With Mark Trumbo’s return to Baltimore looking highly unlikely, the Orioles currently don’t have a starting right fielder on their roster. Ideally, they’d go out and get someone like Yoenis Cespedes to solve the problem, but they are the Orioles, so they won’t.
As we’ve discussed ad nauseum already, the O’s don’t have much cash to spend this offseason thanks to a slew of arbitration raises and a couple overpaid players that likely aren’t going anywhere. With a catcher, an outfielder, and more on the shopping list, they’ll have to get creative.
One player who fits the bill for a classic Dan Duquette flier is Chris Coghlan. Before anyone jumps down to the comments section to rip this idea, I know - Coghlan was atrocious last season. He hit .188/.290/.318 in 300 plate appearances split between the Athletics and Cubs, resulting in a 66 wRC+ and -0.5 WAR.
Signing Coghlan won’t get the fans excited, but the O’s can’t afford to spend big (or even spend medium) at every position. I suggested signing Coghlan as part of my offseason plan, and I still think it’s a good idea.
If the Orioles choose to go in this direction, there are several reasons to think Coghlan could be a nice under-the-radar pickup.
1) He’s cheap
No one is going to give a large, multi-year contract to a player entering his age-32 season who just had a sub-replacement level season. Coghlan will almost certainly be signing a one-year deal, and for minimal salary.
Hell, in the SB Nation offseason simulation, he even ended up with a minor league contract. I’m not quite sure he’ll go that low, but I’d be stunned to see him get more than a couple million at most.
2) He’s versatile
Last season, Coghlan played 27 innings at first base, 130 innings at second base, 136 innings at third base, 190 innings in left field, and 114 innings in right field. He’s consistently graded out as below average at the infield positions, but it’s not like he’s Pedro Alvarez out there.
Breaking it down further, it seems like most of his negative defensive value is from range - his arm and glove seem to be pretty good when he actually gets to the ball. Playing right field in front of the short porch in Camden Yards could alleviate some of that problem.
3) He’s been good recently
Yes, Coghlan was terrible last season at the plate, but he’s only a year removed from a two-year period during which he was a well above average hitter. Between 2015-2016, Coghlan hit .265/.346/.447 over 935 plate apperances for the Cubs.
That works out to a 119 wRC+. Obviously Coghlan does it a little differently, but that’s nearly the same level of run production as Mark Trumbo’s 2016 season (123 wRC+). Even coming close to those numbers would make Coghlan a steal.
We can’t just discount his dud of a 2016 season, but Coghlan is 31 years old, not 38. There’s no reason to think he can’t bounce back from one bad year.
4) He was unlucky last season
Coghlan had a .235 BABIP last season, which was the 4th lowest out of the 268 players with at least 300 plate apperances. First and third lowest were Ryan Howard (.205) and Prince Fielder (.235), two players slow enough to be thrown out on batted balls that anyone else would turn into a hit.
Second-lowest was Ben Revere (.234), who hits like he’s using a wiffle-ball bat and had the fifth-lowest average exit velocity (83.7 MPH) in baseball last season among players with at least 100 batted balls.
Coghlan’s average EV last year of 87.9 MPH put him right between Starling Marte and Jonathan Schoop, two players who had a slugging percentage above .450. He’s also not particularly slow or bad at baserunning. There’s no reason for his BABIP to be this low other than pure luck.
If Coghlan had his career average BABIP of .307 last season, that would have added 14 hits to his total. Even if all 14 were singles, that would’ve given him a batting line of .257/.337/.364. That’s not good, but it’s not a complete disaster. Throw in a couple doubles and he starts to look like a league average hitter in 2016.
5) He hits righties far better than lefties
Coghlan has a .766 career OPS against right-handed pitchers compared to .620 against southpaws. That makes him a potential platoon player who could be paired with an outfielder that has the opposite splits.
That could be Joey Rickard, who - over an admittedly small sample - had a .861 OPS against lefties vs. .618 against righties last season. That could be Steve Pearce, who has always crushed left-handed pitching, if the O’s bring him back. Or, it could be someone else entirely.
His platoon splits also become even more valuable when you consider his ability to pinch hit in games that he didn’t start. It’s easier to find a way to use him when he can play at least five positions.
You basically need to burn two bench players to pinch hit with someone like Pedro Alvarez. With Coghlan, you only need to use one.
6) He picked up his game in the second half
As terrible as Coghlan’s overall numbers were, his stint with the A’s was unbelievably terrible - he hit .146/.215/.272 over 172 plate appearances before being shipped back to Chicago.
After the trade, he looked like his old self again. He hit .252/.391/.388 over his 128 plate appearances with the Cubs. If that’s the player the Orioles would be getting, Coghlan would be a steal.
Obviously, Coghlan has some worrying signs, otherwise he wouldn’t be in the bargain bin. He posted a career high K%, for instance, which is not something you want to see in a player who’s 31 years old.
Still, Coghlan is projected by Steamer to be worth 0.5 WAR over 280 plate appearances next year. For the O’s, he’d likely get more playing time than that since he’d be more of a starter / platoon player than a utility man, pushing his projection closer to 1 WAR.
A ~1 win player is worth more money than what Coghlan will receive, and the upside is there; Coghlan was a 3+ win player as recently as 2015. If he outperforms his projections even by a little, he’d be a steal.
The O’s will need some cheap signings to pay off if this offseason is going to be a successful one. They could do much worse than taking a small gamble on Chris Coghlan.