MLB Trade Rumors has put out their list of the 2013 Top 50 Free Agents once again, with predictions, and they have the Baltimore Orioles linked to three players in the top 50 – one of which resides in the top 10. Two of these three players signing with the Orioles I feel would be pretty reasonable, and likely, while the other one – regardless of whether the Orioles pursue him or not – I feel like the money spent on him would be better placed with someone else. I will review these three predictions in the order I believe to be the most likely to happen.
25. Joe Saunders – Orioles. Saunders pitched well for the Orioles in the regular season and postseason following an August trade. The 31-year-old grew up in northern Virginia, so Baltimore is a strong fit if they’ll pony up the multiyear deal Saunders couldn’t find last offseason.
This one almost feels like a gimme at this point when you take a few things into consideration; the Orioles will be looking for at least one veteran starter to put into the rotation that they can rely on and that they know exactly what they can expect out of him. The way that Saunders performed for them over his seven regular season starts (3-3 with a 3.63 ERA over 44.2 IP) with the team, not to mention his performance in two must-win playoff games (2 ER over 11.1 IP), provides them with exactly what they are looking for out of a veteran starter.
It also helps that Saunders is a Virginia native and has said that he’d like to return to the Orioles in 2013 because he really enjoyed his time with the team. At 31 years old he knows he won’t be breaking the bank with any five or six year offers on the free agent market, but a three year deal (or two years with an option for a third) wouldn’t be outrageous for whatever team decides to give it to him. As with anything the Orioles will do this offseason, it will really come down to money and how much they are willing to give to Saunders to continue to fill the role he did during the stretch run.
41. Jeff Keppinger – Orioles. Keppinger was non-tendered by the Giants a year ago, but the high-contact infielder bounced back to hit .325/.367/.439 for the Rays in 418 plate appearances. Obviously that production is unsustainable, but it might net the 32-year-old a multiyear deal or a starting gig. The Orioles are one possibility, though they do have internal options at second base.
The biggest hole the Orioles have on their roster at the moment is at second base and although Jeff Keppinger is more of a super-utility player, I do believe this is more of the direction the Orioles will head in regards to shoring up the middle of their infield. They used a combination of Robert Andino/Ryan Flaherty/Omar Quintanilla/Brian Roberts at second base this past season and the results weren’t very flattering.
Those four players combined for a -2.5 WAR overall (.212 BA and a .273 OBP) and the defense among them wasn’t much better – costing the team negative three runs when we look at the defensive runs saved metric and posting a combined UZR of -7.2.
It would be a stretch to call Keppinger a defensive revelation at second base, as he’s slightly below average there, but he can play all over the infield and a little bit of outfield as well. Overall he’s an average to slightly below average defender at any position you put him at, so you at least know he won’t kill you with the glove, and he’s a career .288/.337/.396 hitter, so you also know that he’s plenty capable of getting on base and putting the ball in play.
Having Keppinger on this team to play predominantly second base, while also filling in at shortstop and third base, is a pretty big upgrade over what the team had for the 2012 season. At 32 years old I feel that serving up a three-year contract would be a bit much for a guy who could very well be keeping second base warm until Jonathan Schoop has had another year of development time, but a two-year contract at around $2 to $2.5 million per year would be very reasonable.
6. Nick Swisher – Orioles. Swisher hasn’t played left field regularly in many years, but if he’s willing to do so for the Orioles they could be a match. The 31-year-old also plays some first base, another question mark for the O’s. Swisher would be a fine addition to any lineup, though he doesn’t pass the gut test as a potential $100MM player. Perhaps we just have to account for salary inflation — $100MM doesn’t buy what it used to. The Giants and Mariners are other reasonable fits here.
Nick Swisher is the perfect example of a guy who benefits greatly from being a member of the New York Yankees and hitting in their lineup. For someone who can really only contribute by hitting homeruns and drawing walks he sure is being talked about as a guy worth close to $100 million dollars at 31 years of age. I’m not buying it and neither should the Orioles because he’s only an average first baseman and barely an average outfielder, on top of a declining walk rate, increasing strikeout rate, as well as showing more of a propensity to swing and miss at pitches outside of the strikezone.
If the Orioles are going to be handing out any semblance of a long-term contract, including the big money that will accompany said contract, then I would much rather them make a run at Michael Bourn (who is seeking a $100 million dollar contract of his own) who could provide excellent defense in center field and top flight speed on the basepaths (he’s stolen 40+ bases every year since 2008) – to go along with his ability to get on base at a healthy rate (career .272/.339/.365 batting line).
If the Orioles aren’t interested in handing out big money or long-term contracts to any player this offseason than there is one other player I feel would provide just what they are looking for on offense and a little position flexibility.
Mike Napoli had a down year this past season, hitting just .227/.343/.469, but he still managed to hit 24 homeruns and played adequate defense behind the plate and also at first base when he wasn’t the regular designated hitter. The most alarming thing about his down year is that he struck out at a 30% clip, the highest mark of his career, but on the positive side his walk rate remained steady at 13.4% – the same as it was in 2011.
A part of Napoli’s issues at the plate, especially his unsettlingly high strikeout rate, had to do with his vision. He’s having that corrected this off-season by getting Lasik eye surgery which would allow him to see at a 20/20 mark and should greatly improve his ability to pick up the ball out of the pitcher’s hand and crush the hell out of it.
Napoli just turned 31 years old on October 31 so a contract longer than three or four years wouldn’t be considered very prudent, but at the right dollar amount a three or four year deal for him wouldn’t be such a bad thing. He can play catcher well enough that he wouldn’t kill you behind the plate on defense and the same can be said at first base where he’s slightly better. A three or four year deal worth between $25 and $30 million dollars would be a pretty fair contract for Napoli and the Orioles if a deal were to get done. He also happens to be my bold free agent prediction for the Orioles this off-season.