With the World Series in the rearview mirror, and the painfully long awards season winding down, free agency is soon set to become the talk of the baseball world. The best way to start a look at free agency is by looking at the Orioles’ own free agents. The Birds have nine of them, after declining two options.
Michael Morse – 1B/OF
Morse came to the Orioles in a waiver wire deal for AAA OF Xavier Avery. And to say that Morse struggled with the Orioles would be an understatement. Morse went 3/29, with 1 BB, 7 SO and zero extra-base hits. Some say the cause was the lingering wrist injury that Morse dealt with all season, but after such an appearance, it would be surprising if the Orioles brought Morse back.
Chris Snyder – C
Chris Snyder is another one who struggled in limited batting appearances, going 2/20 with 1 RBI, 4 BB and 7 SOs. However, the Orioles like Snyder for his defense, something the club really values from their backup catchers. As was apparent with Taylor Teagarden as a backup, the team wants someone who can coach the young pitchers and play defense, and if they provide offense it is a plus. So it would not be surprising to see Snyder get a minor-league invite to 2014 Spring Training.
Francisco Rodriguez – RP
Francisco Rodriguez, or K-Rod, was another acquired in the middle of the season in a trade that sent promising young infielder Nicky Delmonico to the Brewers. Many thought that K-Rod might help lighten the load on Jim Johnson, who was struggling at the time. K-Rod pitched to a 2-1 record, with a 4.50 ERA, a WHIP of 1.364 and 28 strikeouts. Not terrible numbers, but K-Rod was having an excellent season when he was traded, so many O’s fans believed he underperformed. He also didn’t seem to be a great fit in the clubhouse either, and I wouldn’t expect him back.
Scott Feldman – LHP
Feldman was another rental acquired by Dan Duquette for the late-season push that never quite materialized. Traded to Baltimore with catcher Steve Clevenger for pitchers Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop, Feldman did not have great numbers, but pitched much better in his last few starts for the Orioles. In 15 starts, Feldman went 5-6 with a WHIP of 1.224 and a SO/BB of only 2.1. However, with the Orioles in the market for starting pitching, Feldman will certainly be someone they look at. It will likely come down to how long of a contract Feldman wants. If he wants over two years, he likely won’t be wearing Orioles’ black and orange next year. But for the right price, he might just be back at Camden Yards.
Alexi Casilla – 2B/SS
Casilla was brought in in 2013 as a piece of insurance and for his defense, and did his job as a fill-in, particularly when Brian Roberts got injured very early in the season. However, Casilla had a few bone-headed plays on the base paths that really frustrated Orioles fans, particularly coming from a veteran player. With Ryan Flaherty showing the ability to hit just as well as Casilla, and also playing defense at a high-level, the Orioles decided to decline Casilla’s option for 2014. The chance of him being back with the Birds in 2014 is very small.
Tyoushi Wada – LHP
A look at Wada’s stats from Japan show just why the Orioles were enamored with the left-handed pitcher. A WHIP just over 1, a higher SO/9 than H/9 and a .637 winning percentage are just some of those stats. But Wada needed Tommy John surgery before he ever pitched a game for the Orioles, and never did make it to the major leagues. However, he certainly showed some of his potential toward the end of 2013 with the Norfolk Tides in AAA, but the Orioles curiously never brought him to the majors. Wada was paid $8.15 million over 2 years, an enormous amount for someone who did not pitch a game for the Orioles. The Orioles had a team option for 2014, but Wada’s contract would have been $5 million. There is no way the O’s were bringing the lefty back for that price, but I think there is a right price he could come back for. However, the rumors of issues between his agent and the team and the fact that they never called him to the majors when the rosters expanded likely means he will try to get a deal elsewhere.
The next three players fans all feel very passionate about, so I definitely want to hear some opinions on what you think the Orioles should do with these three players.
Jason Hammel – RHP
Hammel is a player where the numbers are never going to look great. He isn’t a high K guy and puts a lot of men on base. However, he is a bulldog and an innings-eater, and Buck Showalter loves that about the righty. He is probably the best innings-eater on the Orioles staff, following a role Jeremy Guthrie held before Hammel came to Baltimore. In addition, his best season in the majors was in 2012, where many of his stats were the best of his career. His ERA that year was a very respectable 3.43, almost an entire point better than his previous career high (4.30). If not for the knee injury he suffered, he almost certainly would have been a 10 game-winner, and may have even won 15 games, as he ended up 8-7 in only 20 games. Hammel started both Game 1 and Game 5 against the Yankees in the ALDS in 2012. He pitched 5.2 innings and left up 2 runs in both games, certainly giving the Orioles a chance. In Game 1 he received a no-decision when Jim Johnson imploded in the 9th inning, leaving up five runs and demoralizing a raucous Orioles crowd that I was apart of. In Game 5, he was hung with the loss when the Orioles’ bats went silent against C.C. Sabathia in the series finale in New York.
2013 saw Hammel regress from the year before, with his stats more in line with the numbers he had put up before coming to Baltimore. This may be due to the arm injury he dealt with for much of the season, or could be a regression back to the mean. Many thought that Hammel had turned it around and figured some things out as pitcher in 2012, but 2013 showed that may not be the case. With new pitching and bullpen coaches and so many internal options to start, and the Orioles looking to get a top-tier pitcher, Hammel’s run with the Orioles is likely over.
Nate McLouth – OF
This is where the decisions get tough for the Orioles. McLouth was signed to a minor-league deal in 2012 and was called up mid-season, providing instant offense, base-stealing and solid defense in left field. His style quickly enamored him to Orioles fans, making him a quick fan favorite. He was about the only player who hit for the Birds in the 2012 ALDS, but was a free agent going into the off-season. Management gave him a one year, $2 million contract for 2013 to stay in Baltimore.
Despite Buck Showalter’s desire to platoon Nate against lefties in 2013, he ended up playing 146 games, the second most in his career behind only his All-Star campaign of 2008. And he started the season on-fire, hitting well, stealing bases and providing the solid defense that the team expected out of Nate. But as the season reached the mid-point, Nate’s numbers had cooled off, and over the last few months of the season, his bat was quiet and he stole very few bases when the team needed to get the running game going to manufacture runs. In fact, after May, Mclouth’s slash line was .243/.306/.380. His finishing line of .258/.329/.399/.729 was certainly worse than 2012, when he played in significantly less games. In fact, it was slightly lower than McLouth’s career numbers. The O’s could really use some power from the LF position, as if 2013 was any indication, they may not be getting much power from RF. McLouth is certainly not a power hitter, but he was also the main base-stealer on the team.
Halfway through 2013, many were projecting McLouth as one of the top outfield FAs going into 2014. While that is certainly not the case, he would make a great platoon hitter against righties. What also works in his favor is that while other OF positions have a lot of quality FAs, left field does not. What works in his favor for a return to the Orioles is the fact they don’t have a minor-leaguer beating down the door for a LF spot. LJ Hoes and Xavier Avery have been traded, Chris Dickerson proved he can be a utility guy, but that is about it, and is also a FA. AAA is full of experienced OF, none of which have the ability of the 31-year-old McLouth. Nolan Reimold’s health is always a question, and he may never meet the expectations that so many had for him. Henry Urrutia is certainly a possibility, but so much of his game still needs work, particularly his fielding and base running. The Orioles are certainly going to try to make a splash at LF, likely at least kicking the tires on Shin Soo Choo, but it wouldn’t be surprising to me if McLouth is back in LF next year, although I do think the Orioles will platoon him against lefties, possibly with Danny Valencia.
Brian Roberts – 2B
Brian Roberts is one big question mark. It is all about can he stay healthy? Roberts has played 192 games in the last 4 years, a number Dustin Pedroia almost played in 2013 alone. Every team in the majors would love Robinson Cano, but lets face it, he isn’t coming to Baltimore. Roberts is one of the few veteran players left who have played their entire career for one team. When Roberts played in 2013, he was adequate at 2B, playing great defense as usual and hitting just below .250 at .249. The Orioles and their fans have a great relationship with Brian, who is a stalwart in the community. He has expressed interest in re-signing, and the Birds have expressed interest in bringing him back. And when you look at the list of 2B free agents, other than Cano and Omar Infante, it is quite underwhelming. So the question appears to be, are the internal candidates better than Roberts? Jonathan Schoop is probably still at least three months in AAA from being major-league ready, after spending an extended amount of time on the DL with a back injury in 2013. Ryan Flaherty is a capable fill-in, but is his bat good enough to start everyday? He was the everyday starter when Roberts went down in April, and struggled so much he was sent back to AAA. He hit much better after returning to the O’s from that stint in the minors, albeit in limited and sporadic appearances.
In my opinion, if the Orioles sign a second baseman, it is going to be Brian Roberts. There just aren’t many candidates who are better, and the bigger contracts are likely going to go to a LF and pitching. Now, if they pull off a trade then that would likely shut the door for Roberts to come back. But with the current makeup of the roster, I think B-Rob is back in Baltimore in 2014, however, I don’t necessarily think that he is an automatic starter at second base.
I think in order, the players most likely to be back in Baltimore next year is Brian Roberts, Scott Feldman, Tyoushi Wada and Nate McLouth. The other five free agents, who were on the team last year, Chris Snyder, Alexi Casilla, Michael Morse, Francisco Rodriguez, and Jason Hammel, will all likely be wearing another jersey next season.