The biggest decision that Baltimore Orioles general manager Dan Duquette will have to make this off-season is whether to tender first baseman Mark Reynolds a contract or not. The team declined his $11 million dollar option and he is now arbitration eligible. If the decision is made to keep him on the roster then it is entirely possible he could still earn between $8 and $9 million via the arbitration process – an amount that still seems higher than what the Orioles would be willing to pay him next season.
Another thing to consider is that there are many teams around the league desperate for starting pitching, and that means they would be willing to trade a bat if they liked what they were getting in return. According to MLB Trade Rumors, the Orioles have checked in with the Minnesota Twins about left fielder/DH Josh Willingham and also with the Kansas City Royals about first baseman/DH Billy Butler.
Willingham was available as a free agent at the end of the 2010 season and the Orioles did look into signing him, but it was the Twins who actually gave him the three-year deal he was seeking. Now they are open to trading him, after just one season with the team, in exchange for starting pitching. Even though Willingham put up a .260/.366/.524 batting line with 35 homeruns and 110 RBI this past season, and also has a very affordable contract as he’s owed $7 million per year over the next two seasons, he will be 34 years old once the 2013 season begins and the free agent market is flooded with quality outfielders who could be had for less.
Another knock against Willingham is that he’s a butcher in left field, costing his team 13 runs on defense and posting an UZR of -7.9 in 2012, and it also doesn’t help that he strikes out a ton. At this point in his career he should likely be considered nothing more than a full-time DH who can occasionally play left field. We also shouldn’t expect his power numbers to increase any, even if he were to play half of his games in Camden Yards, so giving up much in the way of starting pitching for him doesn’t seem like a very prudent move at this point.
My recommendation to the Orioles on Willingham is to pass – there are too many other outfielders and designated hitter types on the free agent market that could be had at a reasonable rate to give up starting pitching for him.
Billy Butler on the other hand is only 26 years old, coming off of career year in which he put up a .313/.373/.510 batting line with a career high 29 homeruns and 107 RBI. Even though he’s more of a DH type he is capable of playing first base and while he’s no gold-glover over there, he can certainly hold his own well enough to be league average or just below league average over the next several seasons.
What’s makes Butler even more of an attractive target is that he’s under contract through at least 2014, at $8 million per year, with a $12.5 million dollar team option for 2015. He would only be 29 years old by the time his contract is officially up and would still be a good candidate for an extension at that point if he’s still producing at a high level.
The biggest downside to trying to acquire Butler from the Royals though is the cost associated with doing so. The Royals are desperate for starting pitching but they won’t be accepting a fool’s deal of AAAA type pitchers in exchange for their fan base’s favorite player. Butler means to Royals fans what Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Matt Wieters means to Orioles fans.
With that being the case it would likely take a package revolving around Chris Tillman or Brian Matusz for them to even speak with Dan Duquette about a potential Butler trade. If Tillman was traded then that would likely mean the Orioles really would have to sign a starting pitcher off the free agent market, instead of relying on the depth that they currently have.
If there was a choice between the two then Butler is obviously the player you want because his youth, production, and friendly contract make acquiring him worthwhile.