The Orioles could use some consistency and lack a big bat that can stabilize a lineup. They could use a player to help fill the gap up the middle, or someone at the hot corner who can provide an offensive and defensive upgrade.
I will just save everyone the time and effort before reading this piece: Albert Pujols will not be wearing Baltimore orange and black. I also highly doubt that Jose Reyes will sign and move J.J. Hardy to third or second base. Both are clearly crème of the crop players, but neither would be seriously considered by the O’s front office.
Salary Command: He is represented by CAA and any contract should sit in the Mark Teixeira range.
Hypothetical Deal: 3 years; $70-80 million or 6-7 year deal in the $135-160 million range
Lost Compensation: Type A free agent – O’s would give up 2nd round selection in 2012 draft since O’s 1st rounder is protected.
Plus: A consistent, thumping bat in the heart of any order that commands attention in every at bat is more than a need for the Orioles — it is basically a requirement. Fielder is not a one trick pony and shows patience at the plate, draws walks, and takes pitches the opposite way when needed. His presence would allow the three hole hitter the chance to have a career season because teams routinely pitch around him. He will not win a gold glove, but he has worked hard to improve his defense, so much so that he is no longer a giant liability at first base. He actually displays emotion on the field and in the clubhouse and teammates simply gravitate to him. While not an outspoken individual, he constantly shows hustle for a big guy. He is a guy, for at least the three next seasons, that should put up WAR values similar to his recent output, which is in the 4.0 to 6.0 range. He is 27 and durable to this point; he will still be a threat if the Orioles can turn the ship by 2013 or 2014. Prince could be used to play DH as the contract starts to head south, which could preserve his bat a tad bit longer.
Minus: The negatives are the same that caused his talented prep bat to slide outside of the top three picks in the draft, and it is the same reason people will continue to say he will be similar to his father and decline faster than the average ballplayer. His weight and body composition is the elephant in the corner that is keeping him from being the top ticket this winter, even as he is just entering his prime. Since he carries the weight, although I think better than some of the current critiqued physiques, people question whether he will be the next David Ortiz or Mo Vaughn. The big deal handed out to Adam Dunn adds another hurdle to climb. The baseball pundits think Fielder will start to decline soon and start to hit the skid at 31 or 32 years of age. All it takes is one suit to get scared and it could make a small dent in his wallet.
Salary Command: He turned down a $16 million option to hit the open market and likely wants a solid 3 year deal.
Hypothetical deal: 3 years and in the $30 to $40 million range.
Lost Compensation: Type B free agent – he will not cost any team a draft pick to sign
Plus: He is the top corner hitter on the market not named Albert or Prince. He is no where near the same hitter that he was in late 20s, but should be a .300/.370/.500/.800 type hitter over the next two or three seasons that could justify giving him a multi-year deal. If healthy over a 162 game span, I think he can be a 3 or 4 WAR player in 2012-2013. Wrigley Field slightly favors hitters and his numbers should translate well to Camden Yards.
Minus: He should be considered a post prime player and a risky, bloated contract could handcuff a team if he adds sub-par production. His defense is similar to Mark Reynolds while he was playing with Arizona. He would be an upgrade when compared to those who played third base for the O’s last year, but would not be a defensive stalwart that could help ease the pitching staff. He is 33 years of age and should not factor into the long term plans for a team that may not start to truly contend until the last year of a three year deal. He is also a notorious summer weather player that is slow in the beginning of a baseball season.
Salary Command: Second tier is a steep drop, but he is looking for a last semi-pay day.
Hypothetical Deal: 3 years and $25.5 million and depending on who misses out on the two big boys, this number may rise.
Lost Compensation: Type A free agent – 2nd round selection in 2012 draft since O’s 1st is protected.
Plus: Cuddyer is a versatile defender that can play 3B, 1B, RF, LF in a pinch. He played in a pitchers’ park in Minnesota and adjusted numbers suggest that he is still a productive hitter. He could see a slight up tick in offensive output in Camden Yards. He hits left handed pitching well, which has been a glaring hole off and on for the Orioles for a few seasons. He’s a classic dead pull hitter that kills mistakes in the middle of the zone, especially change ups. He is a clubhouse guy that will lighten any mood. He is a vocal leader and really helps solidify the “team”. He is so vital to the Twins that they refused to trade him while in last place, simply for the chemistry he brings to the locker room.
Minus: There is not one aspect of his game that will make scouts go “wow”. He also seems more like a local legend Trot Nixon type. He is simply an average all-around ball player that does everything well, but nothing that stands out in a lineup. As a first baseman, his production would be a drop down to replacement level. He will cost the Orioles a second round pick, and adding the money to that pick, the free agent has to be a difference maker that clearly takes the team to the next level. He is at a stage of his career where he simply has to be a stop gap for a team in the O’s position. He would be better served staying as a Twins local hero or become a starter level replacement for a contending ball club.
Other potential targets:
Carlos Pena: Pena is a slightly better fielding version of Mark Reynolds, but Reynolds’ youth and production at first base would simply be a lateral move that would make little sense at this stage of Pena’s career. Carlos still shows a powerful stick and the ability to get on base with walks, but strikeouts still pile up and are trending north as his bat speed slows down. He will likely have to wait for the other first basemen to set the market and then take a one year deal.
Clint Barmes: There is a need for a second baseman at this time and he has shown the ability to play the position. He provides solid, above replacement level fielding, but his offense has seen its ups and downs. The O’s would be taking the risky chance that his 2011 form was an albatross. From a total package standpoint, Robert Andino would provide similar overall production and cost a third of the price.
Jamey Carroll: Carroll would come on a one year deal to smooth things over if Brian Roberts was not healthy. He provides starter level offensive production from second base and is not a liability in the field, but his range is not as good as Andino. He can play shortstop and third base in a pinch, which helps team versatility. His ability to get on base makes him a nice table setter in the number 2 hole.
Aaron Hill: He found a new lifeline with his move to Arizona this past season and showed his ability to be an everyday type hitter again. Can he maintain that 1.0 to 2.0 WAR projection against the very best in the first division AL East? He is likely to re-sign with Arizona as he carved out a solid role that help bring them into the playoffs.