Judging from social media and the Camden Chat comments section, there are many fans who do not want the Orioles to sign any free agents this offseason. They say that money should not be wasted on the 2019 major league roster which isn’t expected to win and the young players on the roster should be allowed to grow and learn at the major league level.
I am in agreement with that sentiment. With that said, the Orioles should consider signings that satisfy the following criteria: the player would accept a one-year contract at a reasonable salary, the player would not be blocking a younger talent who is legitimately ready for the majors, and the player is a candidate to fetch a prospect in a mid-season trade.
Below are two potential acquisitions that can be had on cheap one-year contracts. They will make the club slightly more competitive in 2019 while not impacting the future.
Following Tim Beckham being non-tendered, shortstop is the one position where the Orioles do not have an internal option that has shown at least a shred of promise at the major league level (assuming Jonathan Villar is the starting second baseman). Richie Martin and Drew Jackson were added to the roster through the Rule 5 draft and neither has appeared in the majors. Hanser Alberto was claimed off of waivers from the Yankees; he has turned 182 career at bats into a .192 batting average.
Some in Birdland may want Richie Martin to start at shortstop on Opening Day and I can see why. Martin was Oakland’s #12 prospect prior to being selected the O’s, is a former first round pick, will be able to hold his own defensively, brings an element of speed, and his offensive game finally developed last season. I’m excited about his future in Baltimore. Could this finally be the Rule 5 pick that turns into an above average major leaguer? Poor Dan Duquette must be jealous. But, as stated, Martin has not played in the majors. The 23-year-old hasn’t even reached AAA yet. Inserting him as a starter would carry a lot of risk, even for a team with no expectations. His ideal role while fulfilling his Rule 5 obligation is backup infielder and pinch runner.
That leaves the Orioles in the market for a shortstop and Jose Iglesias is the perfect fit. He has always been a solid defender and 2018 was no different. He ranked fourth among shortstops in UZR according to Fangraphs. Baseball Reference rates his dWAR as positive in every season he’s played and an impressive 3.1 over the past three seasons. He would provide a stabilizing presence in the middle infield and a defensive mentor for Martin.
Iglesias won’t win a club many games with his bat, but he isn’t a black hole like some defense-first shortstops we’ve seen (I’m thinking of Cesar Izturis). He slashed .269/.310/.389 last year. With 21 career home runs, he has next to no power. But he swiped 15 bases last year and would add speed to a lineup that already has fleet-footed Villar and Cedric Mullins.
Detroit tried unsuccessfully to trade Iglesias over the past two years, so Baltimore being able to move him once Martin is ready to start isn’t a given. But he should only be signed to a one-year deal. If Adam Jones was removed from center field for Cedric Mullins, Jose Iglesias can certainly be moved to the bench.
Nick Vincent or Tyler Clippard
When Brad Brach agreed to a one year, $3M deal with the Cubs yesterday, it illustrated the state of the market for relief pitchers. There is a nice supply of quality veteran relief pitchers looking for work. Nine relievers have signed multi-year contracts thus far and Craig Kimbrel figures to as well. The rest of this free agent class will settle for one-year deals and many, like Brach, already have.
Most teams looking to bolster their bullpens foresee a competitive 2019 season in their future. That is not the Orioles. But their bullpen, which had been a staple of their success since 2012, took a major hit in July when Zach Britton, Darren O’Day, and Brad Brach were traded away. There are some quality pieces in the pen, but it is certainly a thinner group than we’ve seen in past years. And the elder statesman in the bullpen is currently the 28-year-old Mychal Givens, who has been a pitcher since 2013.
While a veteran bullpen arm won’t make the O’s playoff contenders in 2019, adding one would have some benefits. First, it would provide a veteran presence for a young group that will undoubtedly introduce more young arms from the minors at some point this year. Second, the bullpen could be taxed this season due to the uncertainty at the backend of the starting rotation. Adding a veteran arm that is able to handle a larger workload will take pressure off of the developing, younger arms. Also, while winning isn’t the goal of the 2019 Orioles, losing games late is hard on the psyche of a young club. A quality arm to compliment Givens and Richard Bleier will help the O’s nail down the few games they should win this year. And finally, competitors are always looking for bullpen help at the trading deadline. A reliever who is in the midst of a good campaign shouldn’t be hard to unload for a mid-to-low-level prospect.
I picked Nick Vincent and Tyler Clippard from the list of available free agents because they are right-handed, pairing well with the lefty Bleier and they’ve had very solid careers. Vincent pitched last season in Seattle where he posted a 3.99 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and struck out a batter per inning. His ERA over his seven seasons is a very respectable 3.17. Clippard, who we know from various stops in the AL East, spent 2018 in Toronto and pitched to an ERA of 3.67 and a WHIP of 1.17. Ever the strikeout pitcher, he punched out over 11 batters per nine innings. His career ERA is 3.16. If Vincent or Clippard’s price tag is too high, another veteran reliever should be considered by Mike Elias.
What are your thoughts about the Orioles’ activity in the free agent market? If you think the Orioles should be active in the free agency market, which players do you prefer? Or do you think they should avoid spending money on the 2019 roster?