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Trying to identify the Orioles top free agent target

If the Orioles could only sign one free agent this offseason, who should it be?

Jennifer Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

This is going to be a busy offseason for a lot of teams. For one, a lot fo teams are going to see themselves as contenders. In the AL, all but one team finished above 70 wins. The wins were a little more lopsided in the NL, with five teams finishing below 70, but that's still a lot of teams that are going to see themselves in the playoffs hunt. The second Wild Card has really opened things up. Second, the free agent class this year includes a lot of big names. David Price. Jason Heyward. Yoenis Cespedes. Alex Gordon. Zack Greinke. This is a big deal when you compare it to next year's projected free agent class. It's not a terrible list, but even most of the big names will be well into their thirties by then. Teams are aware of this and will likely want to get in on the action now. As a side note, I've considered whether the Orioles should take advatage of this and go into re-building mode. They have a decent number of major league players they could trade for a lot of prospects and seriously re-load the farm system. But that's a tough pill to swallow after the team is enjoying it's first run of success after 15 years in the dark.

As a mid-market team who generally likes to avoid the biggest contracts and instead work on the fringes, I don't expect the Orioles to make any huge splashes. But let's say they decided the most important thing this offseason was to just sign one guy. One guy to market to season ticket holders. One guy to convince their current players they were willing to spend money. One guy who you wouldn't be rolling the dice on, who you knew was a sure thing. Who would that be?

To answer this, the obvious thing is to look at their needs. And since I'm assuming they only sign one free agent, I'm only going to consider guys currently on the 40-man or in the farm system.

Catcher: No problem here. Wieters taking the QO means they have a surplus.

First Base: Chris Davis leaving would leave a hole at this position, but there are plenty of guys who could fill this spot. Christian Walker is the first name that comes to mind. They could move Wieters here if they decide to also keep Joseph and Clevenger. Even Trey Mancini has been floated as an option. Given all that, and likely some other options as well, I'm going to assume the team doesn't go all-in on a first baseman.

Second Base: Jonathan Schoop isn't perfect yet, but he took a big step forward in 2015, despite missing a big chunk of the season with an injury. As a young, cheap option, I don't see how the Orioles try to replace him. Next.

Third Base: Honestly, I'd be happy if their one free agent signing was signing Machado to a multi-year deal, but that's likely not in the cards this year.

Shortstop: J.J. Hardy is getting older and having injury problems, but he's probably as good a defensive shortstop as you'll find. And with the still young Machado and Schoop on either side of him, I think you want that leadership in the infield and clubhouse. He stays.

Outfield: Now we have some problems. Adam Jones is obviously locked firmly in at CF, but both corners need help. Looking at the current 40-man, I think Nolan Reimold probably provides the safest bet to fill-in at one side, but he's still risky and I'm not sure they should go into next season like they did 2015, hoping that a patchwork of players would make it work. So I'd say a corner outfielder is a definite need.

Designated Hitter: This has been a huge problem for the Orioles for a while now. They obviously take the approach of trying to use a platoon at the position and keeping it flexible. That's fine, but in a hitters park on a team that lacks dominant pitching, you should be trying to score runs. There are plenty of guys out there who can't play on a little league field but can still knock the heck out of the ball. Maybe we can get someone else listed there besides Jimmy Paredes.

Bullpen: Adding some help to the bullpen is good, but the idea here to sign one marquee free agent for your franchise. No releif pitcher really does that.

Rotation: Going into next season, you could easily see Tillman, Gausman, Gonzalez, and Jimenez in the rotation. After that, Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson are very viable options to try out. T.J. McFarland isn't the worst idea I've heard of as a lefty to replace Chen, and then there's Dylan Bundy (who's out of options). But still, those four established starters would look a lot better as #2-#5 instead of #1-#4. I wouldn't say a top of the rotation starter is as much of a need as an outfielder or DH, but it's pretty appealing. Let's consider it.

OK, so now I'm looking for a corner outfielder, DH, or starting pitcher. Since this is the Orioles, I'm going to look for value. Maximum wins for the fewest dollars. Using the Steamer projections already up on Fangraphs, along with the results of their crowd-sourcing projections, I'll look at some of the top free agents at those positions, their expected WAR and contracts, to determine the best value. (For pitchers, I used RA9 WAR).

Free Agent

Projected WAR

Average Annual Value (crowd-source)


David Price




Jason Heyward




Zack Greinke




Justin Upton




Alex Gordon




Yoenis Cespedes




Hisashi Iwakuma




I'm actually kind of surprised to see Iwakuma come out as the best bargain there. He's someone I hadn't really considered until now. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about Jason Heyward, he would still be a great deal as well. But if Iwakuma can be had for 3yrs/$42.8M as the crowd projects, that's pretty good. In fact, that's right in line with the kind of deal I think the Orioles could swing. But maybe the crowd is under-pricing him. He's not a big name, so will he sign for more than baseball fans who visit Fangraphs expect? I don't think so. Iwakuma's page on MLBTradeRumors has notes about teams thinking of offering him a two or three year deal. And Dave Cameron at Fangraphs is also projecting a 3yr/$45M deal. That may get it done for going back to Seattle...the Orioles may need to sweeten the pot to steal him away.

I set out writing this trying to identify "the guy" the Orioles should go all in on this offseason. It's hard to picture Iwakuma as being him, but he does project as having the third best WAR and RA9 WAR among free agent starters next season, behind Price and Greinke. He may not be a headline-grabbing name, but maybe he's just as good. If you want something more long-term, seems like Heyward is still your best bet.

...And for reference, Chris Davis is projected to make $20M AAV by the crowd (though Cameron has him at $26M) and by Steamer to be worth 2.4 wins, for a cost per win of $8.3M. Kind of starting think we need to sign anyone but him.