It is nearly February. Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in less than three weeks. After getting Chris Davis in the fold, you kinda had to figure that the Orioles of right now are going to be the Orioles of this year. Yet just a couple of days ago there was a report that the Orioles had made a five year contract offer to Yoenis Cespedes even after re-signing Davis. It seems like they should be done, and yet, maybe they aren't.
On MLB Network on Friday night, the low-level rumbling continued in a segment with Jon Heyman. Over the span of about ten minutes, Heyman suggested that the Orioles could be a plausible destination for two of the remaining draft pick-attached free agents. One of those is outfielder Dexter Fowler, who seems to be dangling in the wind late into free agency due to the draft pick compensation. He hasn't been mentioned in conjunction with the Orioles before. The other is starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo, with whom the O's have seemed to have been linked throughout the offseason.
It was just an off-handed comment, and maybe it didn't mean anything. But maybe it did, right? If it was known to all that the Orioles were done spending money, period, the end, that the spigot has been shut off for this offseason, you probably would not be having a reporter like Heyman jump out and offer the possibility that they could still grab another player. The fact that it might even remotely still be on their radar after all that they've done so far is interesting.
Fowler is an interesting player to consider. A switch-hitter who's been almost exclusively a center fielder through his big league career, he would fill a definite hole on the roster. Yes, the O's already have themselves a center fielder, and that's fine. But Fowler has a track record of success. He has not been a star-level player for most of his career. He's been solid, though. His career batting line over his seven full seasons of action is .267/.363/.418 - and his most recent season saw him post similar numbers, .250/.346/.411.
When you get that on-base percentage nearly 100 points above the batting average, you've got a player who's really not afraid to take a walk. You know that's a skill the Orioles lack. Additionally, Fowler's career splits have seen him hit better against left-handed pitching than against right-handed pitching. He's hit for an .829 OPS against lefties and a .761 OPS against righties over his career. The Orioles were horrible against left-handed pitching last year and currently have a roster that looks to be horrible against left-handed pitching for this year too.
Of course, if Fowler were all that and a bag of chips, he'd have surely signed somewhere by now. There are always risks. In Fowler's case, the biggest risk might be that he's only topped 140 games played in two of his seven full seasons of big league action. He's never played fewer than 116 in that span, either, so he hasn't been a risk to miss a ton of time, but he does seem to regularly miss a month worth of games or more over a season. Then again, he just came off a career-high 156 games in 2015.
This is surely the kind of player the Orioles ought to consider as the offseason winds down to a close. Yes, he'd cost a draft pick, but if he has to settle for any contract just to get to play in 2016, the Orioles should not be afraid to step up and make him a respectable offer, draft pick be damned. Improving the farm system is important. So is improving the team right now.
Maybe none of this even matters. Maybe the Orioles aren't going to do anything else. Another team might step up and be willing to take on Fowler instead. He's been linked to the White Sox most recently - a team that was also connected to Cespedes early on. The White Sox top pick is protected, so they'd only lose their compensation pick for Jeff Samardzija's departure - currently slotted at #28.
It's worth keeping an eye on. The Orioles payroll is already expected to hit nearly $140 million, so the idea of them adding another player seems crazy. Still, the rumors that are coming out do not match a team that's done. They might feel they can still improve the team and feel they still have the resources to do so.