A few weeks ago in his daily post for MASN Sports, Roch Kubatko gave a rundown of what the Orioles are shopping for this offseason. They want pitchers, obviously, but according to Roch’s story they also are looking for “left-handed-hitting corner outfielders, first basemen and designated hitters.”
When I saw that first item on the list, there was only one player I could think of: Brandon Nimmo. Technically he has been a center fielder for most of his career, and the Orioles already have one of those. To that I say details, shmetails. Nimmo isn’t better defensively than Cedric Mullins, but there is a huge left field to be dealt with that he could handle and still play center when needed.
Nimmo has played his entire major league career so far with the New York Mets, appearing in 608 games from 2016-2022 with a batting line of .269/.385/.441. Yes, you read that OBP right. A batter at the top of the lineup who can get on base that often would be a bolster to the Orioles, who only just topped a .300 OBP as a team in 2022.
Nimmo takes a lot of walks. He isn’t afraid to get hit by a pitch. He isn’t a big home run hitter but he gets his fair share of doubles. He’s fast (seven triples this year!), but he’s not much of a base stealer. And in the last five big league seasons he’s had more years with an OBP over .400 than he has under. That’s a big deal!
How big of a deal? From 2018-2022, Nimmo amassed 2073 plate appearances. If you filter out the batters in the same time frame with at least 2000 PAs, Nimmo comes in sixth for OBP. The names in front of him are the biggest stars in baseball, of course. But so are the names behind him! Mookie Betts. Xander Bogaerts. Alex Bregman. Paul Goldschmidt. None of these guys got on base as much as Brandon Nimmo. His skill is a rare one and one that the Orioles have needed for a long time.
So what are the drawbacks? Why haven’t the Orioles already snapped up this outfielder? Well, for one thing, he is a Scott Boras client who is sure to have a ton of suitors. If you do a Google news search for Brandon Nimmo, the results page is chock full of stories like this one with another team’s name filled in. Those stories are intertwined with articles about which teams have actually expressed interest. (The Orioles are not named, but since when does Mike Elias show his hand?)
It’s easy to imagine the Orioles being outbid for his services. Time will tell what kind of contract he’ll bring in; both FanGraphs and MLB Trade Rumors predict five years, $110 million. Nimmo will turn 30 years old during spring training, so a five-year contract is reasonable. Honestly, for what he could bring to a team, that seems like a pretty good contract.
Except there is one thing that gives me pause, and that is Nimmo’s injury history. He played in 155 games in 2022, his most ever and the only time he’s hit triple digits since 2018. Technically he had a full season in the pandemic-shortened 2020 year, so you can give him that if you’re feeling generous.
After a solid season in 2018, Nimmo was shut down in 2019 with an ongoing back injury. His bulging disc led to debilitating pain when he ran or turned his head. He missed 89 straight games over the summer of 2019 and only played in a total of 69 games that year.
That’s a pretty scary-sounding injury, but Nimmo did bounce back to play the entire last month of 2019 and all of the abbreviated 2020 season. But in 2021 the injuries were back, though his back did seem ok. He missed time with a hip impingement, hamstring tightness, and a bone bruise on his finger. His longest stretch of missed time was 55 games and he played in a total of 92.
Even with his injuries, I think the contract would be a good one. A bone bruise, the injury that knocked him out the most in 2021, isn’t going to be a recurring injury. And he hasn’t missed major time for anything back-related since 2019.
The Orioles are allegedly interested in a lefty-hitting outfielder and on this year’s free-agent market, they don’t get better than Nimmo. Having him on the team would allow Anthony Santander to spend more time in his rightful home of designated hitter. Nimmo is better than Austin Hays, who could still see playing time along with Kyle Stowers. It makes sense.
Unless, of course, the Orioles don’t want to commit to five years with an outfielder when they have their own lefty batting, righty throwing, plays center but would be great in left, getting-on-base machine down in the minors right now. I’m speaking of course, of 2021 first-round pick Colton Cowser. Cowser won’t start 2023 with the Orioles but it’s possible he’ll be ready for the majors before the end of the season.
Do the Orioles believe enough in him to go for a shorter-term signing in the outfield, someone more like Michael Brantley?
I don’t buy the idea of Cowser as a real obstacle, and that’s not because I don’t think he’s good enough. What I think is that players don’t play as well as we want them to. They get injured. They don’t always live up to expectations. I’m not referring to just Cowser here.
Hays has been underwhelming, but we know he’s got talent. Stowers is young and exciting but we don’t really know yet what to expect from him. Mullins is great in the outfield but what is his real hitting baseline? When will Cowser get the call and will he thrive or need some time?
So why not shore up the roster with a player like Nimmo, and sort out the rest if a traffic jam emerges?