The non-tendering of Mark Reynolds on Friday opened up a hole at first base for the Orioles. While there's still a chance the O's will re-sign Reynolds to a more cost-effective contract, Mark's stated desire to join a team that trains in Arizona indicates that he'll likely take his power bat and Magic Toe to another city. So, who should fill the void? Let's look at some options.
If the season started tomorrow, Davis would likely suit up as the Orioles' first baseman, just as he began the 2012 campaign. But as GM Dan Duquette alertly pointed out, the season doesn't start tomorrow. Good thing, too-- I mean, these guys haven't played baseball in months. They'd be woefully unprepared. Most of them aren't even in the right city. In any case, first base is Davis's natural position, and moving him there would give the Orioles the flexibility to pursue an outfielder or DH type to fill out their lineup.
The one hitch with this plan-- as we noticed last year-- is that Davis isn't exactly good at, um, catching baseballs that are thrown directly to him. That's...a problem for a first baseman. Defensive metrics indicate that Davis is a below-average first baseman, and his struggles with the glove early in 2012 led to his being pushed off the position by Reynolds. Giving Chris another chance at first base isn't the worst idea in the world, but let's see what other options we have.
No, this isn't happening. Betemit is a liability no matter where you place him on the field, and with his total inability to hit against left-handed pitchers, he couldn't be an everyday starter. Next!
The idea of moving Reimold to first base has been bandied about in the past, and in fact the O's tried to implement it in 2010. Reimold played 29 games at first base for AAA Norfolk but committed seven errors, and the O's must have seen something they didn't like because they quickly abandoned the experiment. At this point Nolan just needs to focus on getting healthy and getting back on the field without complicating matters by learning a new position.
FREE AGENT OPTIONS:
LaRoche is the most sought-after first baseman on the market, which speaks pretty poorly about the current crop of free agents. He's coming off one of the best years of his career for the Nationals, but he's 32 years old and has never been known as a fearsome middle-of-the-order slugger. All in all, the stage is set for a team to give him a contract more than he's worth. If he'll sign a reasonable one- or two-year deal, he could be a fit for the Orioles, but I have a feeling there will be a bidding war for LaRoche in which the Birds won't-- and shouldn't-- get involved.
Oof. I mean, yeah, his hitting skills (an OBP of .359 or higher in six of his last seven seasons) would be useful for an O's lineup that struggled at getting on base last year. He can certainly swing the bat...but that's not the only way in which he's offensive, if you catch my drift. Swisher is one of the most irritating players in baseball, with his obnoxious smirking and chattering and over-the-top celebrating and STOP STICKING YOUR TONGUE OUT ALL THE TIME AND JUST PLAY THE GAME, DOOFUS.
There's also the matter that Swisher isn't a full-time first baseman-- he's just an outfielder who occasionally moonlights at the position. I wouldn't hate having his bat in the lineup, but having to watch him play every day could be a real chore. Isn't there a better option out there who doesn't make me want to punch him in the face?
What did I just say?
There's an unexpected name. Frankly, I'm always surprised that Berkman is still playing baseball. It seems like he's been talking retirement every winter for about five years running. This time, though, he might mean it. For reals. After an outstanding 2011 season (.959 OPS, 31 homers), Berkman was wrecked by injuries in 2012, appearing in just 32 games. At 36 years old and battling health problems, it wouldn't be surprising to see Berkman finally hang up his spikes after a productive 14-year-career. Who else is available for the Orioles?
Aubrey Huff. Ty Wigginton.
That's not funny.
Casey Kotchman. James Loney.
Ah, two promising, young, up-and-coming first basemen who...oh wait, this isn't 2006? Next.
OK, now you're just messing with me. The free agent options have dried up, so let's move on.
Billy Butler / Eric Hosmer
There's been some scuttlebutt (a word that I can't believe actually exists) that the Royals are dangling Butler and/or Hosmer on the trade market this winter, hoping to get back some help for their threadbare starting rotation. Either one would be a nice get for the Orioles. Butler, though he's played nearly five full seasons in the bigs, is still just 26 years old and is coming off his best season (.313/.373/.510/.882). A middle-of-the-order thumper just entering his prime would be a great addition, outweighing the fact that Butler has struggled defensively at first base and has mostly been a DH the last two seasons. As for Hosmer, he doesn't quite have the track record of Butler, having followed up a promising rookie season with a dreadful sophomore campaign in 2012. But he's just 22 and tore up the minors.
The question is, how well do the two teams match up in a potential trade? The Orioles have no shortage of young pitchers to trade, and anyone not named Dylan Bundy or Kevin Gausman could be on the table. Still, it remains to be seen how enticed the Royals would be by the promising-but-erratic arms of Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, and Zach Britton. The Royals' asking price for either Butler or Hosmer will be sky-high, and one or two of the Orioles' pitchers alone probably won't get it done. The O's would likely need to sweeten the pot with a prospect or two, but they're understandably hesitant to part with young infielder Jonathon Schoop. There could be a deal out there to be made, but I'll leave it to the GMs to sort out the details. It's a good bet that Duquette has already been on the phone with Dayton Moore to discuss the possibilities.
This would be a true "buy low" opportunity. Since being drafted in the first round in 2008 and later swapped as the prize of the Cliff Lee trade, Smoak has been a huge disappointment for the Mariners, amassing a career .683 OPS in about 1,500 plate appearances. The scuttlebutt (sorry, I just had to use that word again) is that Smoak hasn't learned how to hit a breaking ball. He's basically a real-life Pedro Cerrano. Curveball, bats are afraid.
If the O's are looking for a surefire middle-of-the-order bat that they can plug into the lineup without worry, Smoak isn't their man. At this point he's a real risk-- he may never turn into the type of hitter he was once projected to be. But if the Birds are okay with taking a risk, they could likely pick up Smoak without having to give up much in return. The gamble could blow up in their faces-- and nobody wants Smoak blown in their faces. On the other hand, the risk could reap huge rewards if Smoak is able to fix his flaws and fulfill his promise.
TRADE CANDIDATES WHOSE LAST NAMES BEGIN WITH "M-O-R":
Michael Morse. Logan Morrison. Justin Morneau. Kendrys Morales.
Whoa, slow down! One at a time, champ. We'll start with Morse, who has been pushed out of a starting outfield job in Washington by their acquisition of Denard Span, and who could be bumped out of the lineup entirely if the Nats re-sign LaRoche. Morse is a late bloomer who frittered away four injury-plagued years in Seattle (and was suspended 10 games in 2005 for a positive PED test) before becoming a power-hitting threat for the Nationals. Morse comes with his share of risks-- most notably, the fact that he's only ever had one full, healthy season in the majors-- but could be a capable stopgap solution if the Nationals' asking price isn't high.
Next up: Morrison. We haven't heard about the Orioles expressing any public interest in Logan, but I have to think he'd certainly be available, considering that the Marlins are currently trading every player who isn't bolted to the ground. Morrison has also put himself on the wrong side of Marlins management in recent years by sharing his often blunt opinions in the media and on Twitter. Though he's played mostly outfield in the majors, he was a first baseman throughout his minor-league career. His bat hasn't yet come around, but he's only 24. If the Marlins are looking to get rid of him, the Orioles should be listening.
The other two are long shots. Morneau, a former AL MVP, hasn't been the same hitter since suffering a concussion in 2010, and he's got a $14 million contract for 2013. That'd be an expensive risk for the Orioles, who weren't willing to give a healthy Reynolds $9 million. As for Morales, I don't know whether he's actually on the trade market, or whether he can play first base on an everyday basis (he started just 28 games there in 2012 after missing an entire season with a walkoff-induced broken ankle). The Angels do have a glut of first basemen/DH-types (Albert Pujols, Mark Trumbo), so Morales could be available. Is he worth a flyer?
Ah, forget it. Let's just go with Chris Davis.