Dan Duquette and the Warehouse brain trust enter the Winter Meetings with a number of glaring holes to fill in the Orioles currently composed roster. In spite of all the moves over the past few weeks there is still much work to be done in order to make the 2014 Orioles a team capable of having a legitimate chance at making the playoffs. What are the needs and what are some options available to address those needs that could help strengthen this club?
The prospect of a Nolan Reimold/Steve Pearce paired with Henry Urrutia platoon fails to inspire significant confidence. Free agency offers the tantalizing Shin-Soo Choo, but with Jacoby Ellsbury setting the market for FA outfielders it is highly unlikely that the Orioles would be willing or able to show him the money.
Beyond Choo there is not much in the way of impact talent available via free agency. Nelson Cruz's name has been linked to the O's, but for a team that is crying poor at the moment, signing an already flawed player who brings the baggage of a PED suspension, will turn 34 next season, and would require the O's to forfeit their 1st round selection in the next draft to a multi-year contract does not seem to be a wise investment of resources.
Corey Hart could be an interesting player to target. He missed the entire 2013 season due to separate injuries to each knee. A power hitting righty, he'd be a nice complement to Adam Jones and Matt Wieters' power from the right side. However, a player on the other side of 30 with damage to both knees playing the outfield isn't exactly enticing. He is said to be willing to take a one year deal to reestablish his value, so if he could be signed for something in the $6-$7m range, then he could be worth the flyer. But there is another player who could be a perfect fit for the O's on the trade market.
Enter the Los Angeles Dodgers. With four good outfielders and only three spots it seems clear the Dodgers will look to move one of Matt Kemp or Andre Ethier. Kemp's salary (6 years, $128m remaining) and injury history preclude him from consideration for the O's. Ethier, on the other hand, is quite tantalizing. Owed $71.5m over the next four seasons (with a $17.5m option that vests based on plate appearances) he is certainly an expensive player, but one the O's could possibly afford if the Dodgers assume some portion of his salary.
Ethier might be as valuable as Choo at possibly half the cost of what Choo is likely to sign for. Ethier sports career average/on-base percentage/slugging percentages of .288/.362/.470, which are impressive numbers considering he has taken nearly 60% of his career plate appearances in the cavernous confines of Chavez Ravine, PetCo Park, and AT&T Park. Compare that to Choo, who is only three months younger than Ethier, and sports a career slash line of .288/.389/.465 while spending over half his career plate appearances in the much friendlier environs of Jacobs Field, U.S. Cellular Field, and Great American Ballpark. Defensively, Ethier has rated well as a left fielder. Over about a season's worth of innings in left Ethier has been rated as 8 runs above average by Total Zone and 4 runs above average by Baseball Info Solutions.
Targeting Ethier in a potential trade would be a wise move for the O's. Depending on how much of his salary the O's are willing to assume, Ethier could potential be had for very little cost; perhaps just a bullpen arm and a low-minors prospect. If the O's ask the Dodgers to take on a significant portion of Ethier's salary then the return cost would go up, but wouldn't likely be anything that would require the likes of Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, or Eduardo Rodriguez.
So far the O's have added depth to second base in the form of Jemile Weeks and Cord Phelps. Along with Ryan Flaherty and, eventually, Jonathan Schoop there are a number of options to start, none of whom probably should be everyday starters. Both free agency and the trade market offer the O's an opportunity to upgrade at the position. Here are a few names to target:
The best options would be found in the trade market. The Indians have long been rumored to be looking to move Asdrubal Cabrera. Though a shortstop primarily, he does have a season's worth of starts at second base over his career, and his metrics there are quite good: 18 Runs Above Average (RAA) according to Total Zone and 12 RAA in the view of BIS. He sports a career slash line of .273/.335/.413, and is equally dangerous from either side of the plate. The three biggest drawbacks to Cabrera are that he has just one season of club control remaining, he is coming off a very poor '13 season, and is owed $10 million in 2014. Each of those factors should suppress his trade cost, though, making him an affordable option.
Howie Kendrick has also found his named in the trade rumor mill continually since last summer. The 30-year-old righty is a career .292/.329/.429 hitter who hits RHP & LHP equally well (just 38 points of OPS difference). Kendrick also has very good defensive metrics and is under team control for two seasons at less then $10m per season. The bidding for Kendrick figures to be fierce though, so it would likely cost the O's a significant player return to acquire him; possibly including someone such as Eduardo Rodriguez. The Angels and O's could line up nicely here though, as the Angels farm system is barren and they need help with their bullpen.
Other names that could be linked to the O's over the coming days include: Nick Franklin (Mariners), Danny Espinosa (Nationals), Daniel Murphy (Mets), Rickie Weeks (Brewers; and brother of Jemile), and Darwin Barney (Cubs). Dan Uggla and Brandon Phillips are also reportedly being shopped, but their respective contracts make them highly unlikely to garner much interest from the O's.
Via Free Agency
The options here may not be as flashy as the options the trade market provides, but there is ample opportunity for creative solutions to be found. Don't expect any reunion with either Brian Roberts or Robert Andino. Though beloved, neither would be an upgrade over what the O's currently have. Omar Infante is versatile and decent in every regard, but not particularly excellent in any way. He will turn 32 in a couple of weeks and could command a deal in the range of three years and $30+m.
A cheap option for the O's to explore is Mark Ellis. Though already 36 years old, he is solid all-around and exceptional in no way. He doesn't sport much of a platoon split, though his age probably precludes him from playing much more than 120 games per season. He may be able to be had on a two-year deal south of $10 million total. Plug him in with Flaherty and the O's could have something decent at 2B. But one of the more creative options comes in the rotund form of Juan Uribe. Sometimes (like last season) he hits really well (117 OPS+). Other times...oof (career .259/.299/.420). He's not an OBP machine, but he does have quite a bit of pop and he's an exceptional defensive player all around the diamond in spite of his less than svelte size. Like Ellis, he's spent the past few seasons with the Dodgers. And, like Ellis, he should be able to be signed to a two-year deal for less than $15 million total. He's basically an older, right handed, better defensively Flaherty. There are worse things to have. But a club probably shouldn't invest much in the way of payroll in such players.
So, what would I do if I were in charge of the O's during these Winter Meetings? I hope the O's are in touch with both Los Angeles teams regarding Ethier and Kendrick respectively early on. Get ahead of any potential market there. Corey Hart should be contacted immediately in order to establish what he is looking for in terms of years and money. Should the price for those players prove too steep, whether due to salary obligations or trade demands, look to see if Ellis or Uribe can be had at a bargain rate or target Cabrera, Espinosa, or Murphy. Avoid Nelson Cruz and Omar Infante unless all other options have fallen through.