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Looking for late offseason Orioles free agent bargains

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There are a lot of unsigned free agents out there. Many may have to settle for minor league deals. The Orioles should look for these players.

Chicago White Sox v Baltimore Orioles
There’s nothing that stands between Dan Duquette and a bargain... except for another team offering more money.
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

One of the signatures of Dan Duquette’s tenure with the Orioles has been for the team to go bargain hunting late in an offseason as spring training nears, or even after it’s arrived. With a market that observers are noting is unusually flooded this late in the season, the bargain bin is more full than it usually is when Duquette goes picking from it.

Not that all of Duquette’s February signings have worked out. Nelson Cruz was a good one. Yovani Gallardo was not. On balance, you’re probably not too happy about the “bargain” signing of Ubaldo Jimenez, either.

The good news is that there’s no concern about giving up another draft pick at this point. All of those guys have signed now. Everyone who is left is only going to cost money, and at this point, most of the job-seekers will probably be settling for one-year contracts, if they don’t have to take minor league deals with invites to spring training.

Money is not something the Orioles seem to have in large supply, which is probably why they haven’t signed some of these players already. After settling with Kevin Gausman, the O’s are committed to about $155 million in 2017 payroll. By the time they settle their last arbitration case and pay the pre-arbitration players like Mychal Givens, they will add another $6-7 million onto payroll.

In all, they’re looking at an Opening Day payroll that’s about $15 million more than it’s ever been before.

An interesting name might have been ex-Oriole Jason Hammel, who’s found some modest success since he left the O’s following the 2013 season. However, he was probably out of the O’s price range, and in any case he reached an agreement on a two-year contract with the Royals on Sunday night. Hammel will get $16 million guaranteed.

Another guy probably also excluded is switch-hitting outfielder Angel Pagan, who all through the offseason has looked like the ideal signing for the O’s. With the O’s needing some kind of backup center fielder for Adam Jones, as well as corner outfield-capable players who aren’t total liabilities hitting against lefties, Pagan, even if he’s already 35, is the guy they should have been wanting since November.

That still leaves a whole lot of names on the unsigned free agents list. Many of these players are not ones who would make for exciting signs. Still, if no one is going to sign them and a Norfolk roster spot’s the only way they can get a job, there’s no harm in signing some of them.

The O’s could really use depth just about anywhere. Many spots on the team are one broken bone away from a very bad time. If one of their starting pitchers gets hurt, we’re going to get the wrong amount of Mike Wright. An injury that forces Adam Jones to the disabled list means center field is in Joey Rickard’s hands and a corner outfield spot may get Mark Trumbo regularly instead of just against lefties.

Some names worth thinking about among those who are left:

C.J. Wilson

The Orioles were so obsessed with the idea of getting a lefty into the rotation last year that they thought it was a good idea to trade for Wade Miley, who was carrying a 5 ERA in Seattle, for crying out loud.

Sure, Miley’s still kicking around this year at a cost of $8.75 million, and Wilson hasn’t pitched since 2015 has had both elbow surgery and shoulder surgery in the last two years. That is what makes Wilson the ideal candidate to sign to a minor league deal to give him a chance to show what, if anything, he has left in the tank at age 36.

At some point this year, the O’s will need a better sixth starter than Tyler Wilson or T.J. McFarland. C.J. Wilson has been so hurt that it’s probably not him, but it’s worth a shot.

Jered Weaver

Speaking of guys who probably aren’t the answer... Weaver has essentially pitched his only good games in the last three years against the hacktastic Orioles lineup that can’t handle his slop. The preceding sentence was not intended as a factual statement.

Seriously though, Weaver averaged 83mph on his fastball last year. No wonder he pitched to a 5 ERA. Stick a fork in him, he’s done. On the other hand, a couple of weeks ago, FanRag’s Jon Heyman reported that the Padres had offered a deal of more than $1.75 million to Weaver, surely a more enticing option than hanging around in Norfolk, imparting wisdom to Joe Gunkel and Chris Lee.

Colby Lewis

It’s been quite a trip for the 37-year-old Lewis, whose career has taken him from Texas to Japan and back again. He tossed over 200 innings as recently as 2015, although that came along with a disagreeable 4.66 ERA.

Last season, in 19 starts, Lewis pitched to a 3.71 ERA. However, he missed two months of the season with a strained lat muscle, and also gave up 19 home runs in only 119.1 innings pitched.

A month ago, Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that a reunion between Lewis and the Rangers was unlikely, with the Rangers not wanting to offer more than a minor league deal. Doesn’t sound like a guy who’s looking for Norfolk bus rides either, but it’s February 6 now and that might be what he has to take. He can have a June opt-out or something. The Orioles will probably need him, or someone like him, before then.

Billy Butler

This would be a terrible idea, since the Orioles already have Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo around, but that was true last year too and it didn’t stop them from signing Pedro Alvarez. I’d rather see Trey Mancini get a shot than an MLB signing for Butler; burying Mancini behind Butler would have been a very Andy MacPhail kind of move.

For a guy to stick in Norfolk, though, why not? He’s almost certainly a better option for injury insurance than Christian Walker, even if Butler is four years removed from a successful full season. If he ever came to Baltimore, he’d probably have an easier time hitting here than he just did in three years in Oakland.

Would Butler want to slum around in Norfolk? Well, teams aren’t exactly breaking down the door for him, so, maybe. There are no bad minor league signings.

**

It’s never a very likely proposition to sign a big difference-maker this late in an offseason. That’s even more true in a year where there are no remaining qualifying offer free agents still lingering on the vine. But there are more than a few players who, if everything breaks right for them, could contribute to the Orioles. Hopefully, they’ll find a way to stash a few of those players in Norfolk, just in case.