Right from the start new Orioles GM Dan Duquette said that the O’s wouldn’t be pursuing any top free agents. His plan was to lay back and wait for the best bargains. But will that plan put a winner on the field? Spending too much money hasn’t worked for Baltimore, as we saw with Miguel Tejada, Javy Lopez, and Rafael Palmeiro. Not spending and building from within has also not worked, as we saw with a young rotation of Matusz, Arrieta, Britton, and Tillman. So will finding a happy medium and doing nothing but filling the holes be the answer? No way. So the Orioles have to make smart “good bargain” moves. And it surely isn’t impossible to still have a good off-season at this point. Take a look at the bargain players the Pirates have already acquired. They added small pieces for limited money that I think have major upside for that team. Guys like Erik Bedard, Rod Barajas, Ryota Igarashi, Nate McLouth, and Jake Fox could be steals for them. And yes, I mean former Orioles Bedard and Fox. So are there still good enough players out there for the Orioles to get in order to have a successful off-season? So far we have gotten 3 guys that I actually feel have been nice bargains. Tsuyoshi Wada, Endy Chavez, and Dana Eveland. None are superstars, but all could play a large role for the limited money they are making. Who else can the birds bring in to add to that list? Let’s take a look position by position at unsigned free agents. They are ranked in order of who I think the Orioles should sign.
Catcher: This is a position the Orioles really don’t have a need for. Matt Wieters is elite and Taylor Teagarden is a solid backup.
1. Ivan Rodriguez- Can you think of a better guy to work with the young pitching the O’s have? I give a lot of the credit for the early success of Strasburg and Zimmermann to Pudge. I want him working with Matusz. Sign Pudge for one year and let Teagarden start in the minors. Wieters needs to play 6 days a week, but Pudge can catch one game and still work with guys in the cages.
2. JR Towles- His career has been a bust. A once high upside highly sought after catcher is now a guy trying to find work. I’m a sucker for guys with former upside. I don’t see the risk in letting him catch at Norfolk and giving him a shot to be the eventual backup catcher.
First Base: It’s unlikely, but I’d rather see the Orioles sign a new 1B and be able to play Mark Reynolds at third.
1. Prince Fielder- Don’t get me started. First of all, the Orioles offered Teixeira 7 years and $140 million a few years ago. Which means they can afford to offer at least $140 million right now. Because the team hasn’t really spent that money on anyone else and because the average salary raises each year, the Orioles should at least be willing to up their offer to $160 million. If they can do that then they are actually in the conversation. From there they have to get serious and be able to stretch to $180 million. That might be good enough to do it. Why let the team across the beltway swoop in and sign him when your making all the money off their television rights? The Orioles have much more money to spend than Washington does. And the Orioles also have a much bigger need for Fielder than Washington does. If Fielder comes to Baltimore then 95% of the fan nation will stop being so negative about the team. Guaranteed. Ticket sales will rise and Fielder will practically pay for himself. Plus the Orioles will immediately go from the #6 offense in the AL last year, to at least #4. That would mean that their offense was playoff elite. By the time that young pitching matures Fielder will still be under team control. Then we can talk playoffs. Without Fielder I don’t see a current playoff plan.
Second Base: Duquette has made the comment that the O’s 2B may not be on the current roster. So we could be shopping for one.
1. Will Rhymes- He’s only 27 years old, the Tigers thought he would be a starter for them last year, and he has some upside. That’s a pretty young age to be a free agent. If he’s cheap he could have great value.
2. Orlando Cabrera- I know he’s 37 years old. I know he only hit .238/5/51 last year. I know those numbers are terrible. But this guy is a great dugout presence and he’s a winner. Every team he has played on since 2004 has been a contending team. The last two years he played for Cincinnati and Cleveland. Both of those teams had their first successful seasons in a long time. Coincidence? I think not. Just look at the teams he’s helped win since 2004. BOS, LAA, CWS, OAK, MIN, CIN, CLE, SF.
Third Base: I don’t think Chris Davis will hold up defensively here. I would rather see Reynolds play here.
1. Kevin Kouzmanoff- I really like him as a backup 3B. He just seems like a strong replacement coming off the bench in a hitters park. The problem with Kouz is that he’s spent almost his entire career playing in huge parks, SD and OAK. They are literally the best two pitchers parks that there are.
Shortstop: JJ Hardy is certainly the starter. Not much of a need here.
1. Miguel Tejada- Seriously. He would be a solid backup to Hardy.
Outfield: Will Markakis miss any time from his abdomen surgery? Will Adam Jones be dealt? We may need to sign one.
1. Yoenis Cespedes- Can you say Ken Griffey Jr.? That’s who this guy reminds me of. Cespedes is a Cuban defector and is one of the biggest free agent names this off-season. He has very impressive videos that you need to Google and watch. The Orioles need to make a splash, continue upon their international free agent path, and sign Cespedes to whatever it takes. Trade Adam Jones if you have to because Cespedes is better than Jones. Signing Cespedes and trading Jones for Atlanta pitching would make this an automatic successful off-season. Cespedes could hit in the middle of the order for a long time.
Designated Hitter: Depending on what positions we do and do not fill, we may need a full time DH.
1. Johnny Damon- Sure why not? He won’t cost that much nowadays, his numbers are decent, and he’s a great dugout presence. He would certainly bring much needed positive attitude and energy to the clubhouse. He seems like the kind of player that Buck Showalter would love. Having Damon would almost be like having Kevin Millar back.
2. Luke Scott- I’m not the biggest fan of bringing him back. He’s been injury prone for a few seasons and his production has been dropping. Last year could have been the beginning of the end for him. I’m sure his numbers will rebound this season, but I don’t think he will have a dramatic rebound. He is definitely past his prime. I rank him here because of his upside, but there are guys under him that I think could outperform him this year.
3. Vladimir Guerrero- There is nothing to lose here. We wouldn’t lose a draft pick for his type B status. Plus he still hit .290 last year. Without the injury he could have reached 20 HR as well. He won’t cost much to resign. Plus he came on very strong in September hitting .349 with 3 HR and 17 RBI.
4. Raul Ibanez- It’s about time he DH’s. Is there still anything in the tank? Sure there is. He’s hit 20 HR’s 7 of the last 8 years, including last year. His average was down last season but that’s because the pitching in the NL East was tough. Bring him into a hitter’s park like Camden Yards and his average will rise back to his career norm. Plus he’s a lock for 20 HR’s.
5. Manny Ramirez- The Orioles have been tied to him recently. If he accepts a two year deal for about $1 or $2 million per year then go ahead and take a chance on him. He’s gone for the first 100 games. But after that he needs to be a highly motivated hitter to stay in the big leagues. Maybe he gives it 100%, he hits over .300, and you find lightning in a bottle. Then your guaranteed to have him a second year and you can trade him to a contender for prospects.
6. Marcus Thames- He has above average power. I’ve always thought that this guy was undervalued. In my mind he is the perfect pinch hitter. He would also make a good DH. His problem is his health. He is injury prone. But he hits a lot of HR’s for the limited amount of at bats he gets.
Starting Pitcher: When doesn’t a team need starting pitching? We had the worst in the league last year.
1. Edwin Jackson- He would make sense for the Orioles, but he’s unlikely. I like Jackson, but not for the money and amount of years that Boras is demanding of him. Plus he’s had a reputation for being a bad clubhouse guy and an off field partier. He’s the best available starter out there though.
2. Wei-Yin Chen- Duquette has shown interest in him from the start. Most scouts feel that Chen is a better pitcher than Wada. If we could manage to sign Chen then we would actually lead the league in something…the most translators in the clubhouse.
3. Joe Saunders- I think Saunders fits well with the Orioles, but only if Guthrie is traded. Those two guys are just too much alike production wise. You don’t want to have multiple mediocre, inning eating, #5 pitchers.
4. Brandon Webb- I know he hasn’t pitched in like 30 years, but the last time he did pitch he was a Cy Young contender. I can see a future comeback player of the year award with Webb. That’s IF he ever does comeback. Sign him and give him plenty of time to come back and earn incentives, just like the Nationals did with Chien-Ming Wang.
Relief Pitcher: Our bullpen has been pretty pathetic for a long time. It may need the most work of any position.
1. Francisco Cordero- Am I missing something here? Can somebody explain to me why Cordero isn’t getting as much attention as the other closers this off-season? Why did guys like Joe Nathan and Jon Rauch jump off the board before him? Here is his ERA in the last few years. 2.45, 3.84, 2.16, 3.33, 2.98. Here are his save totals. 37, 40, 39, 34, 44. So why is nobody in a rush to get him? I think Cordero is a perfect 9th inning fit for the Orioles. We know exactly what we are going to get out of him. We should snatch him up before Madson goes off the board and other teams turn their attention to him. Why do I like him more than Madson? Because he’s done it consistently for more than half a season…unlike Madson.
2. Ryan Madson- Only if we get him dirt cheap because the market for him continues to fall. A lot of experts don’t understand why nobody has signed Madson. I say it’s because GM’s understand the psychology of the game and know that Madson was an overachiever last year. Sure he’s still good, but he’s not as consistent as he was last year. If Madson would have signed a Papelbon-like deal I would have called him a bust. Teams don’t want to pay him unless they think they are getting fair value. He’s deserved the right to be paid more money, but I just don’t see him living up to the kind of money he wants.
3. Tim Wakefield- Why haven’t the Orioles gone after him? He seems like a perfect fit to me. He still has some stuff left in the tank, can pitch in long relief, can spot start, knows the AL East, and would no longer kill the Orioles. I think it’s a great match. I’d rather have him working long relief than anyone else on the market.
4. Hong-Chih Kuo- I think he still has plenty left in the tank and can be a very effective reliever.
5. Todd Coffey- He’s been consistent for years. He’s very effective in the 7th and 8th innings, and can fill in for the closer when needed. Plus he has the best entrance in baseball. The famous Ultimate Warrior sprint from the bullpen.
6. David Aardsma- He’s a bit of a health risk but he has pretty good stuff and closing experience. I wouldn’t want to see him be the closer on this team, but I would love to see him coming in before the 9th.
7. Joel Zumaya- I know he would just get injured, but at least he can throw the ball 250 MPH.
8. Arthur Rhodes- Wouldn’t it make sense for him to end his career in the place where it all started?
9. Chad Qualls- He had some former closing experience. A quality arm that would fit nicely in our pen.
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