Yesterday, I looked at some strategies the O's could employ to improve the club at left field and second base. The other two glaring needs for the 2014 O's can be found at designated hitter and in the pitching rotation. There are ample opportunities to improve the club here, whether through trade or free agency, while not having to invest considerable sums of money.
The DH position provided the 2013 O's with offensive production, and I don't mean in terms of creating runs. A .234/.289/.415 slash line from a position that is tasked only with providing offense is unacceptable. Part of the O's DH misfortunes resulted from the Spring Training injury to Wilson Betemit and the April injury sustained by Nolan Reimold. Full and healthy seasons from each of them platooning could have worked quite well. But such is life. As it stands currently the O's look as if they would have to run a platoon of Henry Urrutia and one of Reimold or Steve Pearce at DH. The word that prospect brings to mind is 'uninspiring'. So who are some players the O's should target to fill the DH slot in 2014?
As mentioned in the previous Winter Meeting article, Corey Hart could be an ideal target for the O's, possibly as a left fielder, but more likely as a DH. A career .276/.334/.491 hitter, Hart's right-handed thump could provide solid run production hitting behind Chris Davis and Adam Jones. And DH would be the ideal place to play a guy coming off surgeries to both knees. Hart has been reported as being open to signing a one-year deal to reestablish his value as he returns from missing all of the 2013 season. This is exactly the type of signing the O's, with their reported financial limitations, should be focused on.
Another option is Billy 'Country Breakfast' Butler. He may be the slowest player in the league. He can't play a lick of defense. But man oh man...that OBP: .364 career mark. Dude can hit (Deal with it!), and he's not an old player. He will turn 28 in May. He's durable, having played in 158+ games every season since '09. He's been worth an average of 2.5 bWAR each season since '09. All this and he's financially affordable: $8m in '14 with a $12.5m team option ($1m buyout) for '15. The cost would come in the prospect haul he could command should the Royals be willing to trade him. Would he be worth giving up a player such as Jonathan Schoop or Eduardo Rodriguez? It'd be a bold move.
One other player deserves mention as a potential trade target: Adam Dunn. The White Sox aren't going anywhere next season. Dunn has one year and $15m remaining on his contract. He's the definition of 'Old Player Skills', and is pretty clearly in decline as he moves into his age 34 season. However, after his debacle of a season in '11, Dunn has swatted 75 HRs while OBPing .327 and sluggng .455. And while he has been a negative bWAR player two of the past three seasons, much of that lost value could be mitigated by hiding his glove from him and strictly DHing him. The contract is excessive. The skills are in decline. The O's certainly shouldn't give up any player of even remote consequence for him should the White Sox be motivated to move him, but he could be a worthwhile fall back option failing any of the above mentioned players.
The O's have a solid foundation for a rotation with Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Bud Norris. Kevin Gausman may or may not require some additional development in the minors. But beyond that the O's would be looking to the likes of the less than inspiring lefties T.J. McFarland, Zach Britton, or Brian Matusz. Mike Wright, Josh Stinson, Steve Johnson, and Eddie Gamboa represent the depth from the right hand side. The club needs a talented arm that could sit atop the rotation next to Tillman. And there are plenty of guys available who fit the bill, both via free agency or trade.
The problem the O's have, as has been mentioned ad nauseam, a lack of payroll room or flexibility to take on a high-priced arm. The Warehouse has stated publicly that they won't be players for the top ranked free agent starters. And they don't need to be, as there are plenty of talented arms who sport various question marks arising from injuries that will make them affordable options for the O's.
Local product Gavin Floyd tops the list of intriguing SPs returning from injury who could be a fit for the O's. He had Tommy John surgery in May, so getting a half season from Floyd in '14 would count as pretty spectacular. He's not a top of the rotation arm, and with a career ERA+ of 100 he's decidedly average. But from '08-'11 Floyd put up an average season of 195 IP of 4.08 ERA/110 ERA+ pitching. Given his injury history a return to that level is not to be expected. But TJ surgery reportedly boasts a high success rate now. Mix that with Floyd likely being able to be signed to a low money deal for 2 years and he could be a solid 3/4 for the O's.
Johan Santana is the biggest 'name' here. Once one of the top pitchers in the league, Santana's shoulder bugaboos have cost him roughly 2.5 seasons since 2010, including all of '11 and '13. But he was pitching quite well through June of '12 before everything seemed to fall apart for him in a game against the Cubs on July 6th. So there might be something there. But any investment of more than 1 year or $5-$6m would probably be unwise for the O's.
Daniel Hudson was once a top prospect in the White Sox system who was traded for Edwin Jackson. Also recovering from TJ surgery, Hudson was non-tendered by the Diamondbacks a few weeks ago in spite of only being in his first season of arbitration. The team that signs him will inherit three seasons of club control as well. Pretty sweet deal. He only boasts one season of significant starts, 2011 when he tossed 222 innings of 3.49 ERA ball, good for a 113 ERA+. So that's a concern. But the likely price and club control is quite enticing. Might not be a difference maker in '14, but could be a solid mid-rotation starter in '15 and beyond.
There is also one interesting free agent who is not returning from injury with local ties who could be a nice fit for the O's. A.J. Burnett resides in Monkton, MD. He made comments back in October that he would either pitch for the Pirates or retire since he wishes to remain close to home. It's not inconceivable that the O's could convince him to return for another season or two for a not-insubstantial sum of lucre. And with 6 straight seasons of 30+ starts and 186+ IP he could provide much needed stability to the O's rotation.
On the trade market David Price, Chris Sale, and Jeff Samardzija are the 3 high profile names rumored to be on the trading block. While Price or Sale would certainly give the O's the ace pitcher they currently lack, the cost to acquire them would basically empty the farm system. It would be a bold stroke, and one that would instantly position the O's as serious contenders for the AL East title in both 2014 and '15. Such a move isn't going to happen. Don't dwell on it. It just won't. Samardzija is garnering a significant amount of buzz on the trade market, but he is more potential than track record at the moment. Add in a patient front office helmed by Theo Epstein who will happily wait out the market in order to secure the greatest possible return and Samardzija looks less and less appealing. There is no doubt he would represent a tremendous upgrade over whoever is the O's #5 starter. But the likely cost required to trade for him will probably prove too steep for the total value he would project to provide.
There are two interesting pitchers who could be had for more reasonable prices. Brett Anderson, like Samardzija, represents more potential than actual production thus far. Entering his age 26 season, his stuff tantalizes but injuries have thus far prevented him from showing what he is fully capable of. When on the mound he is a 3.80 ERA SP who pitches to a 109 ERA+. And there is the prospect of more as Anderson will pitch as a 26 year old in '14, just like Chris Tillman. Anderson would bring with him 1) the unenviable prospect of trying to trade with Billy Beane and 2) an $8m salary in '14 with a $12m team option ($1.5m buyout) for '15.
Also entering his age 26 season in '14 is Trevor Cahill. For some reason his name has come up in trade rumors over the past year. Over his 5 seasons he has averaged 186 IP of 3.89 ERA pitching with a 55.3% ground ball percentage, three stats that would look quite nice in the O's rotation. Add in a quite team friendly contract that guarantees him $20m over the next two season with two affordable team options ($13m in '16, $13.5m in '17) and Cahill looks unflashy from a name perspective but could pay off handsomely depending on the prospect return the Diamondbacks could extract in a trade for him.
So who are the targets the O's should pursue? For DH, Corey Hart makes the most sense in terms of potential value provided vs. cost. Billy Butler would probably provide the most overall value, but could require a somewhat significant cost in prospect(s). One of Gavin Floyd or Daniel Hudson should be signed to a two-year deal as a flyer. And while one of the aces of Price or Sale would possibly make the O's instant A.L. East favorites, it would require the top half of the farm system to acquire either. Trevor Cahill would be a good value investment to target if the Diamondbacks do make him available.
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