According to a report by MLB.com’s Joe Trezza last week, new Orioles general manager Mike Elias was actively exploring potential trades at the Winter Meetings in an effort to bolster the team’s outfield depth. Trezza went on to say that the Orioles are “open to taking on a salary” and are more likely to try and find a fit via a trade rather than “engaging the free agent market.”
It’s not surprising that the O’s are pursuing an outfielder, at least not in the short term. If the roster stays exactly as it is now, the starters from left to right would presumably be Trey Mancini, Cedric Mullins and Joey Rickard/D.J. Stewart. That set-up could do with some improving.
Mullins is the only one that should stay put. Mancini has performed in the outfield about as well as you could have expected him to. It’s time to return him to first base or DH. Rickard is fine, but is better suited for a fourth outfielder role. Stewart may never live up to his first-round draft pick status, but did well enough in his call-up last season to warrant an extended look in left field. That leaves the Orioles, in this scenario, searching for an outfielder to serve as a stopgap in right field before the likes of Austin Hays, Yusniel Diaz and Ryan McKenna arrive in Baltimore for good.
However, the trade market for outfielders that fit this need for the Orioles is not exactly flush with options. Who, exactly, was Elias speaking to? And which players could be making their way to Baltimore in the near future? Here are my best guesses:
Yasiel Puig - Los Angeles Dodgers
The Orioles need to give fans a reason to tune in to MASN or show up to Camden Yards during what is likely to be a horrific season. Puig would be the embodiment of that reason. His personality alone makes him one of the most entertaining players in the sport. On top of that, he is quite good. Puig hit .267/.327/.494 with 23 home runs, 21 doubles, 87 strikeouts and 26 walks in 125 games last season. And his canon for a right arm makes him a fit in right field.
It seems like the Dodgers have been trying to trade Puig for years, and this offseason feels like the right time to get a deal done. He is 28 years old and MLB Trade Rumors projects him to make $11.3 million next season, his final year of arbitration. That’s a lot of money for a player the Dodgers have started to platoon in a bloated outfield. It’s possible that Los Angeles could be ready to dump him simply for the salary relief and a low-level prospect.
Matt Kemp - Los Angeles Dodgers
The other outfielder that the defending NL champs are trying to move. Kemp bounced back from his career tailspin to post a .290/.338/.481 batting line and earn a spot on the All-Star squad last year. But it was a tale of two halves as he hit .210/.351/.522 prior to the mid-summer break and then .255/.313/.406 after. Defensively, Kemp is a liability, but he bounced back and forth between left and right and would still be an improvement over Mancini with the glove.
Kemp’s $21,750,000 salary for 2019 is already being split up between the Dodgers and the Padres. Despite his struggles, he may be worth it for an even smaller portion of that pay. It’s unclear what the Dodgers may be asking for in a deal for Kemp, but it can’t be much. He’s a 34-year-old that started to fade last season.
Alex Gordon - Kansas City Royals
If defense is the top priority, the Orioles could do a lot worse than Gordon. The 34-year-old has seen his offensive game dip (.245/.324/.370 in 2018) since his prime, but he remains a solid defender and owns six Gold Gloves.
Gordon is set to make $20 million in 2019 with a $23 million mutual option for 2020 and a $4 million buyout. He remains productive, but not good enough to warrant a $20 million price tag. If the Royals are keen to move him, they will need to eat some of that contract.
That said, there haven’t been any indications that Kansas City has taken calls on Gordon yet this offseason. He’s one of the team’s few familiar faces, and it may just make more sense to hold onto him as a fan favorite. He makes this list, though, because of his expiring contract, corner outfield abilities and oversized paycheck.
Shin-Soo Choo - Texas Rangers
The 36-year-old Choo finally made his first All-Star roster last season. He provided some pop from the left side of the plate, hitting .264/.377/.434 but, like Kemp, he faded in the second half (.217/.329/.316), making the $42 million he is owed over the next two seasons look pretty bad for the Rangers.
Choo is a butcher in the field and not much of a stolen base threat at this point in his career, so all of his value is coming from his bat. If that disappears, as it did down the stretch in 2018, then he becomes a black hole in the lineup. That dip in performance may have moved Choo into the O’s range of affordability.
Eric Thames - Milwaukee Brewers
Thames disappeared as the Brewers run for the NL pennant reached its apex. The chiseled former KBO star took a back seat to Jesus Aguilar as their preferred option at first base and then got squeezed out of the outfield picture as well
At 32 years old, Thames still has plenty of power. He hit 16 bombs and slugged .478 in 96 games last season. He hit 31 home runs the year before and had become known for his massive round-trippers during his time in Korea.
Thames’s contract is reasonable. He will make $6 million in 2019 and then has a player option for $7.5 million in 2020 with a $1 million buyout. However, the Brewers are in a bit of a roster crunch overall. They likely want to hold onto both Keon Broxton and Domingo Santana, and both would be behind Christian Yelich, Ryan Braun and Lorenzo Cain on the current depth chart. That makes Thames the potential odd man out.
The Orioles are in the power position. They do not “need” an outfielder. If the right deal arises then they should make a move. If not, they can just as easily stay put and wait for the free agent market to play out.