Prince Fielder Need Not Apply: 7 Players the Baltimore Orioles Should Pursue
Right off the bat, I'm not an Orioles fan, but I live in the Baltimore/Washington area. I hear a lot of the complaints of long-suffering O's fans, and I understand the desire to win now, and make a big splash, but I can't seem to find justification in over-spending (both lengthwise and in dollar amount) for Prince Fielder or C.J. Wilson.
The Orioles finished in the top half of the league in most offensive categories while their pitching was the worst of any staff in the big leagues. The Orioles need to continue to develop their young pitching and relieve pressure off of the current #1 and #2 in Jeremy Guthrie and Tommy Hunter.
To me, the answer doesn't lie in signing an unproven like Yu Darvish or over-paying for C.J. Wilson who has only been a starter for two years. As disheartening as it might be to hear, the Orioles need to go with low risk/high reward type players, as well as proven veterans that won't break the bank.
The Orioles have two or three rotation spots filled. Guthrie and Hunter are obviously the two, with Britton being the third. The other candidates start with Jake Arrieta, Brian Matsuz, Alfredo Simon, and Chris Tillman.
The Orioles haven't had a true #1 starter since Eric Bedard, and haven't had a long-term ace since Mussina, but I think they can find a moderately priced one for around 13-15 Mil/Yr, and get an amazing mentor in the process.
With a veteran #1 in place, competition for the #5 spot will bring out the best in the remaining candidates and create a real sense of urgency among those delegated to AAA.
The Orioles also need to address their bullpen, bench, and presence in foreign markets.
#1 Starter: Mark Buerhle
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Here is a disclaimer: Mark Buerhle is one of my favorite pitchers. Why? He reminds me so much of Greg Maddux. He is a model of consistency having pitched 200+ innings in 11 straight seasons.
There is no reason the Orioles shouldn't be breaking down Buerhle's door this off-season. He is the crafty lefty who might just be able to turn another strongly southpaw (psssttt.... Brian, i'm talking to you!), as well as mentor the rest of the young starters.
Here's a good question: What pitcher on the open market has pitched two no-hitters, made multiple playoff runs, and boasts a WS title, yet won't force you to break the bank or give a long-term commitment? You know the answer.
It is worth noting that Mark is actually only 32, and if Jamie Moyer is any indication, Buerhle could easily pitch another 3-5 years at his current level seeing as he is arguably the league's best soft-tosser and he likely won't be looking for a deal longer than 2-3 years.
The problem with Buerhle is that once Darvish is posted and off the market (or elects to stay in Japan), and C.J. Wilson is gobbled up, it'll be a Oswalt and Buerhle market. Either pitcher could command as much as 13-15 Mil/Yr on the open market.
If the Orioles want an ace who can mentor their young arms, while being their best pitcher, and at the same time make their veteran starters better, and all for a price tag of considerably less than C.J. Wilson or Yu Darvish, than Mark has got to be their man.
Of course Buerhle isn't the long-term solution, but if the Orioles "wine and dine" him a little bit and sell him on the idea of being able to help save a sinking ship of a pitching staff of young arms (along with a bit more money than anyone else is offering), than the Orioles will truly have obtained the pitcher with the most value for their dollar on the open market.
Low-Risk/High Reward Hitter: Grady Sizemore
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Some fans might moan and groan that Sizemore would be another typical Orioles "washed-up" player signing like the disaster that was Garret Atkins, but Sizemore is a much different case.
Grady's problem has never been on-field production, but lack of actually being on the field. After playing hard-nosed, Griffey-eske defense in CF for several years, Grady's body has started to give out on him and has left him on the DL seemingly every other day.
If the Orioles could fit him into a mix of DH and LF play where he would be less likely to crash into walls, and allow Grady to get his bat going, than Sizemore could be a reclamation project finally worth taking on.
Something Old, Something New : George Sherril, and Jonathan Broxton
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Just like their starting staff, the Orioles bullpen could use a little maintenance as well. Some Oriole fans might be keen on adding Sherrill, so might not. He is a low-risk/medium-reward type reliever. Sherill had a good year with Atlanta and is one of the few decent LH relievers on the open market. He won't command a whole lot and may be open to rejoining Baltimore. Combine him with Zach Phillips and Troy Patton and you have some decent go-to LH relievers.
Next is Jonathan Broxton. He might not be a top choice for closer considering how poorly that worked out for him in the last year or so for the Dodgers, but he could be a great compliment to Jim Johnson in the set-up role, or Broxton may even end up winning the closer's role. Either way, Broxton won't be making the kind of money many thought he would be making a few years ago once he hit the open market, and last I checked he still has a killer fastball and is one of the better relievers available this off-season. He is medium-risk/high-reward RH reliever.
Dipping into Foreign Markets: Tsuyoshi Wada
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I honestly don't know a whole lot about Tsuyoshi Wada, but I do know he has been one of the most successful Japanese lefties in recent memory. He is ranked around 30-35 on various websites like MLBTradeRumors for overall 2012 free agents, and he could be the LH Koji Uehara, or he could also be tried out as a starter depending on the team's desires.
Wada might not solve a specific need, but he should give the Orioles brass more experience in delving into the international market instead of sitting back and letting other teams gobble up the best international names.
Building the Bench: Jerry Hairston Jr., Ivan Rodriguez
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The Orioles will already have a crowded outfield with Markakis, Jones, Reimold, Scott, and Sizemore in the fold, so with Izturis, Fox, and Tatum gone the Orioles will need to add some veterans that can backup the infield to their depleted bench.
My first recommendation here is a former Oriole in Jerry Hairston. Hairston played surprisingly well last year even starting a number of playoff games for the Brewers after making the trip mid-season from Washington, and he can play virtually an non-battery position and hit his weight at the same time.
Ivan Rodriguez still wants to prove he has something left in the tank and might even be able to make Matt Wieters that much better. Pudge would be a welcomed upgrade over Tatum or Fox and would end all qualms of who the #2 catcher is.