been floating about possibly Bud Norris having a crack at the job, and also Darren O’Day, but I also think people shouldn’t sleep on Ryan Webb for a dark horse candidate.
That is only one hole. Another hole is the void left by Brian Roberts. Anybody expecting the Orioles to go out and sign Robinson Cano were being rather unrealistic. There were some other options out there, but the Orioles seem to feel that their collection of in house candidates are up to snuff. That list consists of Ryan Flaherty, Jemile Weeks, and possibly Ivan De Jesus Jr., or Cord Phelps. I am sure the Orioles will let them all battle it out in spring training but I would have to think they’d love for Jemile Weeks to by far an away win the contest. The Orioles are very fond of Flaherty and his power potential so if he doesn’t win the 2B job I can see him staying on as a potential 3B or even an OF candidate and make the roster as a back up middle infielder since he was a SS at one time and has played there a few times in his Orioles career. Quite frankly I am okay with this approach because what was the second tier after Cano wasn’t exactly a strong class.
Next, we have the vacancy left by Nate McLouth going to the Nationals. McLouth turned one hot half season into a two year deal worth $10 million and at least another $750,000 buy out on a third year option for $6.5 million. Good for him. While I enjoyed McLouth’s defense, his speed was something sorely missing on a club without Roberts, and he provided a spark for that first half of the season, he had his flaws. He struggled mightily against left handed pitching and he got cold in the second half. So far the Orioles have in house option Henry Urrutia, they traded for David Lough, and also picked up minor league free agent Francisco Peguero. There have been rumors about Nelson Cruz but at his current asking price, that move isn’t going to happen. His defensive liabilities have to be a concern and this positive PED result and suspension also have to be a bit of a red flag. Nolan Reimold could be factored in if he can ever remain healthy. Lough seems to have the inside track due to his slick fielding and strong arm and the Orioles believe in his bat.
The Orioles are also apparently looking for a designated hitter. They would like to add one more power bat to their lineup and so would every other team in the game. Their options are rather limited though with the two leading candidates being the aforementioned Nelson Cruz, and free agent Kendrys Morales. Morales would be a DH only in this scenario since his defense is questionable after coming back from that horrible injury and they already have Chris Davis manning 1B most of the time. Each has a drawback though. For Cruz it is his price and for Morales it would be the draft pick compensation. The Orioles have the 17th pick in the first round and would have to surrender that pick if they sign Morales.
Lastly, there is the starting rotation which I think is the biggest hole of them all. It lost Scott Feldman and while he was not spectacular, he was steady. Was he worth the 3 year deal at $10million per that he received? I don’t think so, but then again I don’t set the free agent market. Chris Tillman had an amazing year, Miguel Gonzalez was once again very steady, and Wie Yin Chen broke down with an injury and showed once again to slow down in the second half of the season. Bud Norris didn’t fare too well in his short stint with the team, but he’s still with the Orioles so he will be competing for a spot, along with Kevin Gausman, Steve Johnson, and Brian Matusz. That is far too many question marks to have combined with an almost completely revamped bullpen. Right now the Orioles seem to be looking at Bronson Arroyo and A.J. Burnett. Arroyo has been a very durable pitcher making 32 starts or more and pitching 200 innings every year since 2005. But at age 37 now and also being in the NL, how would he fare in the AL East and how much is left in that arm? Burnett is mulling retirement and will also be 37. After a couple of uninspiring seasons he turned in two very good seasons with the Pirates. For a man contemplating retirement you have to wonder what his motivation is if he does sign, he’s had some arm issues in the past, and again, how much is left in his tank?
There is always the possibility of a good trade taking place at some point and the Orioles have been doing rather well for themselves in that department. I suppose the Orioles will let the market play out a bit more and see what deals come their way. As disappointing as that may seem to some fans it is the correct way to proceed at this point and juncture with what is left on the free agent market. I don’t see any team in their right mind giving Cruz his reported $16-17million asking price per year and many other teams also seem reluctant to part with their draft pick for Morales. As for the closer role I would rather them look in house rather than overspend for a closer who is not up to task. You can usually find a closer in your system and the Orioles had to have some idea of a replacement before they allowed Johnson to go. Jim Johnson himself was once a former starting pitcher prospect that didn’t pan out as a starter.