The 5 Biggest Decisions the Baltimore O's Have to Make This Offseason
With the World Series already here, the offseason is fast approaching. And with the offseason comes the Hot Stove.
It's what keeps us baseball nuts sane during the long winter: watching big names sign even bigger contracts, seeing who our favorite teams add and who they drop, and witnessing a blockbuster trade or two.
Yep, even though no baseball is played, the offseason can be a very interesting time for MLB, and personally, I enjoy every rumor of it. There's no stress like waking up every morning and checking to see if the rumored acquisition of your team has finally gone through or not. It's an addicting feeling.
The Baltimore Orioles have a good core of players in place for years ahead, but with an 85-win season that resulted in missing out on the playoffs in 2013, it's obvious that they have room for improvement.
Entering the offseason, GM Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter likely have a plan in place. But they'll have to make some tough decisions this winter as they look to improve the team.
Some of the biggest decisions are as follows.
Whether or Not to Bring Back Outfielder Nate McLouth
For the last year and a half, Nate McLouth has been a fan favorite and key contributor to the Orioles.
He's proved to be a solid leadoff option during his time in Baltimore, a plus defender in left field, a legitimate stolen base threat and one of their better on-base guys. However, he fizzled out toward the end of the season in 2013, which could be due to overexposure as he appears to be more of a platoon guy.
Prior to the 2013 season McLouth signed a one-year, $2 million deal with the O's. After his solid 2013 season, he could be in line for a multi-year deal with more money. MLB Trade Rumors' Tim Dierkes projects that McLouth could be in line for a two-year, $10 million deal, much like what the Boston Red Sox gave Jonny Gomes last winter.
If what Dierkes predicts ends up being true, will the Orioles be willing to shell out that kind of deal for a guy who drove in just 36 runs last season? Sure, he hit 12 homers and stole 30 bases, but he batted only .258. His .329 OBP was second on the team of all regulars, though, which is probably more of an indicator of where the O's need improvement more than it is an indicator of McLouth's worth to the club.
It's a tough debate. McLouth is definitely worth bringing back to the club at the right price, but $10 million over two years seems like a lot for a player who appears to be better utilized as a platoon guy, playing in a lot of games but not all of them.
If the price is right, I see McLouth returning. If it gets to be more than that $10 million range, I speculate that the O's will likely be looking for another left fielder.
To Make a Big Deal, or to Not Make a Big Deal
There appear to be many names lining up for trade market availability this winter.
Tampa Bay Rays lefty pitcher David Price (pictured) is the talk of the baseball world. The ace has two years left on his current contract, and Tampa Bay likely won't be able to afford him beyond that. They're known for trading away big-name players to add pieces for the future, so every baseball fan and their mother believes Price will be moved this winter.
The O's likely won't be able to afford to part with the prospects it would take to get Price, and the Rays probably wouldn't be open to trading inside the division, but there's always the possibility that it could happen.
Price isn't the only big name with the possibility of being moved, though. As ESPN's Buster Olney tweeted, the Kansas City Royals appear ready to listen to offers on DH Billy Butler. The O's have coveted Butler for quite some time now, and are rumored to be in on him virtually every winter, so it wouldn't be a surprise if the team makes a push for him this offseason to fill the hole at DH.
And evidently, the Los Angeles Dodgers are making Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp available this winter. While either one of those players would be a tough get for the O's and likely would cost more in prospects than what they'd be worth, plugging either one into the outfield mold in Baltimore would be a nice addition to the club.
Big names will be available in trade this winter, names that could fill the needs of the O's. They would definitely cost a lot in terms of prospects, but the O's brass could decide that the cost is worth the potential reward.
Whether or Not to Bring Back the Mid-Season Additions
In the midst of a playoff push, the O's made a few midseason moves in an attempt to bolster their roster and reach the postseason for the second consecutive season.
The team added starter Scott Feldman, reliever Francisco Rodriguez (pictured) and starter Bud Norris prior to the non-waiver trade deadline, then outfielder/DH Michael Morse just before September.
Other than Norris, all of them came in on one-year contracts, meaning their deals expired at the end of the season and they're all free agents.
The Birds will need to decide if any of the three players is worth pursuing. My guess is that Feldman would be the most likely candidate to return, with Morse almost certainly signing with a new team.
The Orioles really need a legitimate ace, or at least a No. 2 to slot in front of or behind current staff ace Chris Tillman, but Feldman did well as a fourth starter in his time in Baltimore last season as he pitched to a 4.27 ERA in 90.2 innings. He certainly has value as an innings eater who will give the team a chance to win almost every time out.
Rodriguez struggled a bit but didn't pitch poorly, throwing 22 innings with a resultant 4.50 ERA, but suffered only one loss. Rodriguez, with his reputation and career numbers, could probably command a lucrative deal, something the O's likely wouldn't be willing to give a one-inning reliever. But if he's not too expensive, I can definitely see the O's pushing for a reunion with K-Rod.
Morse struggled mightily during his time in Baltimore, netting only three hits in 30 plate appearances, all of which were singles, and didn't drive in a single run. Now, the slugger has a wrist injury, damaging his chances of returning to Baltimore. O's fans have likely seen the last of him.
Will the O's bring back Feldman and/or K-Rod? Only time will tell.
To Make a Big Deal, or to Not Make a Big Deal Pt. II
The free-agent market will be rich with talent this offseason.
A topic I explored in a recent piece of mine was free-agent hitters who would fit in perfectly with the O's. Guys like Kendrys Morales, Carlos Beltran (pictured) and Mike Napoli would be great options as DHs, as well as be players who can hit the field a couple times a week to give the regulars a break.
On the pitching side, starting pitchers such as Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, Hiroki Kuroda, Josh Johnson and A.J. Burnett are some of the options the Orioles could pursue in looking to add a strong and/or servicable starter to their rotation. And closer Grant Balfour would certainly be an intriguing option for a bullpen addition.
There isn't going to be a lack of available quality talent this winter, by any means. The issue is money, and the Orioles don't want to break the bank by signing one or two big-name guys. They would much prefer to stick with building success from depth and making smart moves rather than blockbuster ones.
That doesn't mean they won't make said big move, though. The O's are a conservative team when it comes to adding the big names, but they have made a few high-profile moves within the last decade (e.g. trading for Sammy Sosa, signing Aubrey Huff, signing Vladimir Guerrero).
Look for the Birds to at least be in play on many of these free-agent names, as the team would like to look to add talent without trading away young prospects. The Orioles need to keep their farm system intact as it isn't that deep in the first place, so the free-agent market has more appeal to them.
Whether or Not to Bring Back Brian Roberts
This one could end up being the toughest decision of all. Or it could end up being the easiest.
Brian Roberts has spent 13 years as a Baltimore Oriole. During that time, he has compiled a .278 batting average, .349 OBP, 278 stolen bases and led the league in doubles twice.
However, Roberts has spent the last four seasons on and off the DL, playing in just 192 games during that time period. Roberts was a model of health and consistency during the first nine seasons of his career, but has since fallen off the baseball world's radar due to his injury-plagued status.
So why would the Orioles want a 36-year-old injury-plagued second baseman back? Well, Roberts is currently the longest-tenured Oriole, having spent his whole career in Baltimore, so loyalty comes into play. The O's love Roberts and Roberts loves the O's, so naturally there's mutual interest in a new contract.
And despite Roberts' injury tag, he actually strung together a nice sample size of health during the second half of the 2013 season. Appearing in the season's first three games and injuring himself in the third contest, he returned toward the beginning of the season's second half, playing in 74 games from that point on.
In 2013, Roberts hit .249 with just a .312 OBP, but did hit eight homers and drive in 39 runs while spending the majority of his time at the bottom of the order. Roberts still has some pop in his bat, and if utilized correctly at the bottom of the order, could be a nice veteran weapon to fill out the lineup.
Roberts has spent the majority of his career as a leadoff hitter, though, and since the O's lack a true leadoff option, Roberts would also be a possibility there.
What's more, the O's would love to have some infield depth since third baseman Manny Machado likely will miss the beginning of the season after having knee surgery. Whoever leaves spring training as the utility man will likely be the starting third baseman until Machado is ready to go.
So for instance, should Ryan Flaherty break camp with the O's, he'd likely be the third baseman for a little while even though the club would rather utilize him at second base. But while he's stuck at the hot corner, Roberts would be the starting second baseman, and when Machado comes back, Flaherty and Roberts would share second base duties with Roberts getting regular rest and time at the DH position (only if the O's don't add a full-time DH).
Roberts brings quality depth and leadership to any team he signs with, and the O's want it to be them. They'll be looking to strike a one-year deal with Roberts with a low base salary and plenty of incentives. Roberts surely would understand that angle and jump at the chance to return to the club he's spent his entire career with.
Both parties want a reunion. Therefore, it would shock me if it didn't happen. But there's a lot to consider, which is why it could end up being a very tough decision.