Top 10 free agents who fit team’s needs
Picture is clearer with time for qualifying offers expired
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.