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If the Orioles can fix right field, don’t worry about a lost draft pick

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There are a couple of potential outfield answers for the Orioles among the qualifying offer free agents. They shouldn’t worry too much about the draft pick.

Division Series - Texas Rangers v Toronto Blue Jays - Game Three
The Orioles have already been said to be interested in Ian Desmond.
Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Ten free agents were extended a $17.2 million qualifying offer by their teams for the 2017 season, including the one given by the Orioles to home run champion Mark Trumbo. The deadline for players to accept or reject those offers is 5pm tonight, with all being anticipated to reject the offers due to a weak free agent market.

A player who rejects the qualifying offer from his team will hit free agency with a lost draft pick hanging over his head. If that player signs with a different team, his new team will lose its top remaining draft pick, while the player’s old team will gain a draft pick in the compensation round, between the first and second rounds. The top 10 overall draft picks are protected for this purpose.

The qualifying offer players market is a pool from which the Orioles have gone fishing in the past, coming up with those who were left behind in the shallow end. Those were in years where there were more players with the draft pick loss attached to them.

There does not figure to be a 2014 Nelson Cruz or 2016 Ian Desmond kind of contract waiting late in the offseason for one of these players, though of course, you never know for sure.

Should the Orioles make an effort to sign any of the qualifying offer players this time around? Assuming that none will take the offer, here are the ten QO players about to hit the market:

  • 1B/DH Mark Trumbo
  • RHP Jeremy Hellickson
  • LF Yoenis Cespedes
  • 2B Neil Walker
  • 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion
  • RF Jose Bautista
  • SS/OF(?) Ian Desmond
  • CF Dexter Fowler
  • RHP Kenley Jansen
  • 3B Justin Turner

Yes, that is the same Justin Turner who the 2010 Orioles waived so that they could keep giving playing time to Julio Lugo and Scott Moore. There are always bad decisions.

For most of that list, it doesn’t much matter whether the Orioles should, or will, guard their top draft pick, currently #23 overall, at all costs. That’s not why they’re not going to sign most of these guys. They’re not going to sign most of them because they either don’t have a need at that position or don’t seem to have the money to seriously think about signing them, even if they thought that player might improve the team.

Many teams, surely including the Orioles, would like that Cespedes has socked 66 dingers in the past two seasons combined. But are they going to match the expected five years, $125 million contract that MLB Trade Rumors predicts Cespedes will get? Not likely.

Encarnacion has been even more of a tater masher, racking up at least 34 in each of the past five seasons. You can similarly forget about the Orioles going for a four year, $94 million contract. Forget about whether it’s even a good idea. It’s just not happening.

Pondering the draft pick question really boils down to whether the Orioles should consider giving up their top draft choice to sign either Desmond or Fowler. We all know they were on the verge of giving up a pick to sign Fowler last time around, and they’ve at least been rumored to be interested in Desmond this time.

It’s no secret that the Orioles have made some bone-headed decisions regarding their draft picks over the past couple of years. It’s also no secret that the Orioles farm system is in dire straits, something on which pretty much everyone who’s not paid by the Orioles agrees.

There’s an understandable impulse to take those two pieces of information in tandem and conclude that the Orioles should not forfeit any more draft picks for any reason. It is, however, a misguided conclusion to draw.

The errors the Orioles have made regarding picks have not been giving up the picks entirely. The error is in giving up a pick for a guy like Yovani Gallardo. If you give up a pick for a player you know can help the team, that’s a positive. If you give up a pick for a player whose peripherals have signaled an obvious decline, when you have already had medical concerns about that same player, well, that’s not such a good thing.

A #23 draft pick has value, to be sure, and depending on which teams ahead of the Orioles in the order make which signings, that pick could climb a bit higher still. They should not give up that pick for someone who does no good to the team. The Orioles should also not hold the pick so closely that they miss out on an opportunity to improve one of the big holes to fill to help an 89 win team be as good or better.

A lot of draft picks do not work out for the simple reason that it’s hard to be good enough to be an MLB player. It doesn’t mean the team failed. This is particularly true once you get into the mid-to-late 20s range of picks. There are success stories like Mike Trout (2009, #25) or Rick Porcello (2007, #27) but there are even more guys who were never worth even a first thought.

There is even greater value in having a 2017 Orioles team that is as competitive as it can possibly be. The window for the team to contend is not going to stay open a lot longer. The contracts of J.J. Hardy and Chris Tillman will be up after next year. Following 2018, barring any developments, Manny Machado will hit free agency, as will Adam Jones, Zach Britton, and even Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette.

Without those players, there’s little hope for a competitive team. Nothing on the farm right now will change that and neither will the #23 pick in next year’s draft.

That’s not to say that the Orioles must sign either Fowler or Desmond at any cost. You can make plenty of arguments against both that have nothing to do with the draft pick.

Both will be 31 years old next Opening Day. That’s about the point where you start to wonder when the ability to play baseball at an MLB level will just about vanish overnight.

Fowler has only played more than 140 games twice in eight full big league seasons. Sometimes he has rated very badly on defensive metrics. He is an injury risk,

Desmond, in the prime of his career, was merely a league average hitter overall, and has one season of not horrible outfield defense under his belt. Maybe Desmond is the answer in right field. Maybe he’s the next bad signing waiting to happen.

If the Orioles decide that either Desmond or Fowler could be an answer for them at a price they can fit into their budget, they can’t let the #23 draft pick hold them back from improving next year’s team. The farm system and the Orioles of the future do need some help, but the current Orioles need a right fielder, and in Fowler’s case, a skilled leadoff hitter, even more.