Nick Markakis has left the building, as you may have heard by now. The Orioles now have Adam Jones, Steve Pearce, Alejandro de Aza and David Lough on their roster as outfielders. Given the various limitations of some of those non-Jones options (platoon splits, offensive limitations, etc.), general consensus holds that the Orioles will still be on the hunt for another outfielder. Bonus points if the he's right-handed and also a plausible part-time DH, though of course we're talking about replacing Markakis, who was neither. But we're also talking, partly, about replacing Nelson Cruz and Delmon Young, who were both.
Camden Chat will cover some internal options to replace Markakis in a separate post. Here's a look at how things break down from outside the organization.
The top two trade targets that have been mentioned for the Orioles are Matt Kemp and Yoenis Cespedes. In their own ways, each would improve the club, but the chatter linked to both falls more under idle speculation than plausible rumor. Kemp is a one-time budding superstar who has since struggled with injury and now has an absurd contract. Yes, the Orioles could work out a bad contract swap for Ubaldo Jimenez, but even after you subtract Ubaldo's contract, Kemp's remaining years and dollars are an albatross. Add in the fact that the Dodgers reportedly asked for Kevin Gausman or Dylan Bundy as part of the deal, and that ain't happening.
Cespedes is a more interesting prospect -- of course, his bat would immediately improve the Orioles lineup -- but he's a one-year rental who would reportedly nonetheless command a high price tag, and within the division at that. The Orioles, of course, completed an in-division trade recently (with the Red Sox no less) for Andrew Miller, but it's hard to see them offering the Sox more of the farm for another rental, before a season even starts.
Bottom line: If the Orioles are going to try to replace Markakis via trade, look for it to be a more modest trade for more of a workaday outfielder who's not on anyone's radar right now -- not a crazy blockbuster that requires the team to give up a top-flight prospect or assume a massive contract.
Free agent targets
You can take a look at the full list of available free agents, but I'll spoil the gist of it for you: There are no obvious blockbuster free agent corner outfielders this offseason. Like Markakis himself, they are all flawed choices, either in the age, health, productivity, or the contract they might command.
Nori Aoki is a name that's been mentioned a lot as a Markakis equivalent. He's a left handed corner outfielder with an OK glove, not much power, decent OBP, who can play every day. He's also 32, and coming off of a season where his defense went off a cliff and his bat produced one -- one! -- home run in 549 PAs. Aoki would be a good enough stopgap if he came cheap, but there's actually talk about him commanding a meaningful deal, which seems like it would be incredibly hard for the Orioles to justify after letting Markakis walk.
Michael Morse is a guy who, on the surface, fits what the Orioles might need -- again, less so as a direct Markakis replacement and more as a Cruz replacement (right-handed DH / alleged occasional left fielder). Morse is coming off of a nice value-building season in San Francisco, where he got to play postseason hero as well. Most Orioles fans remember Morse as an ill-fated, injured, late-season acquisition in 2013, but of course he's a much better hitter than that when healthy. However, the concerns about Morse's health and consistency are not unfounded. In 10 major league seasons, he's played more than 100 games three times (more than 110 just twice). Best case scenario: Morse is a poor man's Cruz, and can be had for a two-year deal. Worst case scenario: Morse is a total flameout or liability and the Orioles are stuck with him for three years. That's playing with fire.
Rumors have repeatedly connected the Orioles to Melky Cabrera, and the more I examine the alternatives, the less bad that sounds -- even for a guy with a steroid suspension and a down year in his last three seasons. That's how uninspiring some of the other choices are. Cabrera is coming off of a solid walk year with the Blue Jays, sporting an OPS+ of 126, declining a bit with the glove, but only 30 years old. However -- and this is a big however -- Cabrera has a qualifying offer attached to him (meaning the Orioles would forfeit a draft pick to sign him), and he's rumored to be looking for a bigger, longer deal than Markakis just got. That doesn't sound like a match made in heaven for the team that just balked on giving its own incumbent player four years.
Working down from there, the options get even less appealing. Colby Rasmus is a high-pedigree guy who's never lived up to that billing, and has some reported makeup problems. Delmon Young is still out there, but reportedly wants a two-year deal for his services, still can't play the field more than notionally, and is just one season removed from being offered nothing but a minor-league deal. Alex Rios is kind of an interesting buy-low candidate (and right-handed Markakis comp), but is 33 and coming off a down year in a hitter's park. Emilio Bonifacio is a bounceback candidate whose speed is always a potential asset -- but he's a bounceback candidate because his bat has been death for a while now.
Maybe Dan Duquette will roll with what he has now, plus a few lottery tickets of even lower profile than those above (Jason Kubel? John Mayberry Jr.? Kyle Blanks?). It's sort of what he does. If the Orioles feel compelled to make a major league free agent signing to replace Markakis, well, I sort of hope they don't, unless maybe they can add Michael Morse to the mix on a minimal commitment. Otherwise, I hope they can just develop some set of options from inside the organization or with some low-risk/high-reward pickups. The big-ticket guys aren't any less scary than re-signing Markakis would've been.