Late Monday evening, the Orioles agreed to terms with slugger Pedro Alvarez on a one-year deal, pending a physical. Should the former 2008 second overall pick pass the Orioles’ always rigorous physical, Alvarez will make $5.75 million in 2016, with the potential for an additional $1.25 million in incentives, per reports from Jon Heyman and others.
After being spurned by Dexter Fowler last week, and missing out on Austin Jackson to the Chicago White Sox (the Orioles reportedly offered more money but Jackson wanted to play center field), the Orioles were known to still be looking for another bat to add to the lineup, namely a left-handed hitting outfielder. The most popular rumor was a potential trade for Reds outfielder Jay Bruce. This signing should put an end to those talks.
The signing of Alvarez has been met with mixed emotions across Birdland, and rightfully so. On the one hand, the Orioles have added more power to what was already considered one of the most powerful lineups in all of baseball. Below is a potential Opening Day lineup (career highs for HR in parentheses):
Manny Machado (35)
Hyun-Soo Kim (28 in KBL)
Adam Jones (33)
Chris Davis (53)
Mark Trumbo (34)
Matt Wieters (23)
Pedro Alvarez (36)
J.J. Hardy (30)
Jonathan Schoop (16)
This lineup could make a serious run at the 1996 Orioles team-record of 257 HR, and the 1997 Seattle Mariners MLB record of 264 HR. Should the starting nine match their career highs, the team would hit 288 HR in 2016 before even talking about the bench players.
As exciting as those numbers are, we may need to curb our enthusiasm a bit. Hardy, for example, doesn’t even have 20 HR combined over the last two seasons. It is unlikely he sniffs 20 HR this year, let alone 30. Hyun-Soo Kim still has yet to record a hit in the Grapefruit League (0-18 as I file this entry), so expectations for him to match his KBL numbers in any category should be tempered.
One cause for concern is the high level of strikeouts this lineup could carry. The starting nine alone is projected for well over 900 strikeouts, if you add up the projections on baseball-reference.com (there are no projections for Kim, but the other eight batters project for 888 Ks).
Another cause for concern is what this “addition” means for the defense. The Orioles may hide Alvarez’s glove in Sarasota, as he should rarely–if ever–play the field. But as it stands now, the everyday right fielder is Mark Trumbo. This is good news for Rule V pick Joey Rickard, who now stands to make the team as a defensive replacement, but it’s bad news for a team counting on a collective bounce-back season from the starting rotation to help them return to the playoffs. A mid-tier rotation needs all the help it can get from its defense.
While the infield defense should still be exceptional, the Orioles have an unknown in left field with Kim, and a liability in right with Trumbo. Even if they decide to move Davis to right on occasion, that weakens the infield defense, as Davis is the superior defensive first basemen to Trumbo. On the other hand, Nelson Cruz played the majority of games in left in 2014, and that team won 96 games.
This team should hit about 250 of them. But none of these sluggers can pitch (insert Chris Davis joke), and the defense is taking a hit with the acquisition of Alvarez, even if he never plays the field. At the end of the day, the team and the fans are left with one question: does this player make this team better? It may be awhile before anybody knows.