Though a lot of the offseason's free agents have found homes with teams since spring training began, there are a number of quality major league players still dangling out there on the market, waiting for a team to bring them into camp at a price they find fair. Much of the focus for the Orioles has been on the unsigned pitchers, but a position player like infielder Neil Walker could potentially also offer something to the team.
MASN's Roch Kubatko wrote on Sunday that the Orioles are "intrigued" by Walker, whose name pops up in discussions within the organization when they consider possible bargains remaining on the free agent market. That's not a very strong sign of interest and probably nothing will happen.
Still, Walker got mentioned by name, and these guys who remain unsigned as early March creeps towards mid-March, with a late March Opening Day awaiting for all, are going to have to sign somewhere eventually.
Walker, a 32-year-old switch-hitter, is coming off of a season where he combined to bat .265/.362/.439 for the Mets and Brewers. Over his career, he's posted a .341 on-base percentage, a number that would have led the 2017 Orioles in that category. You don't have to squint very hard to see where an OBP-starved team could make use of a player like Walker in the lineup. He might become their best leadoff option immediately.
A tougher thing to do is to figure out where Walker would play on the diamond in order to be able to get him in the lineup at all. The Orioles are pretty well set at Walker's primary position of second base. In a professional career that dates back to being drafted in 2004, he has never played shortstop at all. And although he spent two years as a third baseman in the minors, the last of those years was 2008 and he has a total of just 144 innings there at the MLB level.
The Orioles in recent years have not let a concern like "He's barely or never played that position before and might not be any good at it!" stop them from putting a player out in the field. They did this with Trey Mancini in left field last season and they're prepared to do it with Tim Beckham at third base this season.
In that sense, they could find room for Walker. A switch-hitting right fielder would remove the need for a platoon there, after all. That doesn't make this a good idea. Walker has logged all of 103 innings in the outfield, and that was in left field. But again, the Orioles have never let something being a bad idea stop them from trying it. Some of their bad ideas even work out.
Walker might fit onto the roster as a sort of half-utility player, leaving Beckham as both the third baseman and the backup shortstop. This isn't the only position where the O's could plan to do this. Colby Rasmus may be on track to be both part of a right field platoon and the backup center fielder. Walker could play second base when Schoop gets a breather, third base when Beckham gets a breather, and also third base when Machado gets a breather and Beckham is at shortstop instead.
A more obvious solution to finding a place for Walker might just be to make him the third baseman instead of Beckham, pushing Beckham into the utility role. As Beckham is a better hitter than Ryan Flaherty, this could theoretically mean that manager Buck Showalter would actually make use of his utility infielder regularly to give rest to his players to keep them from wearing out when September rolls around.
Giving players more rest is one of those things Buck always says he wants to do but then doesn't actually do. But if you had Beckham able to play a game each at second base, shortstop, and third base per week, and maybe one at designated hitter, that might stop the late-season exhaustion, at least for the players around the infield.
Walker has only topped 140 games twice in his career and over the last two seasons played 224 games combined, so it may even be that a super-reserve sort of role is something for which he'd be suited from a health standpoint, rather than expecting him to play 150+ like is often done on the Orioles.
At the outset of the offseason, MLBTR predicted that Walker would receive a contract for two years and $20 million. Whenever and wherever he does end up signing, it's probably not going to be for that much money at this point.
It's a mystery how much money is actually available to the Orioles right now, with a currently-estimated payroll of $129.4 million, but if they think Walker can help the team, they sure better be able to find some money to add him at a bargain price, especially if it's only for one year.
Walker's OBP track record gives good reason to believe he could improve the team just on its own, though if the Orioles pass because what they need is more versatility right now - or because they're angling to use their last remaining money on Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb - that would be a defensible decision as well.
I don't expect to see Walker wearing an Orioles uniform this year, but this weird, slow offseason means that even though it's early March, it's still a possibility. That makes it interesting to think about even if it's not very likely to happen.