If you have been watching the Orioles lately, chances are that you have been a tad disappointed with the offensive output, but for the entire season, they’ve been very good. They’re fifth in the majors in runs (426), first in homers (120), first in slugging (.447) and 15th in on-base percentage (.317, due in part to a very low walk rate). The Orioles, by and large, are what they are. There are no changes coming to catcher, first base, third base, shortstop, center and right. Nate McLouth will start every day in left against right-handers, too. And if Brian Roberts is healthy come the deadline time, they’ll almost certainly stand pat at that position. It leaves designated hitter and a right-handed platoon partner for McLouth as spots to upgrade. Corner outfielders Nolan Reimold (.196/.258/.330 in 124 plate appearances this year) and Steve Pearce (.235/.311/.383 in 90 plate appearances) haven’t given the Orioles the production they hoped for.
The Orioles have struggled this year against left-handed pitching. They’re hitting .248/.294/.414 as a team vs. lefties, as opposed to .276/.326/.461 against right-handers. I think every team’s fans believe that their favorite team can’t hit soft-tossing lefties, but for the Orioles, they struggle to some degree to hit all lefties. The right-handed hitters you’d expect to hit lefties — Adam Jones, Manny Machado and J.J. Hardy — all are hitting better against right-handers this year. The O’s could use a lefty-masher that they could plug into left or the designated hitter spot, although the DH spot against right-handers could use an upgrade, too.
Let’s look at the expensive corner bats that are likely available at this time. These are high-priced players on second-division teams. You’ll hear these players mentioned in the rumor mill until Aug. 31. These are players that the current teams would love to trade; their contracts and age are such that rebuilding teams would like to move towards younger and cheaper players in the near-term. However, they could still hold some value in the right spot.
|Player, Age||Contract Status||2013 OPS+||Career OPS+||Career Splits|
|Alex Rios, 32||Making $13 million this year and next; $1 million buyout for 2015||100||101||.284/.330/.452 vs. LHP|
|Adam Dunn, 33||Free agent after next season; making $15 million this year and next||103||125||.247/.379/.524 vs. RHP|
|Josh Willingham, 34||Free agent after next season; making $7 million this year and next||108||123||.249/.368/.497 vs. LHP|
|Aramis Ramirez, 35||Making $10 million this year and $16 million next year; $4 million buyout for 2015||109||116||.290/.350/.537 vs. LHP|
|Michael Young, 36||Free agent this winter; making $16 million this year||103||104||.310/.363/.468 vs. LHP|
|Alfonso Soriano, 37||Free agent after next season; making $19 million this year and next||94||112||.278/.345/.515 vs. LHP|
|Justin Morneau, 32||Free agent this winter; making $15 million this year||103||122||.293/.374/.522 vs. RHP|
None of these players provide significant defensive value, so their value is all wrapped up in the bat. Each player probably has some juice left in the bat, but their contracts likely scare off potential suitors. These contracts add a significant hurdle to any potential deal; teams will haggle over how the remaining salary will be paid in addition to the names involved in the deal.
The White Sox should be heavy sellers at the deadline and they have some pieces to move, including Rios and Dunn, both of whom are due a lot of money and may not be of much use to a team that probably needs to tear it down and inject quality young talent into the organization. Theoretically, Rios is a good fit for the Orioles because he could fill the role that the Orioles envisioned for Nolan Reimold — play left field against left-handed starters and be the designated hitter against right-handed pitching — although it’s debatable how much of an upgrade he’d be over Reimold anyway and it’s tough to envision Rios as a realistic option given his salary. (Soriano could fill the same role as Rios would, but his salary just makes it too complicated, and at 37, Soriano’s probably a guy to run away and hide from.) Dunn, however, is a DH-only type that needs to be hidden from lefties. Dunn has value for a team with a glaring hole at designated hitter and payroll flexibility — the Orioles fit the first criteria and may fit the second — but I’d steer clear of a player with his limitations and price tag.
The Twins also have a pair of sluggers that they could market in Willingham and Morneau. I’ve long been a Willingham fan for his ability to get on base and hit for power, but corner guys with narrow skill sets often don’t age well. Willingham is having his worst full season as a big leaguer after years of remarkable consistency. (Update: Willingham recently had knee surgery and is out 4-6 weeks. He’d be an Aug. 31 trade chip, but is most likely staying put in Minnesota. Tough break for the Twins.) Willingham is a well below-average left fielder and would probably be limited to the designated hitter spot for Baltimore. (The Orioles need to place a premium on defense given their pitching staff’s inability to miss bats.) Morneau is unfortunately a shell of his former MVP self, but can still hit right-handed pitching some. However, Morneau’s salary is simply too steep to justify being the designated hitter against right-handed pitching for two to three months. The Orioles will hope that Wilson Betemit can come back soon to fill that role.
Ramirez and Young are the only third basemen on the list, but would fit in as designated hitters on the O’s. Ramirez had a huge year in 2012, but is having an injury-plagued season this year and has a lot of money coming his way in the near future. Milwaukee is another organization that might need a significant rebuild, but trading Ramirez’ contract is probably a really tough sell for most teams (and certainly the O’s) at this stage of his career. Young is experiencing a dead cat bounce-back year for the Phillies after an awful 2012 campaign with Texas. At this point in his career, it’s difficult to envision a role for Young on a contending club.
Let’s move on to cheaper corner bats that could be available.
|Player, Age||Contract Status||2013 OPS+||Career OPS+||Career Splits|
|Kendrys Morales, 30||Final year of arb; making $5.25M||120||119||.285/.339/.500 vs. RHP; .306/.379/.468 vs. LHP in ’13|
|Raul Ibanez, 41||One year, $2.75M deal||140||113||.283/.347/.490 vs. RHP|
|Jason Bay, 34||One year, $1M deal||113||122||.273/.382/.500 vs. LHP|
|Michael Morse, 31||Free agent this winter; making $7M this year||118||125||.303/.358/.515 vs. LHP|
|Nate Schierholtz, 29||One-year, $2.25M deal||123||101||.269/.321/.437 vs. RHP|
|David DeJesus, 33||Making $4.25M this year with a $1.5 million buyout for ’14||105||106||.291/.365/.450 vs. RHP|
|Marlon Byrd, 35||One-year, $700K deal||121||99||.283/.336/.446 vs. LHP|
|John Mayberry, Jr., 29||First year of arb in ’14; out of options||101||102||.281/.324/.535 vs. LHP|
|Ryan Doumit, 32||Making $3.5M this year and next||89||106||.271/.331/.459 vs. RHP|
|Casper Wells, 28||First year of arb in ’14; out of options||15 (49 PA)||102||.255/.337/.466 vs. LHP|
The Mariners executed what appeared to be an odd strategy this winter — sign a lot of corner guys for their bats and worry about the defense later. And all four hitters they signed — Morales, Ibanez, Morse and Bay — are all hitting pretty well and may hold a little bit of trade value. Ibanez, in particular, is kind of remarkable — he’s slugging .554 at 41-years-old while playing half of his games in Safeco. None of the four are players should be expected to be a big part of the Mariners’ future, so it’s reasonable to deduce that the Mariners will to try to cash in on whatever value they have. All four would be DH-only fits in Baltimore, which would create a logjam if Betemit makes it back into the lineup this year. However, the O’s traded for a DH-only in Jim Thome last year, so they’re not averse to doing so. Morse and Morales in particular could be useful part-time players, but whether that’s worth whatever Seattle is asking for remains to be seen. If the O’s found Seattle’s asking price for Joe Saunders to be too high, I can’t imagine a negotiation for Morales or Morse would go much better. Morse, by the way, is returning soon from a quad injury.
Schierholtz (who the Orioles had interest in this winter) and DeJesus fill the same role as Nate McLouth does — left-handed hitting outfielder who hits right-handers — so they’re not necessary additions.
Byrd has bounced around quite a bit, but is having a nice year with the New York Mets after an awful year in 2012. Doumit catches and plays either corner outfield spot for the Twins, but is good at none of those positions and would be a DH-only fit for the Orioles. Again, it’s debatable whether these guys would be any better than Reimold the rest of the way.
One of the players I find most intriguing in this group is Mayberry, who has struggled with right-handed pitching throughout his short career but has done well against lefties. I think Mayberry could slide in as platoon partner for McLouth, but Philadelphia may be a little hesitant to move him due to the three years of control he has left. However, I think Philly shifts into full-blown sell mode later this month and talks about most players on their roster. Wells, a former Towson Tiger, has pretty much the same story as Mayberry — a relatively short track record, struggles with arm-side pitching, handles lefties. I thought Wells was a decent target this off-season to platoon in left, but he ended up getting DFA’d quite a few times early on in the season before landing with the White Sox and has very few plate appearances thus far. However, it is again debatable whether these two would be upgrades over Reimold or Pearce for the rest of the season.
None of these names are elixirs for the Orioles. As I stated at the top of the piece, most of the lineup is set. The Orioles are probably unlikely to take on a chunk of the salary that would be necessary to grab one of the more expensive pieces, but there are some potentially useful part-timers available in the cheaper lot that could help against lefties and/or at the designated hitter spot. The Orioles wanted Reimold and Pearce to handle the duties I talked about at length in this piece, but that hasn’t happened thus far. The O’s would be wise to look into this market for potential upgrades.
All statistics are via Baseball Reference. All statistics are as of the action of Sunday, July 7. All contract information is via Baseball Reference and Cot’s Baseball Contracts.