Thanksgiving has come and gone, and in its absence there is nothing left to stop a full barrage of advertising for the December holidays, Christmas and otherwise. There is now less than a month of shopping days before Christmas, you know. If you haven’t started your holiday shopping yet, don’t feel bad, because you’re in good company. Neither have the Orioles, nor, for that matter, have most of the rest of the MLB teams.
There’s no rush, of course. There are no Black Friday bargains at big box retailers in the free agent market. There is no Small Business Saturday stroll through the Independent Leagues, and today, Cyber Monday, there will be no going online to find deals. No one will be finding video online of Dan Duquette getting in a fistfight over the year’s hot free agents, although that’s a funny mental picture.
Given how the Orioles have tended to approach free agency in Duquette’s tenure, no one should expect any presents from them in time for Christmas at all. Duquette would be far more likely to stroll into the toy store on the day after Christmas - a post-apocalyptic wasteland if there ever was one - and pluck the last of the off-brand knock-off of the year’s hot toy off the shelf because it’s 75% off.
The box is dented, the thing maybe doesn’t work right, and even if it does work, it doesn’t work as well as the thing ALL of the cool kids got, and he’ll hand it to you unwrapped, proclaiming, “This is a qualified Christmas present that will provide hours and hours of entertainment.” You will designate that box for assignment, or want to, by the end of April.
Actually, the Orioles did go against their pattern of January and February free agent shopping last offseason. The signings of both Darren O’Day and Hyun Soo Kim were concluded in December. So they can surprise us sometimes.
But they also went searching for late-season bargains, waiting out the Chris Davis market, picking up the last remaining free agent starter, Yovani Gallardo, and grabbing Pedro Alvarez. The team they had when the calendar turned to 2016 was not the team that they had by the time Opening Day rolled around.
With all that in mind, none of us should expect any presents from Duquette at any point in December for any religion’s holiday, and if your belief system has none, well, just don’t expect anything before 2017. If you don’t believe in calendars, I can’t help you.
The holiday shopping list, along with what has happened on the free agent market so far for each spot:
A left-handed hitting outfielder
Why, exactly, the Orioles are supposedly targeting a left-handed hitting outfielder when they were among the worst-hitting teams against left-handed pitching for the past two seasons, is not something I know. In addition, the Orioles already have a lefty-batting outfielder who they appear to not want to face lefty pitchers, ever, in Kim.
They were interested, reportedly, in outfielder Josh Reddick, who later signed a four year, $52 million contract with the Astros. If he’s getting $52 million, I think that’s a bad sign for the Orioles hopes of improving their right field problem.
Remaining free agents who fit this description: Dexter Fowler (switch hitter), Michael Saunders, Brandon Moss, Jon Jay, Matt Joyce
By now, we all know the gist of this. The Orioles give every appearance of being committed to prospect Chance Sisco for the long haul, possibly starting in the middle of this season, but he’s not expected to be the Opening Day catcher and they may prefer some veteran on a short contract.
One rumor had the Orioles pursuing former Oriole Nick Hundley as their Plan A, which is hilarious and sad. Hundley was said to be many other teams’ Plan B, behind the Plan A of Jason Castro. The Twins plucked Castro off the market for three years with $24.5 million guaranteed.
Some other free agent catchers: Matt Wieters, Hundley, Alex Avila, Kurt Suzuki ... it’s a depressing list. Help us, Sisco.
The Baltimore Sun reported recently that the Orioles have “expressed interest” in two relievers: Kevin Jepsen and Anthony Bass. You can never have too many good relievers, although it’s not clear whether either of those guys would be good. Jepsen was a complete disaster in 2016. The best you can say about him is he’d be a good buy-low candidate.
Elsewhere in baseball, former Maryland pitcher Brett Cecil has signed a four year contract with the Cardinals for Darren O’Day money despite never being as good as O’Day and, moreover, being pretty bad for a back-end reliever (3.93 ERA, 3.64 FIP) in the 2016 season. Parents, raise your children to be left-handed.
Something strange would seem to have to happen for the Orioles to expend some of their presumably limited offseason funds on any kind of recognizable reliever on the free agent market.
Some Rule 5 guy
The Orioles love the Rule 5 draft because it gives them players like Ryan Flaherty, T.J. McFarland, Jason Garcia, and Joey Rickard. If you detected a hint of sarcasm just there, your radar is functioning. The Orioles have certainly plundered those players. What they’ve gained is more of a question.
What could they find this year? One of the potential changes to baseball’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, currently being negotiated between the owners and players, is a 26th spot on the active roster. That’s music to a Rule 5-loving team’s ears. Will they try to find another raw, Garcia-like reliever? A Vance Worley-esque swingman?
They might even aim to fill one of the above holes with the Rule 5 pick - a horrible strategy, mind you, but the kind they might pursue. A catcher to compete with Caleb Joseph and/or Francisco Pena would not be unwelcome, whether or not the Orioles sign any free agent catcher.
In a perfect world, a starting pitcher would be on the Orioles shopping list. However, they’re still paying off the credit card bills from the last three times they got themselves a starting pitcher, so, we can probably scratch that this time around. When the best starting pitchers available are Rich Hill and Ivan Nova, maybe that’s not so bad.
How much money do the Orioles actually have to try to address this stuff? That’s another big part of the puzzle. Baseball Reference estimates that the Orioles already have $153 million committed for next year. That’s about $6 million more than last year’s Opening Day payroll.
Other than last year’s Davis-influenced payroll boost, the O’s have only increased payroll by $10 million per year in each of Duquette’s seasons in charge. Unless an unexpected trade happens to create salary relief, to sign anyone at all - even just Hundley - they’re going to have to exceed that, and even tabbing Hundley plus a comparatively budget outfield option like Jay seems like it’ll be increasing the payroll by as much as $20 million over last year.
If that sounds outrageous to you, you’re not wrong, so if you’re hanging a stocking up this December, don’t expect the Orioles to put anything in it.