Free agent preview: Baltimore Orioles

The Baltimore Orioles had a great, very surprising 2012 season. They made the playoffs for the first time since 1997, and baseball in the beltway is peaking when you take the success of the Washington Nationals into account as well. But Baltimore GM Dan Duquette is going to have some work to do in order to repeat the success that his team had in 2012.

Needs
You can point to the success Nate McLouth had in his brief tenure with Baltimore last season, but this team needs an every day left fielder. In 55 games, McLouth had a .777 OPS, but McLouth is 31 and hadn't been any good since 2009, including for the first half of 2012 when he was with the Pirates. Baltimore also can't count on the health of the talented Nolan Reimold on an every day basis, which is a disappointment. The Orioles also should be in the market for a DH after scrolling through a variety of players and not really having any of them click. Mark Reynolds, who had his option declined but still has a year of arbitration left, could be that guy while Chris Davis plays first base and a hopefully healthy Nick Markakis takes back over in right field. The Orioles also need to do something about second base, because Brian Roberts has played in less than a full season's worth of games of the last three seasons while getting paid $30 million over that time. Baltimore might be in the market for starting pitching this winter, but I don't think that is a huge priority with 2012 standouts Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen returning, along with the cadre of young pitchers that performed well for the Orioles this season. 

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Possible Options
Orioles fans would probably groan at this, but current Yankee Nick Swisher could fill that hole in the outfield pretty well. I think Torii Hunter and Cody Ross could also be good fits, but both will likely be more coveted than Swisher. I could see the team making a pass at the oft-injured Travis Hafner for their DH spot, but staying in-house with Reynolds would probably be the best bet. Second base is a horror show in the free agent market, and Kelly Johnson is the best name out there, and I'm not sure if he'd be worth to the Orioles what he'll likely end up getting in the open market. Re-signing Joe Saunders wouldn't be a bad move to keep an innings eating veteran on the staff, but if he signs elsewhere, someone like Joe Blanton or Bartolo Colon might be a good backup plan.

Trade Options
With as young of a team as the Orioles have, they shouldn't be looking to trade any of their core players. It would be ideal if they could dump Roberts off on a team, but he's provided absolutely no value to the Orioles since signing his four year extension, and he has a no-trade clause anyway. Reynolds will make a lot of money for what he is, and the team clearly thinks he's not worth eight figures a year after declining his $11 million option. I'm going to once again beat the drum about trading JJ Hardy, and considering how dire the free agent market is at the position, the Orioles could probably get a better return than they could last offseason. Even with a down year in 2012, Hardy's $7.4 million salary over the next two years is a bargain, and Manny Machado is clearly ready for the majors, so why not move him to his natural position? I'll also float the idea of trading pieces from Baltimore's fantastic bullpen as they get too expensive. Closer Jim Johnson had a solid 2012, but a reliever that strikes out as few batters as him doesn't seem like he'd be worth north of $4 million in salary to me.

Trade Targets
After 2012's playoff berth, the graduation of Machado to the majors, and Dylan Bundy's meteoric rise through the minors, the time for playoff talk is now for the Orioles. Now, this team shouldn't try to completely gut their (very deep) farm system for a player like Justin Upton, but other talent might be in play. For example, if the Angels pick up Dan Haren's option, he could be an absolute steal for the Orioles and would fill a huge hole in the process. You know who actually might be a good fit, and probably wouldn't cost a lot in the terms of prospects? Alfonso Soriano of the Cubs. He could slot right into left field, and Chicago would be so thankful to dump his salary that they'd likely take a pittance of a return for a four win player. I have no idea if he'd accept a trade to Baltimore as a ten and five players, but it's worth at least kicking the tires on.

Joe Lucia

About Joe Lucia

Joe is the managing editor of The Outside Corner and a contributing author at Awful Announcing. He lives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and is stuck somewhere between tolerating and hating Pittsburgh and Philadelphia sports.

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