This off season for the Orioles so far has been very lackluster to this point by most fans’ opinions and by most of the members of the media. The Orioles have seen the departures of long time second baseman Brian Roberts, spark plug leftfielder Nate McLouth, steady starting pitcher Scott Feldman, back to back 50+ save season closer Jim Johnson, and slugging bench player Danny Valencia. What have the fans seen in return?
The signing of a lot of minor league free agents such as Francisco Peguero, Ivan De Jesus Jr., Cord Phelps, Quintin Berry, Kelvin De La Cruz, Edgmer Escalona, Johnny Monell, Chris Marrero, Kyeong Kang, Chih-Hsing Chang, Xavier Paul, and a few others that aren’t exactly household names. They selected two players in the rule 5 draft, 1b/3b Micheal Almanzar (major league) and OF Julio Borbon (minor league). In the trade for Jim Johnson to the A’s the Orioles received 2B Jemile Weeks and catcher David Freitas. In the trade for Danny Valencia the Orioles obtained David Lough whom most think is the odds on favorite to win the starting LF job. Minor league pitcher Liam Hendriks was claimed off waivers. Hold onto your chairs for a moment. The major free agent signings by the Orioles were reliever Ryan Webb and Brad Brach.
The O’s have a lot of money coming off the books this season. Jim Johnson was looking for a $10 million pay day. Dealing him and not yet replacing him with anyone is obviously money in the bank. Brian Roberts was earning $10 million per season over the last four year deal he signed. Then there is the looming free agency of Nick Markakis coming next season ton consider. You have holes at 2B, LF, DH, the starting rotation could use another solid arm, and you have no truly defined closer. There is cash to be spent. The question is; what would you do? I will break down my opinions position by position:
C: Matt Wieters is entering large arbitration number area. Is he your long term answer? Do you try to hammer out a long term deal to lock him up as the Orioles have done with Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, and Adam Jones in the past? I say yes. While he’s not the “switch hitting Jesus,” he was deemed to be you are hard pressed to find as good of a defensive catcher as him with the power he provides as a switch hitter. He’s been very durable so far and I would like to see him get more breaks behind the plate going forward and get some more duties as a DH. Here are where some of my funds go.
1B: Chris Davis is also entering huge arbitration number territory and will qualify as a free agents soon. After his break out season do you try to get him locked down to a long term deal? He’s still young, proved to be a solid defender if not more than that, and the Orioles haven’t had a slugger like him at 1b in a long, long time. Scott Boras represents Wieters and Davis so the price tags could get hefty, but I think since there are not a lot of other options all things considered, you lock him up if you can. I don’t expect 50HR out of him every season, but I think a healthy 30-35HR is not out of the question.
2B: What a mess. The Orioles knew the return of Roberts was questionable at best and they have no backup plan. There wasn’t a lot of talent available behind Robinson Cano on the free agent market. The O’s could perhaps make a trade, but so far the options are Jemile Weeks, Ryan Flaherty, Cord Phelps, and Ivan De Jesus Jr., and perhaps a long shot of minor league prospect Jonathan Schoop. Schoop isn’t ready yet, so perhaps a patch job of Weeks and Flaherty is the way to go here.
3B: Machado’s scary knee injury is supposedly healing nicely and he should be back for the next season, but he may need some time at the beginning of the season to get back to 100%. This doesn’t concern me quite as much since they could use Ryan Flaherty or newly acquired Micheal Almanzar in the meantime.
SS: J.J. Hardy has supplied gold glove level defense and while his bat doesn’t offer a high average or on base percentage, it offers a lot of power at a premium position. He is entering the final season of a 3 year deal that was paying him around $7 million a year. Health was a major question with him and while he’s in his 30’s now, should still be in the back of your mind going forward. Since there is no back up in place yet I think a reasonable two year deal with a third year option might be the way to go and hopefully the Orioles draft a stud in the next couple seasons for this spot.
LF: A hole for a number of seasons now and it looks like it will be again. Nolan Reimold has been re-signed and if he’s healthy he might be an option. Cuban defector Henry Urrutia is also in house. Then there is newly acquired David Lough, Francisco Peguero, and Julio Borbon. Those are the options and while none are stars I think it would be wise to see who is the best of this bunch rather than spend risky money on free agent slugger Nelson Cruz and here is why. Cruz is older and doesn’t project to age well. He’s been injured. He’s a poor fielder. He was suspended for PED’s and not only does he want a huge paycheck for a number of years, but he would cost the Orioles their 17th pick in the first round if they signed him. Stay away.
CF: Adam Jones. Only question here would be really the 4th outfielder for the Orioles and it would need to be a person who can play all three outfield positions. I think that job goes to Julio Borbon.
RF: Nick Markakis. If he manages to have a break out year I consider bringing him back on a more team friendly contract, otherwise it is time to start looking for a replacement very soon and let him walk as a free agent. I personally am a fan of Markakis, but his bat just hasn’t ever produced the 20HR power you really should have in RF. The defense is spectacular, but the corner OF spots are usually offensive positions and the numbers just haven’t been there.
DH: The Orioles have plenty of players and not enough positions for them all in the field. I personally do not like clogging up a roster spot for a man that can’t play defense at any position and thus, you lose that bat in National League games and potentially the playoffs. Kendrys Morales is out there on the free agent market but he is limited defensively even if he’s healthy enough as a 1B. He is also looking for quite a bit of money and like Cruz, would cost the Orioles their 17th pick in the first round of the draft. I say you let David Lough have LF, and a healthy Nolan Reimold is your primary DH and use the spot as a way to rotate guys through days off in the field. If Urrutia proves to be hot, let him have it. If Almanzar is hot, he plays there. If Machado is healthy and Weeks wins the starting 2B job, then perhaps Flaherty is the man. There are options and I think blowing big cash on a strict DH only type player is a waste.
Starting Pitching: The best arms on the market have been scooped up so far and now you are left with the second tier arms of aging pitchers like A.J. Burnett and Bronson Arroyo. The Orioles are reportedly interested in both, but they are nothing more than short term patches like the O’s have always tried to get away with. I don’t know if you can count on another amazing season from Chris Tillman. Wei-Yin Chen has proven to gas out in the second half, and when do batters start to figure out Miguel Gonzalez? Bud Norris wasn’t spectacular. Sure, Arroyo or Burnett might be nice short term but I don’t think either one makes this rotation deep playoff caliber. Japanese phenom Masahiro Tanaka is out there, but at $20 million just to talk to him…I don’t see the Orioles going that route. Unfortunately, we’re stuck with what we’ve got barring any trades. I say you get the best pitcher on the market you can on a 1 year deal with an option. No way I am giving near 40 year old pitchers 3 year deals unless they are Greg Maddux.
Bullpen: Stick with in house options for your closer between Tommy Hunter, Ryan Webb, or Darren O’Day, or perhaps a rookie phenom comes out of nowhere. The remaining free agents either want more than what keeping Jim Johnson would have cost you, or are not really shut down closer types.