The Orioles are going into the offseason the same way they have in the past few years, trying to recover from the cellar of the AL East while the Yankees and Red Sox spend their way to success. The difference this year is that the O's will be led by a new general manager (TBD), who will look to take the team in a positive direction.
One of the things that contenders do is find low cost talent that can outperform their contract. While this is no easy feat, other teams in the division have proven it can be done, such as the Yankees turning Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon from minor league deals into solid starters, or the Rays putting together a magical bullpen and getting unbelievable production from Casey Kotchman at first base.
There have been a few bargain deals in Baltimore that have worked out in the past couple of years. Will Ohman and Corey Patterson both played their way onto the 2010 roster to make a small impact.
Here are a few players that the Orioles may want to target on minor league deals or cheap major league deals to be a better team in 2012.
I've never really though much of Jamey Carroll before 2011, but he made a big difference on a really poor Dodgers team.
It's odd to look at Carroll as a veteran presence considering that he has really just been a serviceable backup for most of his career, but he really seemed to impact the Dodgers infielders in a very positive way.
For the Orioles, Carroll could be a low-cost backup that can fill in at second or shortstop if Brian Roberts or J.J. Hardy is hurt, and potentially third depending on who the Orioles go with at the hot corner in 2012.
Considering Carroll's age and past performance, I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up getting somewhere between $1-2 million, which could fit nicely in the Orioles' budget.
It amazes me that teams seem to not consider Betemit that highly because he has been a pretty solid switch-hitting third baseman for the last few years, but is barely making any money. He's not the answer at third by any means, but he could fill the spot well while the Orioles develop talented players like Jonathan Schoop.
Betemit's last two deals have been meager, a minor league contract in 2010 and a $1 million deal to avoid arbitration in 2011. He will likely get a modest pay raise, but it won't be that much. A two-year deal for $4 million might be enough to lure Betemit as a band-aid at third or just competition for Chris Davis and Josh Bell.
Kevin Kouzmanoff hasn't been good at all for the last two years, which is probably why Colorado released him after the season, but at 30 years old, Kouzmanoff probably still has a lot left in the tank.
When I look at Kouzmanoff, I see a low risk/high reward player that reminds me of Casey Kotchman on the Rays. Kouz has potential, as proven by his 18-plus home runs in each of his three seasons on the San Diego Padres.
If the Orioles can get Kevin Kouzmanoff on a minor league deal with an invite to spring training, they may be able to get production well beyond his salary.
Laynce Nix may have been one of the most unsung heroes off the bench this year for the Nationals.
The Orioles may be looking for a little help in the outfield after dropping Felix Pie and getting very little out of prospects Matt Angle and Kyle Hudson. Nolan Reimold is the current left fielder and it looks like Buck Showalter will give him a shot to hold onto the job, but the O's could use a cheap left-handed outfielder that could help in a platoon with Reimold.
Nix was unimpressive in his limited at-bats against lefties, but mashed right-handed pitchers and made some key plays. I saw him in a game against the Phillies where he preserved the game with a fantastic diving grab and then gave the Nats the lead by knocking one out against Roy Halladay.
Nix has received minor league deals for the last two seasons, so he could probably be acquired for very little.
The Orioles clearly need pitching help after having the worst team ERA in the majors. Pat Neshek may not be the answer, but he is one among many free-agent pitchers that might take a minor league deal and has the potential to be successful.
Neshek had a career year in 2007 with the Twins and has yet to repeat his success, but allowing him to pitch his way onto the team may be great for the Orioles. They should make an effort to try to snag as many high-potential relievers on minor league deals as possible and figure out what shakes out in spring training.