Well, Baltimore Orioles GM Dan Duquette didn’t get much time to enjoy his 2014 Executive of the Year award. Maybe it was a good thing that Duquette was able to re-sign shortstop J.J. Hardy before the season ended and Hardy hit the open market like other Oriole teammates. Remember when the season ended and all we heard was how the Orioles and long time Orioles outfielder Nick Markakis were already close to a new contract and it was foregone conclusion he was staying in Baltimore? Wednesday, Markakis signed a new contract, except it was in Atlanta for the next four seasons. Reports came out that Baltimore was scared off by Markakis’ health but I highly doubt that after a month plus of negotiations. The Orioles also lost Nelson Cruz whom they signed last year as the best free agent bargain of the season. Coming off of his PED suspension, the Orioles gave Cruz a one year deal and just eight million dollars when Cruz could find no other suitors. Cruz gave the Orioles a major league leading 40 home run season and 108 RBI that helped the Orioles win the AL East. Cruz repaid the Orioles by signing with the Seattle Mariners for the next four years. Apparently both Cruz and the Mariners had a case of dementia forgetting that just the year previous when Cruz was a free agent the Mariners would not sign Cruz because of the PED suspension. Nothing a major league leading home run season can’t change right guys?
The Orioles did themselves a disservice but not offering Markakis a qualifying offer. They obviously had enough confidence in a new deal being worked out they didn’t think it was necessary but it also opened the door for other teams to engage and eventually take him away. Now the Orioles are without their biggest bat from last season and their mainstay in right field for the past decade. The hopeful healthy returns of both catcher Matt Weiters and third baseman Manny Machado would surely boost a lineup that greatly missed both of them in this past postseason, but even their returns won’t alone fill the voids left by the free agent losses. People have immediately looked to available free agents mentioning the likes of a Michael Morse or even higher profile Melky Cabrera as potential replacements. However, the Orioles don’t need free agency to make this lineup equal, if not better than the one that won the division last year.
In case you haven’t heard, the Philadelphia Phillies are basically running one of those giant outlet store closing where everything must GO GO GO! The one thing that’s great about these firesales are all the items are greatly discounted, which most of the Phillies players should be. Philles general manager Ruben Amaro Jr has been known to overvalue his players, just look at shortstop Jimmy Rollins who has seemingly been traded three or four times over the past couple of seasons only for Amaro to ask for more or have Rollins veto the deal. Yet in this proposal the Orioles will be looking at two guys that Amaro can’t over price and in reality knows he needs to move. Let’s first start with the big name, Ryan Howard.
Howard has a lot of money still coming to him, $50 million over the next two years and a third-year club option that is either $23 million or a $10 million buyout. So $60-73 million dollars isn’t something the Orioles would want to take on but Amaro has made it known that he’s willing to eat a chunk of that contract. If the Orioles could work it out to where they’re paying Howard in the 10-12 million range I think they’d be happy with that. Now you may be thinking that the Orioles already have a first baseman in Chris Davis and yes that’s true. However, Davis is coming off a PED suspension that effectively ended his season a few weeks before the playoffs last season and before that he was hitting under .200. Davis also has just this year remaining on his deal so the Orioles could let him play out the year and walk as a free agent or if they want to use his replacement from last year is Steve Pearce in the interim while prospect Christian Walker gets closer, they could use Davis as trade bait. Howard wouldn’t be coming in to play first base, sure you could use him there from time to time but he’s here to do exactly what Nelson Cruz did, be a big bat in the DH spot. Howard is no longer the 50 home run threat he was the last time the Phillies were good but he is still a presence in the lineup, batting .265 last year to go with 23 home runs and 95 rbis. Put his bat in the Orioles lineup and park and will see those power numbers increase the same as they did for Cruz.
The Orioles can also replace Markakis from getting Marlon Byrd from the Phillies. Just a couple of years ago Byrd was seemingly on his last leg in baseball winning a job on a Mets team that just needed someone who could play outfield. Byrd ended up winning comeback player of the year that season and followed it up with similar production last season. Plus, in a market full of high priced signing, Byrd comes with a $8 million price for this season and an option for the following season that can be guaranteed depending on plate appearances for the same number. That’s still $3 a season less than Markakis just signed for with Atlanta. Byrd is a good outfielder with solid range and an above average arm to replace Markakis gold glove resume in the outfield and over the past two seasons Markakis has combined to hit for 24 home runs and 109 rbis with a batting average around .273. Byrd over that same timeframe has hit for 49 home runs and 173 rbis with an average around .277.
The advantage to signing free agents in comparison to making a trade is that you don’t have to give up any prospects. For the Orioles though in this proposal the top rated prospects aren’t necessary so the Dylan Bundy‘s and Chance Sisco‘s are safe. As we discussed earlier, Chris Davis could be sent back to the Phillies as a replacement for Howard is the Orioles aren’t thinking of trying to resign Davis after the season and the Phillies aren’t sold on Darin Ruf. Carlos Ruiz wasn’t the answer for the Phillies even before the resigned him last year. Ruiz still has this season and next season left on his deal with a club option for 2017 but I think a catching prospect like Michael Ohlman could intrigue the Phillies. The Phillies also need young pitching and the Orioles have a deep stash in their system to pull from. Whether they want to pull from someone who may be close to making an impact like a Tyler Wilson or someone who may be a couple of years away like a Patrick Connaughton, the Orioles have arms to offer.
The Orioles have watched over the past couple of months a division title, followed by a disappointing postseason and now free agent casualties. Despite the in-house reinforcements, the Orioles must step outside to fill the voids they have and while they can dip into an uncertain free agent pool and try to find gold similar to what they did last year with Nelson Cruz, their spot atop the division is already on shaky ground both the Red Sox and Blue Jays making significant moves and the always dangerous Yankees looming. It’s tough to get to the top and its even tougher to stay there, the Orioles will have to take risks if they want to repeat as division champions and this is one that seems to logical to pass up.