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The Orioles should dramatically improve against left-handed pitching in 2017

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They can’t be much worse than they were last year

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The latest Orioles rumor is that, despite trading for Seth Smith on Friday, the team is looking to add another left-handed bat to “balance the lineup”, according to the Baltimore Sun. OK, that’s fine. But can we make sure it’s a left-handed hitter that can hit left-handed pitching, please?

Baltimore was the second-worst team in baseball against southpaws last season. Their meager .234 batting average against them was only better than the Los Angeles Dodgers (.213). Their .301 on-base percentage against them was third-worst and their .391 slugging percentage was fifth-worst. You get the picture. They need some help in that department.

However, the team lost Steve Pearce, who has become a late-career master of the lefty. Between Baltimore and Tampa last year, he slashed .309/.411/.617 against them.

And the newbie Smith doesn’t help matters either. Last year he sported a .167/.242/.233 slash line against same-sided pitchers. For his career, he barely gets above the Mendoza line (.202/.282/.312).

Swap meet

Shedding Mark Trumbo should help a bit. Despite his breakout offensive season in 2016, the slugger could not touch lefties. His .173/.223/.385 batting line against them was pretty shocking. His spot in the lineup could be taken by rookie Trey Mancini, who went 4-for-10 with three home runs against lefties in his September call up and has a history of torching them in the minors.

Over in left-field, removing Nolan Reimold from the equation is a huge help. Say “goodbye” to his .183 batting average split and “hello” to Joey Rickard’s .313 number. Even giving Hyun Soo Kim, who failed to register a hit against left-handed pitching over 17 at-bats in 2016, a chance feels better than Reimold out there.

And although there will always be a soft spot in some Oriole fans hearts for Matt Wieters, his replacement, Welington Castillo, is superior in hitting the southpaws. The new bird smacked ‘em around to the tune of a .278/.346/.522 slash line in 2016, whereas the old bird struggled with a .231/.304/.346 performance.

Imposing opposition

The O’s badly need the reinforcements against lefties. You may not have heard, but the Boston Red Sox got even better this off-season, and their rotation looks like it will be stacked with quality left-handers. David Price. Chris Sale. Drew Pomeranz. Eduardo Rodriguez. Oh, brother! Their only non-lefty is Cy Young-winner *coughshouldhavebeenBrittoncough* Rick Porcello.

But they aren’t the only ones to watch for. Toronto still has the dynamic duo of J.A. Happ and Francisco Lirano. The Yankees will surely trot out CC Sabathia a bit and Aroldis Chapman scares everyone except Ryan Flaherty. And something tells me facing Tampa’s Drew Smyly and Blake Snell will be beyond frustrating for years to come.

Monkey wrench

Something that could gum up the works a bit is the fact that the Orioles selected two guys in December’s Rule Five draft. Outfielders Aneury Tavarez and Anthony Santander will be in Spring Training, but will one or both make the team? It remains to be seen.

The Orioles are known for holding onto their Rule Five guys. That’s how they have nabbed Joey Rickard, Ryan Flaherty, T.J. McFarland and Jason Garcia. Heck, they had to return Logan Verrett to the Mets two years ago, but they went and got him again this winter. It’s a bit odd and makes you wonder if they will do whatever it takes to make room for another Rule Five player this spring.

In order to keep a Rule Five player, they have to stay on your Major League roster for a large chunk of the season. There are only 25 spots on that roster and the O’s tend to use all of them. It’s not a big deal when a guy contributes, like Rickard did in 2016. But it is a real problem when they don’t, like Garcia in 2015.

If the Birds do really like Tavarez or Santander, it would likely be either Rickard or Mancini that would be sent to the minors to make room. Those are, theorhetically, two of Baltimore’s best at hitting left-handed pitchers. Removing one, or both, handicaps a team that is eager to compete before their supposed “window” closes.

So, who’s out there?

The O’s say they want a left-handed hitter, Eh? Better make sure he can play outfield. And I want him to be able to hit southpaws.

Here’s five options:

1. Michael Saunders - the former Blue Jay has been regularly connected to the Orioles all winter. It just makes sense. He slashed .275/.358/.569 against lefties in 2016. It makes sense to sign him. But he would be a long-term/expensive option, and that’s not something the O’s want to do right now.

2. Angel Pagan - Showalter likes him, and that matters a lot. For his career, he is .267/.311/398 against lefties and can play all three outfield spots. He’s also 35 years old and could be had on a one- or two-year deal.

3. Ryan Raburn - another 35-year-old, but he’s not a lefty (sue me!). He resurrected his career in 2015 with Cleveland and then struggled in Colorado in 2016. Fielding is not his forte, but he is a career .261/.341/.487 hitter versus southpaws.

4. Michael Bourn - keep him an Oriole! The 34-year-old was a pleasant surprise last season (except for that fielding miscue in the Wild Card game). He crushed lefties (.357 BA) and seems like he was one of Buck’s guys during his short time in Charm City.

5. Sam Fuld - this one is sort of a “take a flier” pick. He missed out on the 2016 season. At 35 years old, he fits the bill as a “short-term” option. No, he’s not much with the stick, but can still flash the leather and would could be a perfect base-running and fielding option off of the bench.