Orioles fans have been clamoring for Dan Duquette to open up his checkbook and spend the big books in free agency to turn Baltimore into a year in, year out contender.
First, it was RHP Ubaldo Jimenez being inked for four years and $48 million — you can read Alex Conway’s analysis of the newly-acquired 30-year-old here. Next, came as somewhat of a shock as outfielder Nelson Cruz, who already turned down a $14.1 million qualifying offer from his former club in the Texas Rangers, accepts a one-year, $8 million deal with the Orioles. Alex Conway already dissected Cruz’s ability earlier this morning.
The signing of Cruz is shocking not so much about his PED history, but that he took less money to play for the Orioles. He felt he could test the open market and was worth more than his qualifying offer. According to market value, he wasn’t and he is looking to boost that value with a big season in Baltimore in 2014.
This move is an interesting one because the Orioles were also tied to Kendrys Morales — primarily a designated hitter and one of the Orioles’ top needs. Morales is a switch hitter and would have likely been a guy who could have given first baseman Chris Davis a few off days every now and then. But the Birds went with Cruz who will likely play the role of designated hitter, but will exit the dugout for more than just at-bats. He will probably end up playing some left field.
Cruz’s defense leaves more to be desired, but his bat provides enough reason for him to play in the field every so often. The left field position will likely come down to who performs the best during spring training workouts.
If Buck Showalter wants the lineup to possess some speed, he might tend to favor a guy like David Lough. Lough hit .286 for the Kansas City Royals in 2013 and stole five bases in seven attempts. His base-running ability is more translated to a textbook base-runner as opposed to an aggressive base-stealing speedster, but this lineup doesn’t have much of either outside of maybe Manny Machado, when healthy, and Adam Jones.
Lough also seems to be the leader in the clubhouse for the left field spot if Cruz is to become the everyday DH at this stage of the game based on the idea that the Orioles brought him in this off-season to compete for a staring role and that the other options aren’t all that great. Lough isn’t experienced, but neither is the rest of his competitors at the position. A .724 OPS isn’t great, but with what the Orioles had to bear with at left field season, anything is an upgrade. Plus, Lough played at Kauffman Stadium. Oriole Park at Camden Yards is much friendlier to hitters than that pitcher’s heaven of a ballpark. Read Tucker Blair’s report on Lough here.
As far as what this means for Henry Urrutia, likely a stint with Norfolk to improve at the plate and in the field. Henry hasn’t been touted for his defense, but he does possess a decent arm that could make people somewhat forget about Nate McLouth departing to the Washington Nationals. Urrutia mostly has to work on his bat speed and pitch recognition at the Major League level, which may be hard to do at Triple-A. A solid spring is necessary for Urrutia to be up with the big club come late March, but his tendency to struggle against high velocity pitchers and his tendency to poke the ball to opposite field may shy Showalter away from making Henry an everyday left fielder. Tucker Blair’s scouting report of Urrutia can be found here.
Then there’ is Nolan Reimold and Steve Pearce. They are grouped together because while they have the most Major League experience among the candidates, it is unclear as to whether or not either can be trusted as everyday players. Reimold has the tools, but injuries have prevented him from playing no more than 104 games in a single season during his first five years in the bigs — that 104-game mark came during his first season in Baltimore. Pearce is more of a crafty veteran who is a high effort guy, but does not possess the skills and wherewithal of a traditional everyday player. The addition of Cruz likely means that one, if not both of these guys are fighting for roster spots this spring and it would nott be surprising if they have seen their last days in Baltimore. And I didn’t even mention Delmon Young…
Finally, the Orioles added Francisco Peguero early on in the off-season and it seemed as if he was going to be that potential fourth outfielder replacement for McLouth. However, now it seems as if the left field spot has become slightly overcrowded and Peguero, although possessing some Major League experience, could benefit from time in Norfolk to sure up his bat against a new crop of talent. Considering his numbers from the MLB and Triple-A were fairly different as with Urrutia when he was called it, it is a tell-tale sign that more work needs to be done in order to polish his game. You can read what I wrote when Peguero first became an Oriole here.
Nelson Cruz won’t be the permanent fixture at left field for the Orioles in the future, let alone 2014. His value comes more from his production at the plate, but the position he plays happens to be a position where the Orioles do not have a lot of strength. Barring any significant injuries to Adam Jones or Nick Markakis, left field and DH are likely the two landing spots for Cruz in Showalter’s lineup. Even if Cruz becomes a full-time DH and there is not an answer at left field, there ia always super utility player Ryan Flaherty who can attempt to fill the void.
The Orioles now have something they did not have two and a half months ago when they first added Peguero: options. Give a manager like Showalter some choices and he will likely make the right ones.