Baltimore Orioles: Free-Agent Eric Chavez Is a Perfect Fit

Andrew Martin@@historianandrewCorrespondent IIINovember 21, 2012

Eric Chavez would be a great mentor to Manny Machado.
Eric Chavez would be a great mentor to Manny Machado.Leon Halip/Getty Images

The Baltimore Orioles shocked many in the baseball world by winning 93 games and making the playoffs last season, but they can’t allow that success to make them complacent. With eagerly anticipated prospects like Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado expected to play large roles in 2013, adding experienced players to help balance the roster would be wise.A veteran the Orioles should seriously consider pursuing is third baseman Eric Chavez.

It’s expected that Machado will be the starting third baseman next season, but making sure he has proper insurance in case he struggles is key to his development. Since he won’t turn 21 until next July, it’s a lot to expect him to take over and produce at the hot corner on a full-time basis for a team that will have playoff aspirations.

Admittedly, Machado was the regular third baseman for the Orioles down the stretch last season, but he often struggled at the plate. He hit a lethargic .255 against right-handed pitchers and posted just a .294 overall OBP. Having a player like Chavez on the roster would allow the Orioles to selectively play Machado in situations where he would have the greatest chances of succeeding, hastening his development.

Baseball America’s Ben Badler was among those who questioned the Orioles decision to call up Machado last August because of his precocious age. The youngster didn't embarrass himself during his late-season debut, but it was clear that he isn't close to being the star so many envision him becoming one day.

Machado is a natural shortstop and the Orioles shouldn't give up on him playing that position. His athleticism allows him to play all over the infield. With injury-prone J.J. Hardy, Brian Roberts and Alexi Casilla playing up the middle in 2013, and Robert Andino just traded to the Seattle Mariners, there should be other opportunities for Machado to play next season besides third base.

Because a chronic bad back, Chavez hasn't been a regular player since 2006. However, since joining the Yankees in 2011, he transformed himself into a highly effective part-time player, posting a .845 OPS this past season in 278 at bats.

A six-time Gold Glove third baseman, Chavez no longer has the same defensive skills but is more than capable in the field. In addition to third, he can also play first base, and the Orioles could utilize his bat occasionally as a DH or pinch hitter.

Chavez complements Machado because of how his strengths offsets the young player's weaknesses. Last season Chavez hit .298 with a .908 OPS against right-handed pitchers, making him a true weapon in such matchups.

The Orioles regular lineup is short on playoff experience. Entering last season’s Wild Card game, they had only three starters (Mark Reynolds, J.J. Hardy and Nate McLouth) with any previous playoff experience; with that being just 17 combined games. By contrast, Chavez has been in the playoffs in seven of his 15 major league seasons.

Having made $900,000 with the Yankees in 2012, Chavez is not likely to break the bank if the Orioles decide to make a run at him. It would be surprising if a relatively modest two-year deal couldn't get the job done.

Signing Chavez would also serve the dual purpose of weakening the rival Yankees. The decline in play of Alex Rodriguez, as outlined by ESPN.com’s Doug Glanville, means that New York is certain to need a solid back-up at third. Taking Chavez away is removing a battle-tested veteran, who proved he can perform under the rigors of playing in New York.

The Orioles operate with a team payroll that is less than most other MLB teams. Finding good value is an integral exercise every offseason, with none being quite as important as this winter, as they hope to continue building their playoff momentum.

Signing Eric Chavez would greatly improve the Orioles veteran leadership and provide solid support for the team’s best young position player. It would be a great first significant move of the offseason and one that the team almost cannot afford to pass up.

Statistics via BaseballReference

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