Orioles free agent target: Jeff Baker

USA TODAY Sports

Signing Jeff Baker would improve the Orioles ability to hit against left handed pitching, while also adding to the positional flexibility of the roster. It also won't cost much.

The Orioles have had a lot of success acquiring players from the Texas Rangers over the past few years. Everyone remembers the Koji Uehara trade to the Rangers that brought back Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter. Sidearming reliever Darren O'Day came to the Orioles from the Rangers after they designated him for assignment. Even Scott Feldman spent the bulk of his career with Texas before signing with the Cubs prior to last season. The most recent Ranger to get designated for assignment was Jeff Baker, and I think the Orioles would be smart to bring him in as well.

Just to get this out of the way, the Rangers didn't designate Baker for assignment because he was a bad baseball player. They did it because he was about to be a free agent in November anyway and they wanted the 40 man roster space. On the day they DFA'd Baker, the club activated Matt West from the 60-day DL. Who? Yeah, I don't know either.

So let's talk about what the 32 year old Baker can bring to the Orioles. Baker's most valuable skill is his ability to hit left handed pitching. In 2013, he had an incredible .452 wOBA versus left handers. Of batters who had more than 100 plate appearances versus lefties, that was the sixth best mark in the league between David Wright and Josh Donaldson. His slash line was a phenomenal .314/.407/.667. Against right handed pitching, he was not even in the same galaxy as he posted a .242 wOBA and a .204/.250/.286 slash line. Just to make sure this wasn't a one year fluke, here are his career splits:

Split PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA wRC+
vs L 827 7.9% 20.1% 0.298 0.353 0.522 0.875 0.224 0.375 128
vs R 826 6.4% 27.8% 0.236 0.288 0.358 0.647 0.122 0.285 64

Against left handed pitching, Baker has a career .375 wOBA. Do you know who was closest to a .375 wOBA in 2013? Jose Bautista, with a wOBA of .372. It's pretty clear that Baker can be extremely effective against southpaws. What's surprising to me is that he only has one more plate appearance against lefties in his career than he does against righties. If the Orioles brought him in, they should limit him to batting against left handed pitching exclusively. A right handed batter, he's not nearly as effective against same handed pitching.

Over the course of the last few seasons, it seems that the Orioles have struggled against left handed starters. In fact, the Orioles record against right handed starters in 2013 was 58-51 while their record against lefties was only 27-26. For those who prefer to drill down further, their wOBA was .325 against righties and .319 against southpaws. This is definitely an area where the Orioles could use some help.

Furthermore, he would bring much needed versatility to the team. In just this past season with the Rangers, Baker played 1B, 2B, 3B, LF and RF. He's not a defensive stalwart at any of those positions, but the fact that he can play three positions in the infield and two in the outfield definitely helps. It could allow the Orioles to carry one less backup infielder since the team would be able to plug in Baker if they needed to. His primary positions are either of the corner outfield spots, but he can play five of the eight non-pitcher defensive positions.

That kind of versatility is something you'll see often from players on the A's or the Rays. Positional versatility is something that would help Buck make late game defensive replacements or use pinch hitters more easily. It's something that won't show up on the stat sheet but would definitely help roster construction. Russell Carleton has expanded on the subject in great detail at Baseball Prospectus if you're interested. Ben Zobrist was his "leading" character if you will. Oddly enough, Carleton argued that it was Zobrist's positional flexibility that makes the Rays able to run platoons around the diamond. The Orioles could benefit the same way from Baker.

By signing Baker, a guy that hits much better against lefties, the Orioles would be creating a platoon. This platoon would most likely be in left field as that is probably Baker's best position in the field as well as a position that is completely unsettled at the moment for the Orioles. If the Orioles also resign Nate McLouth, which seems likely, it would create a natural platoon between the two of them. As a left handed hitter, McLouth is much better against right handed pitching so it would be a good fit. If the Orioles choose not to resign McLouth, they could also go with Henry Urrutia as the strong side of the platoon. I'm not convinced he's ready to handle that assignment but he's probably the best internal option for the job at the moment.

The last point in favor of signing Baker is cost. If he could hit right handed pitchers as well as he could left, he'd be much more expensive. But considering he's never made more than $1,750,000 in a season, a one year $2 million contract offer should get the job done. All Orioles fans would love if the team would increase the payroll dramatically and sign high priced free agents every offseason. But that's not happening anytime soon. So let's talk about moves the team could realistically make while maintaining a payroll they'd be comfortable with. Signing Jeff Baker is a move that not only improves the team, but it doesn't cost much to do it.

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