The Baltimore Orioles are coming off a third consecutive last place finish in the American League East, as well as back-to-back 100-loss seasons. With that said, they have some young position players to build around such as Trey Mancini, Hanser Alberto, Anthony Santander, and Renato Nunez. Meanwhile, right-hander John Means recorded a 3.60 ERA across 31 appearances, 27 of which were starts last season.
The Orioles aren’t in the mix for any of the remaining top-tier free agents, and they’re not going to spend top dollar on such players when they’re years away from playoff contention. They also aren’t a free-agent hotspot for the time being, so to speak. What the Orioles can offer mid-level free agents, however, is playing time and depending on the player a chance to revitalize their career — leading to a bigger payday down the road.
Plus, they should be looking to make an effort to improve their big-league roster for the sake of their fan base. Here are five free agent targets for general manager Mike Elias and friends.
A pitcher that would benefit from direction and a change of scenery? Jerad Eickhoff.
Eickhoff is coming off a season where he recorded a 5.71 ERA and was limited to 12 appearances due to injury; the Orioles can provide him with the opportunity to get back on track. After trading Dylan Bundy, the Orioles are left with Means, Alex Cobb, and Asher Wojciechowski in their starting rotation. Collectively, that’s a subpar grouping. Eickhoff is a pitcher of deception and found success with the Philadelphia Phillies a few seasons ago.
If he struggles as a starter, manager Brandon Hyde can put Eickhoff in the bullpen, where he made two appearances out of last season with the Phillies. The right-hander would add depth and versatility to the Orioles pitching staff.
This is about baseball fit and nothing more.
After designating Jonathan Villar for assignment, the need for a middle infielder exists in the Orioles infield; Russell could be their opening day shortstop.
Russell was granted spotty playing time over the last three seasons with the Chicago Cubs due to injuries and off-the-field matters. When it concerns what he can do on the field, the shortstop is a well-versed player. He has pop in his bat and is a slick fielder with extensive playing time at both shortstop and second base under his belt. In his second full season in the big leagues (2016), Russell blasted 21 home runs and totaled 95 RBIs.
He’s still just 25. With starting reps, Russell could revitalize his career and maybe be the Orioles’ answer at shortstop for the foreseeable future.
The Orioles offense is nearing completion, and Santana could be one of the final pieces to the puzzle.
The 27-year-old outfielder has shown an ability to produce offense at a plausible level. He hits for power and has started at both corner outfield positions. In the two seasons he maintained a starting role (2017 with the Milwaukee Brewers and 2019 with the Seattle Mariners) Santana combined for 51 home runs and 154 RBIs while posting an OPS+ over 100 in both seasons.
With Mancini playing both corner outfield positions and first base and the Orioles shuffling outfielders, Santana can find a way to get a great deal of at-bats in Hyde’s lineup. It’s feasible to think he could be a fixture in the Orioles outfield past 2020.
Uncertainty clouds the corner infield positions for the Orioles in 2020. How about signing someone who can play both positions and demolish baseballs?
Shaw is coming off a season where he was converted into a backup infielder, contrary to the success he found at the plate in years past with the Brewers. From 2017-18 he totaled 63 home runs and 187 RBIs while posting an OPS over .800 and an OPS+ over 100 in both seasons. A primary third baseman, he fields his position well while also making occasional appearances at first and second base.
The Orioles have a handful of players adept at playing multiple positions, and Shaw would add to their versatility. Plus, if he rekindles his old ways, Shaw would be an outright steal, providing a power, left-handed bat.
Sometimes pitchers turn their careers around with a different pitching staff, and Walker has the talent to right the ship.
Walker has made just four starts over the last two seasons due to injuries, but beforehand, he was one of the best young starting pitchers in Major League Baseball. In 2017 he recorded a 3.49 ERA across 28 starts and was adept at working out of trouble with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The right-hander leans on his four seamer and a split-fingered fastball, which he gets considerable movement on, while occasionally mixing in a cutter.
Walker could begin the season as a long reliever or be given the chance to earn a spot in the Orioles starting rotation in spring training.