Top 10 free agents who fit team’s needs

Pic­ture is clearer with time for qual­i­fy­ing of­fers ex­pired

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Jon Me­oli

Mon­day’s dead­line for free agents to ac­cept or de­cline qual­i­fy­ing of­fers from their previous teams set the ma­jor­ity of the off­sea­son mar­ket, giv­ing teams a clear idea of whom they might tar­get and what it might cost to do so.

The Ori­oles, whose stated goals have been adding a cor­ner out­fielder who can im­prove them de­fen­sively and a catcher in case Matt Wi­eters signs else­where, will find a de­cent num­ber of play­ers who could help in 2017 and be­yond.

Be­sides their own free agent, Mark Trumbo, there’s a class of un­signed play­ers who could fit well into the Ori­oles’ al­ready strong lineup with­out break­ing the bank (as judged by the mar­ket as a whole, if not by those on Eutaw Street).

Here are 10 play­ers who fit the Ori­oles’ needs this off­sea­son, what they’ll be look­ing for on the open mar­ket and whether the fit in Bal­ti­more is more than just a pipe dream. Out­fielder- des­ig­nated hit­ter Mark Trumbo: The list be­gins with the man who, if he doesn’t re­turn, will need to be re­placed. Trumbo is one of four slug­gers, along with Yoe­nis Ce­s­pedes, Jose Bautista and Ed­win En­car­na­cion, who have draft­pick com­pen­sa­tion at­tached af­ter turn­ing

down the qual­i­fy­ing of­fer. His avail­abil­ity to re­turn at a price that fits the Ori­oles’ bud­get de­pends al­most en­tirely on what the out­side mar­ket of­fers him.

If teams saw the uptick in power across the game this year and are will­ing to ac­cept Trumbo’s flaws for his pow­er­ful bat, a re­turn will be dif­fi­cult. But if the few teams in the mar­ket for slug­gers who might soon be limited to first base or des­ig­nated hit­ter spend else­where, Trumbo’s best bet might be to re­turn to the Ori­oles on a mid-range deal and hope for another crack at free agency down the line. Out­fielder Dexter Fowler: The fact that every­one in­volved with the Ori­oles dis­likes Jose Bautista disqualifies him from this list. But the grudge to­ward Fowler over his re­ject­ing the team last off­sea­son shouldn’t elim­i­nate him. Af­ter turn­ing down a mul­ti­year deal from the Ori­oles for a one-year re­turn to the Chicago Cubs, Fowler is just as valu­able as he was last year — and prob­a­bly more ex­pen­sive.

The 30-year-old switch-hit­ter im­proved de­fen­sively while bat­ting .276/ .393/.447 for Chicago last year, and made his first All-Star ap­pear­ance. All those things will draw the Ori­oles to him again this off­sea­son, but it won’t bethe weak­mar­ket­theyswoo­pe­d­into early in spring train­ing. He’s another player who could make $16 mil­lion­plus per year, and rightly so. Out­fielder Ian Des­mond: When Fowler spurned the Ori­oles last off­sea­son, the only po­si­tion player left to whom they’d have had to at­tach a qual­i­fy­ing of­fer was Des­mond, and he would have been a good op­tion as a con­verted out­fielder.

In­stead, the Texas Rangers got him for that role. Des­mond, 31, had a scorch­ing first half, then cooled and ended the year bat­ting .285/.335/.446 with 22 home runs. It was still his best year since 2013, and with the abil­ity to play all three out­field po­si­tions and fill in at short­stop, there will be plenty of suit­ors. The Ori­oles will es­pe­cially love the right-handed hit­ter’s ca­reer .281bat­ting av­er­age against left­ies, but will have to de­cide whether they love a con­tract that could be in the four-year, $60 mil­lion range. Out­fielder Josh Red­dick: Red­dick could not only fill the Ori­oles’ need for a left-handed-hit­ting out­fielder who can hold his own in the field and ease the bur­den on cen­ter fielder Adam Jones, but also lighten a club­house that seemed to be­come in­creas­ingly busi­nesslike this past sea­son.

It helps that Red­dick has hit well at Cam­den Yards in his ca­reer, bat­ting .400/.442/.725 with 14 ex­tra-base hits in 24 games there. He has fre­quently been con­nected to the Ori­oles as an in-sea­son trade tar­get in re­cent years. Red­dick might be at­tain­able on a three-year deal at an af­ford­able price. Both sides could do worse than mak­ing one early this off­sea­son. Out­fielder Yoe­nis Ce­s­pedes: Ce­s­pedes is another name re­cently bandied about by the Ori­oles, who used him last off­sea­son to show first base­man Chris Davis that they couldn’t wait for­ever to get a de­ci­sion on his free agency.

The Ori­oles’ of­fer was be­low mar­ket value for Ce­s­pedes, how­ever. And hit­ting 31home runs with an .884 OPS last year for the New York Mets means the 31-year-old right-handed hit­ter has no rea­son to set­tle for less than the $25 mil­lion per year he was mak­ing on the con­tract he opted out of. It’s a lit­tle rich for Bal­ti­more, but he’s worth men­tion­ing. Catcher Ja­son Cas­tro: Cas­tro, 29, is the lone catcher worth bring­ing up, though that could mean the mar­ket will be­toorich for a team­needin­gonly a short-term so­lu­tion.

The left-handed hit­ter has fallen off at the plate since he hit 18 home runs with an .835 OPS in 2013, but he is one of the bet­ter de­fen­sive catch­ers on the mar­ket and pro­vides on-base po­ten­tial as well. Out­fielder Car­los Gomez: Gomez head­lines a tier of play­ers who are high-risk recla­ma­tion projects but will be paid far more than that. Gomez, 30, was part of a blockbuster deal to the Hous­ton Astros in July 2015, but was re­leased a year later af­ter his play sharply de­clined.

He’ll hope a .284/.362/.543 bat­ting line with eight home runs in 33 games with the Rangers at the end of the sea­son will be enough for teams to re­gard him as the star he once was. If the Ori­oles view him as such, then per­haps the fact that he played him­self out of a ma­jor con­tract will work in their fa­vor. The Ori­oles would re­ceive draft-pick com­pen­sa­tion if out­fielder-des­ig­nated hit­ter Mark Trumbo leaves. Out­fielder Michael Saun­ders: Speak­ing of en­ter­ing free agency in a bad way, Saun­ders fell off down the stretch this year and played him­self out of a qual­i­fy­ing of­fer with the Toronto Blue Jays af­ter play­ing his way into the All-Star Game in July.

The tools in­di­cate Saun­ders, 29, is far bet­ter than the ca­reer .235 hit­ter he was for the Seat­tle Mariners and Blue Jays. While he has his prob­lems in the out­field, his 14 ca­reer home runs in 42 games against the Ori­oles, 10 at Cam­den Yards, make that easy to over­look. The left-handed hit­ter wouldn’t fill the de­fen­sive need in the out­field, but they’ve over­looked that for an in­trigu­ing bat be­fore. Left-handed re­liever Brett Ce­cil: The Ori­oles have starker needs than a left-handed re­liever, es­pe­cially with the emer­gence of rookie Don­nie Hart in 2016 and Zach Brit­ton, Dar­ren O’Day and Brad Brach pos­si­bly mak­ing $20 mil­lion among them. But Ce­cil, 30, was sneaky good in 2016, with his pe­riph­eral stats in­di­cat­ing he was bet­ter than his 3.93 ERA. The for­mer Mary­land star would be a solid ad­di­tion to what is al­ready a strength for the Ori­oles, though the Blue Jays are push­ing hard to keep him. Left-handed re­liever Boone Lo­gan: Lo­gan, another name of­ten bandied about last year, also would be adding to a strength. The 32-year-old fig­ured out how to suc­ceed in Colorado in the third year of a three-year deal last sea­son, and posted a ca­reer-best 1.014 WHIP. Like Ce­cil, he’d be a luxury, but it’s con­ceiv­able the Ori­oles might add to their bullpen some­how this win­ter.

KARL MER­TON FERRON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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