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What might right field look like for the 2018 Orioles?

Austin Hays is likely to make the opening day roster, but could be part of a platoon with a new addition. Carlos Gonzalez seems like a good fit.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports

Since early November when MLB Trade Rumors posted its Top 50 MLB Free Agent Predictions and projected the Orioles would sign Carlos Gonzalez, the right fielder has been linked to Birds. And why not?

It seems the Orioles may not be ready to hand over the starting job to 22-year-old Austin Hays just yet – nor should they. Hays may be ready to take the next step, but the Orioles can’t count on the rookie to be an everyday player by opening day.

But unless he totally tanks during spring training, Hays will make the team heading north. Dan Duquette wouldn’t have promoted him in September if he didn’t think he’d be ready in 2018. The best way to break in the young upstart might be to add a solid left-handed hitter to the mix that would complement Hays’ skills and allow the Orioles to ease him into a larger role.

While Hays excelled in all phases of the game last year at Bowie and Norfolk, winning the Orioles’ minor league player of the year honors, he especially feasted on left-handed pitching resulting in a stellar 1.133 OPS. He homered more frequently than once in every 14 at-bats versus southpaws and seems to be a perfect fit to start the season in a platoon situation in right field.

Hays would also provide a legitimate glove to backup Adam Jones in center field and earn a start there now and then to help rest the oft-tired knees of the Orioles captain.

So, is Carlos Gonzalez the right match in a platoon with Hays?

The ten-year vet does own an impressive** .288/.346/.511 batting line with 215 home runs and 117 steals. No longer a speed thread, Gonzalez is a slugger now – hitting as many as 40 home runs in 2015. He slowed down some last season, after a formidable 2016 season that featured 25 homers, 100 RBIs and an .855 OPS. He hit .262/.339/.423 in 2017, but finished strongly with a .305/.381/.504 second half.

The ** is due to the batting-friendly altitude in Colorado that skews any Rockies’ batting statistics and requires a close look at how well they perform on the road. And like most Rockies, Gonzalez hits much better at home. His road batting average while wearing purple is .252, compared to .329 at Coors Field.

But perhaps a more telling stat for the Orioles’ purposes that MLB Trade Rumors points out is how well he’s played of late against right-handed pitching on the road. From 2015-2017, Gonzalez has hit a more-than-respectable .271/.338/.454. These are numbers the Orioles would gladly take.

Defensively speaking, even though Gonzalez has won three gold gloves, his metrics have never been very good. And at 32, his skills are waning. According to Fangraphs’ Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), which factors range, throwing and other skills, Gonzalez’s UZR per 150 games was -1.5 in 2017, falling from his career -0.6. Not great, but compared to Seth Smith last year (-6.0) and Mark Trumbo (-18.9) playing right, welcome to Baltimore, Carlos.

Once a large concern, but not so much lately, is Gonzalez’s ability to stay healthy. He spent a total of 117 days on the disabled list from 2011-2014 with knee, finger and wrist issues. But since then, CarGo has only visited the DL once, missing 11 days last year nursing a strained right shoulder.

MLB Trade Rumors projected Gonzalez would sign a one-year, $12 million deal. That could certainly fit the bill for the Birds, but adding Ginzalez could require a two-year contract or at least a player opt-out. Oops, I mean a player option – the Orioles don’t do opt-outs – like the deal they made with Welington Castillo last year.

And it could make sense for the Orioles if Gonzalez played in the black and orange for two seasons, given the number of contracts slated to end after this year. If he continues to hit righties and stay healthy, he could be a valuable bat in 2019 to help replace some production lost by any and all of Jones, Trumbo and Manny Machado.