It happens every spring…or at least it seems that way.
Orioles Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette always waits out the market and adds an impact player late in the winter…or in some cases after Spring Training camps have opened.
In 2012, Duquette acquired starting pitcher Jason Hammel on February 6 – just before camps opened – to help solidify the rotation.
In 2014, the Orioles signed Ubaldo Jimenez on February 19 and then followed that up by signing Nelson Cruz just five days later.
And last season, the O’s finalized their deal with Yovani Gallardo (after some drama related to Gallardo’s physical) on February 25 and then signed designated hitter Pedro Alvarez on March 7.
Of course, there was more drama in the spring of 2016 when – just as Dexter Fowler was reported to be arriving at O’s camp – the outfielder surprised everyone by appearing at Cubs camp after taking a one-year deal to re-sign with Chicago for less than the qualifying offer salary he had originally turned down.
So now that camp is open in Sarasota for 2017, the question is…will a press conference take place at Ed Smith Stadium to introduce another key acquisition?
The pool of remaining free agents is rather shallow at this point. But here are some candidates to appear at a MASN-televised press conference within the next few days:
- Matt Wieters, catcher – I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of this guy. He remains on the market – for now – while agent Scott Boras looks for an offer that doesn’t seem to be coming. At this point, it appears Wieters’ options are: (a) accept the offer extended to him by the Tampa Bay Rays, even though it might not be what he had hoped for, (b) hope that Boras can work his magic with the Washington Nationals one more time to help him land a huge deal, or (c) take a one-year “pillow” contract and hope to re-build his value for the 2018 free agent market. Given the fact that Wieters played the 2016 season on a one-year deal it’s unlikely he would want to take such a risk again. My guess is that Boras eventually gets Wieters a face-saving deal with the Nationals. I know that many O’s fans are hoping that Wieters ends up back in Baltimore again…but it seems as though the team has clearly moved on at this point.
- Doug Fister, starting pitcher – The starting rotation is clearly the weak spot on the 2017 Orioles team, and with the news that Chris Tillman’s shoulder has been bothering him again it would make sense for Duquette to buy some insurance. The 33-year-old Fister was actually rumored to be headed to Baltimore last off-season before he signed a one-year, $7 million contract with Houston. Fister is nothing more than a league average pitcher (at best) at this point, but his durability could be something the Orioles would be interested in. Fister made 32 starts in 2016 for Houston, posting a 4.64 ERA and 1.425 WHIP. Keep this in mind when considering Fister: opposing hitters batted .241 against him in the first half of the season…and then clobbered him for a .322 average in the second half, helping to explain his 6.20 second half ERA.
- Colby Lewis, starting pitcher – Lewis, obviously, would also provide insurance in the event that Tillman missed more than a start or two. But at age 37, Lewis represents much more of an unknown. On the surface, Lewis’ 3.71 ERA and 1.126 WHIP would appear to provide a better option than Fister. But after a midseason lat strain injury caused him to miss two months, Lewis struggled upon his return. In four starts after September 1, Lewis went 0-4 with a 6.38 ERA and 1.691 WHIP. Lewis would likely come with a cheaper price tag than Fister, but he would also come with significantly more risk.
- Angel Pagan, outfielder – While the acquisition of Seth Smith would seem to have filled the O’s quota for outfielders in their mid-30s, Pagan remains an interesting option. Defensively, the 35-year-old Pagan would provide an upgrade in left field over incumbent Hyun-Soo Kim, as Pagan was 7.1 defensive runs above average in that position in 2016 while Kim was 8.6 defensive runs below average. The switch-hitting Pagan’s .331 on-base percentage almost exactly matched his .330 lifetime figure…and that would have been good enough for fourth among 2016 Orioles with more than 100 at-bats.
- Michael Bourn, outfielder – I’ve saved the most likely acquisition for last, as a reunion with Bourn would appear to be the most “Orioles” move remaining at this point. And, yes, Bourn is 34 years old…apparently 34 was the minimum age requirement for joining the 2017 O’s outfield as a newcomer. After being acquired last August 31, Bourn was fairly solid for the Orioles – albeit in just 24 games – posting a slash line of 283/358/435. Bourn is nothing more than an average defender at this point, although many fans will never forget that fly ball that popped out of his glove in right field during last year’s Wild Card loss to Toronto. But Bourn does bring a bit of speed that – with the possible exception of Joey Rickard – the O’s simply do not have anywhere else on the roster. Most importantly, Bourn could likely be signed for less than any of the other names on this list.
- Honorable mentions: Nolan Reimold, outfielder – No. Let’s just not at this point…Ryan Howard, infielder – does not fit…Pedro Alvarez, designated hitter – does not fit…Billy Butler, designated hitter – does not fit…Jered Weaver, starting pitcher – could give up 50 home runs in Camden Yards if given the chance…Alfredo Simon, starting pitcher – that bridge has been burned.