In the midst of another offseason with another Orioles division rival hauling in free agents like they're huge ocean fish, it's easy to get frustrated with the fact that the O's aren't doing much of anything as teams around them pursue big-ticket free agents and trade targets. Sometimes it's better to do nothing than to do something.
Manager Buck Showalter is fond of saying that the deals you don't make are as important as the ones you do. At Fanfest a couple of years ago, he related a story where he was talking to Adam Jones about a trade proposal the O's had received. Showalter ticked off a few prospects to Jones (he didn't name them as he told the story) and Jones replied, "Sounds great! We should make that trade." Buck shook his head and said, "Adam, they want you." Odds are, whoever it was would not have been worth more to the Orioles than Jones.
This works for free agents as well. There are a number of stupid contracts out there every offseason. Many of them are toasted by assorted media at the time. Some get a more muted, but still positive, reaction, even as they are generally awful in nearly every conceivable way. Some signings will wind up as complete busts. We know this because we watched Ubaldo Jimenez pitch last season, though there's time yet to hope he might rebound. Still, maybe they would have been better off without him.
There were a number of other busts from last offseason that the Orioles dodged. Whether this was by the luck of having an expensive, below-average player sign elsewhere or the O's themselves wising up about something, they avoided some bad deals, things that would have flushed money and a roster spot down the toilet. It's frustrating to see them sign nobody, but that is better than signing the wrong people.
Much as it would be nice to see the O's at the top of the free agent pool, those are the players who are the greatest risks, as well. The players they do target - or at least those they are rumored to be interested in at times - are less risk in terms of dollars, but greater in terms of total bust potential. Last offseason, this tier of player was a minefield that they avoided only by not signing anyone until February.
If the rumors are to be believed, here are some disasters the Orioles avoided last offseason.
The player: Carlos Beltran
The rumor: Ken Rosenthal reported the Orioles were "interested in Beltran"; contingent on clearing salary
What happened: Beltran signed with the Yankees for three years, $45 million, batted .233/.301/.402, played only 259.2 innings in the outfield. He is probably limited to playing DH primarily for the remaining two years of the deal. He would have cost a draft pick.
The player: Bronson Arroyo
The rumor: ESPN's Jerry Crasnick reported the Orioles offered Arroyo two years, $21.5 million with a third year option
What happened: Arroyo signed with the Diamondbacks for two years, $23.5 million that could go up to three years, $30 million. He had a 4.08 ERA in 86 innings before requiring Tommy John surgery.
The player: Shin-Soo Choo
The rumor: Fox's Jon Morosi reported the Orioles had interest in Choo, as well as eventual signees Cruz and Jimenez.
What happened: Choo signed with Texas for seven years and $130 million. He OPSed only .714 in the first year of the contract and will be 38 by the time that it ends.
The player: Gavin Floyd
The rumor: Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reported that the O's offered Floyd an incentive-laden two-year deal that could have reached, $20 million
What happened: Floyd, a Mt. St. Joe's product, signed with the Braves for a one-year, $4 million contract, hoping to bounce back after 2013 Tommy John surgery. He had a respectable 2.65 ERA in nine starts when he fractured his throwing elbow and missed the rest of the year.
The player: Bartolo Colon
The rumor: Jon Heyman reported the market was "heating up" in the final days before he signed and the Orioles were an interested team
What happened: Colon, then 40 years old, signed a two-year, $20 million deal with the Mets. In year 1, he ate 202.1 innings but had a 4.09 ERA while pitching in the National League, with half of his innings in a park so hitter-unfriendly that they're moving the fences in. With that ERA, he would have been the worst non-Jimenez Orioles starter.
The player: Grant Balfour
The deal: The Orioles actually had Balfour signed to a two-year, $15 million contract, pending a physical.
What happened: Balfour did not pass the physical, got snitty about it, got the Rays team doctor and others to pop off about it. The whole baseball media seemed to laugh at the Orioles strict physical. Balfour totally blew in 2014 after signing with the Rays for 2/$12M, walking 41 batters in 62.1 innings on the way to a 4.91 ERA. One must wonder if there was a medical reason for Balfour's disastrous performance.
The player: A.J. Burnett
The rumor: Peter Gammons described the Orioles as being "all in" on Burnett on January 30 of this year
What happened: Burnett, whom you've probably heard lives in Monkton, has been perpetually linked to the Orioles and for just as long has seemed totally uninterested in pitching in Baltimore. He fled to the NL East, where he made $15 million with the Phillies for throwing 213.2 innings in the National League with a 4.59 ERA.
The player: Kendrys Morales
The rumor: The Orioles were still talking to Morales on February 21 of this year, according to Rosenthal
What happened: The Orioles went down to the wire on both Morales and Nelson Cruz; presumably, whoever was willing to eat a little humble pie and sign for less than the qualifying offer would be an Oriole first. Lucky for the Orioles, it was Cruz. Lucky for Cruz, too: Morales, perhaps due to signing in June for about $7.5 million, did himself no favors, batting .218/.274/.338 in 98 games.
These were the rumors we relayed on Camden Chat last offseason. Some may have been full of it entirely, but there's probably some substance behind most of them. These players would not have been good additions to the Orioles.
This is not to say that the Orioles should never sign anyone. There are good signings to be had every offseason. If Cruz goes around to the league and doesn't get his demands met, perhaps he will circle back to the Orioles once again for a lower price.
It is telling, however, that of all of the players the Orioles were linked to over last offseason, there are only two who performed at a level this year to where those would have been good signings. One of those is Cruz, whom they were fortunate to sign; the other, Ervin Santana, had a solid, unremarkable, possibly a bit unlucky year with Atlanta on a one-year contract. He also would have cost a draft pick, but would have been much less of an investment than Jimenez.
Dan Duquette has a plan. The plan probably results in a quiet November, December, and January. He knows who he wants to add to a 96-win team that's in his budget. He hasn't been flawless in his decisionmaking, but he's given us little cause to doubt him yet. The rest of the league can scrabble over the possibly-overpriced players. When Duquette sees a good fit for the Orioles, he will strike. Until then, maybe no news is good news.