5 Studs Baltimore Orioles Should Save Their Payroll for in 2014

James MorisetteCorrespondent IIIDecember 11, 2012

5 Studs Baltimore Orioles Should Save Their Payroll for in 2014

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    Earlier this month, I wrote a Bleacher Report article that pointed to the flexibility the Baltimore Orioles have flying into the 2013 major league season.

    Since publication, rejuvenated 31-year-old outfielder Nate McLouth signed a one-year, $2 million deal with Baltimore (per the Baltimore Sun). This occurred during a relatively quiet outing for Orioles brass during the MLB Winter Meetings in Nashville Tennessee.

    But is this silence by design? Are the Orioles stacking cash to make a bigger splash in 2014?

    While it is true Baltimore has question marks heading into the 2013 season, it is also true the Orioles have the potential to post an impressive ball club come Opening Day.

    Should the Orioles stay healthy, and their hurlers continue to build upon success achieved in 2012, this team has the makings of something special.

    That is not to say the Orioles are not plotting for something greater.  A repeat or better performance by the Orioles in 2013 will make this team a very attractive option for these five, big time 2014 MLB free agents.

Jacoby Ellsbury

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    Should McLouth retreat to mediocrity this coming season and not return in 2014, Boston Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury may emerge as a significant upgrade.

    A career .297 hitter, Ellsbury would give Baltimore a nice left-handed bat, solid defensive skills and disruptive speed on the base paths.  

    Yet for all his upside, Ellsbury has battled injuries the past few seasons. He is also represented by the always tough agent Scott Boras.

    And come time for the MLB trade deadline this summer, Ellsbury may present the Red Sox with a nice trade piece to bolster its young baseball team.

    Should Ellsbury be available, it may be hard for the Orioles to lay off a dynamic ballplayer that has batted .361 (22-for-61) with a .590 SLG and .984 OPS at Camden Yards since 2010 (per ESPN).

    Other possibly available OFs:  Coco Crisp, Curtis Granderson, Hunter Pence, Nelson Cruz, Carlos Beltran

Jon Lester

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    Plain and simple, the Orioles could use a stud left-hander in their rotation to add to solid southpaws Wei-Yin Chen and Joe Saunders (if he re-signs). Brian Matusz is also in the mix, but he has to display more consistency to return to the Orioles rotation.

    Enter BoSox lefty Jon Lester. Fresh off the most disappointing season of his career, Lester is a fierce competitor who will look to erase memories of 2012 with a gem 2013 season.

    According to NESN, Lester signed a five-year, $30 million dollar contract with Boston in March 2009. But like Ellsbury, Lester might make for enticing trade bait for Boston, as the team nears the trade deadline.

    But should Lester ward off a trade and make it to free-agency status, the Orioles could give Lester a big payday. In return, the Orioles would receive a playoff battle-tested hurler that can mentor Chen and Matusz.

    Other possibly available SPs:  Tim Lincecum, Roy Halladay, Matt Garza, Phil Hughes, Josh Johnson

Eric O'Flaherty

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    The Orioles have reliever Darren O’Day. They also have infielder Ryan Flaherty.

    But what the birds do not have is Atlanta Braves' stud left-handed setup man Eric O’Flaherty.

    If the Braves were smart, they would lock up this guy long-term. But should Atlanta fail to reel in this 27-year-old from Walla Walla Washington, the Orioles should pounce.

    Fresh off outstanding back-to-back years O’Flaherty has tomahawk chopped his way to a career 17-9 record with a 2.87 ERA and 1.26 WHIP (per ESPN stats).

    O’Flaherty’s best season came in 2011, when he posted an 0.98 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 73.2 IP for the Braves.

    O’Day and O’Flaherty in the seventh and eighth innings. Sounds like a combo sure to make opposing teams sigh and say, “Oh...”

    Other possibly available RPs:  Pat Neshak, Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, Joaquin Benoit, Matt Albers

Martin Prado

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    Orioles’ fans are polarized on second baseman Brian Roberts.

    In one camp are those who love Roberts and cling to the nostalgia of this player’s scrappy performances earlier in his career.

    In the other camp are those who feel Roberts cannot stay healthy long enough to piece together a full season.

    Both camps have valid arguments.

    Should Roberts prove unable to ward off the injury bug in 2013, Braves' utility man Martin Prado should become a target.

    While Prado has played outfield the past few years, he is traditionally an infielder. He was the Braves' starting second baseman prior to the signing of Dan Uggla.

    A career .295 hitter, Prado would provide the Orioles with flexibility in both the infield and outfield.

    More critically for Baltimore, Prado would give this team stability at a second base position that has eluded consistency. Prado has also proven a fair RBI guy, knocking in a career high 70 runs in 2012.

    Other possibly available 2Bs:  Ben Zobrist, Chase Utley, Omar Infante, Aaron Hill…and Brian Roberts

Robinson Cano

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    Oops. Almost forgot. The big fish.

    This is the top-prize in the 2014 MLB free-agent class. How awesome would it be it the Orioles were able to lure Cano to Camden Yards.

    Warehouse bricks in right-field, beware!

    Megadeal or blockbuster trade notwithstanding, Cano donning orange and black would be like Orioles' fans collectively winning the lottery. For the Orioles would not have to worry about the second base position for a long time.

    Of course this career .308 hitter with a .503 SLG and .929 OPS will by no means come cheaply. Some might even say Cano might not just break the bank, he may bust open the Treasury.

    But to watch Cano step to the plate for the Orioles AGAINST the Yankees for the next decade or so, would be well worth the investment.

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