submitted by Ryan Hoak
The hiring of Mike Elias, now two weeks past, has brought Orioles fans’ attention to the free agent market. Now the Orioles front office can focus on possible trades or free-agent signings, alongside hiring a new manager. This administration under Elias is aware they are not building a competitive 2019 Orioles team, but that doesn’t mean they can’t plug holes in the current roster.
The biggest hole in the outfield on the current Orioles roster is right field. With the likely departure of beloved Oriole Adam Jones, there isn’t a clear Opening Day right fielder. There are the sub-par plugins like Joey Rickard, Anthony Santander and Mark Trumbo, who either lack the desired offensive capabilities, or in Trumbo’s case, are pure liabilities in the field. DJ Stewart got a run-out in September of last year, and although he showed signs of offensive power, he may need some more time at Norfolk to refine his contact skills before becoming an everyday right fielder.
Trey Mancini is locked in at left field for the next season with Chris Davis holding down the fort at first base for the time being. Cedric Mullins will most likely be the opening day starter in center field. His offense went downhill after his hot start in 2018, but his stellar defense and record in the minors in 2018 will give him a spot on the team. Right field is the only outfield position that absolutely needs an immediate fix from outside the organization.
Free agency is where the Orioles can and should fill the outfield hole, and that’s why I have singled out a couple of possible outfield targets for the Elias-led Orioles. These targets are all veteran players that would offer great leadership to the plethora of younger players. Defense and leadership are the top priorities on my list for the top outfield free-agents for the Orioles.
Here are some targets, in no particular order.
Curtis Granderson is well known, thanks to his high power numbers and successful tenure with the Yankees and Mets. By the start of the 2019 season, Granderson will be 38 years old, having played with the Tigers, Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, Blue Jays and Brewers. Considering he has been in the league since 2004, few players have more experience than Granderson (cue the Bartolo jokes). This experience can aid younger players like Mullins and Stewart in on- and off-field manners. He was just awarded MLBPA Man of the Year honors for a record third time this past week, for his incredible performance in both areas.
In 119 games last year between the Blue Jays and Brewers, Granderson slashed .242/.351/.431 with 13 home runs. A 13-home-run season isn’t impressive of course, but Granderson previously had four straight seasons of more than 20 dingers. I’d expect him to hit about 20 homers in Baltimore, which would be a great boost from right field. Also, his on-base capabilities and still somewhat decent speed can provide a lead-off option if Mullins is struggling. It’s important to mention he is a lefty, which is needed in this righty-heavy lineup. In the field Granderson is still at least an average right fielder with tips to share with the younger players.
Granderson has become a reliable rental, and will most likely sign a one-year deal for around three or four million dollars. He is a cheap rental who would provide an offensive spark and a recognizable face.
Since 2010, Jon Jay has been a capable hitter with elite defensive tools. The now 33-year-old lefty would provide a much needed pure contact hitter of the kind who hasn’t been seen in Baltimore since the 2016 version of Hyun Soo Kim.
Last season Jay played for two teams, the Royals and Diamondbacks, where he put together a decent campaign. He slashed .268/.330/.347 between the two teams, but those stats don’t tell the whole story. He started the year in Kansas City where he hit .307, and then was rewarded with a trade to a contender. It did not go well in Arizona, where he hit a measly .235. Over his nine-year career he has compiled a .285 average, so Jay’s tenure with the Diamondbacks was most likely an anomaly.
Jay is an elite defender in all outfield positions, playing in center, left and right last year. In right field last season, Jay had a fielding percentage of 1.000 and a DRS of +6. A major league team in the beginning of a rebuild can’t afford to give away games because of bad defense, and Jay would bolster the outfield defense tremendously.
Great defense, decent speed, pure contact and a veteran presence are exactly what the Orioles need for this upcoming season. If the Orioles can get that for around $3 million or so, then they should absolutely pick him up. Jay signed for $3 million last year, and his price tag would most likely be in the same ballpark for 2019.
Another veteran, Gonzalez (33) is a popular figure amongst fans and teammates. He has been with the Rockies since 2009 and has been an incredibly productive player with the bat in his hand. He is another lefty, who just like the others would help create some balance in an almost exclusively righty lineup.
Last season Gonzalez slashed .276/.329/.467 with 16 homers, a very respectable line. He is a career .287 hitter which makes him an all-around good batter in terms of contact and power.
The only blemish on his offense is his home/road splits, which are quite drastic. He has played his whole career with the Rockies (except 85 games with the A’s), who play in Coors Field where the ball, of course, flies. His career home stat line is .323/.381/.592 with 142 home runs, while on the road he only slashes .251/.307/.420 with 89 dingers. Camden Yards has the short right-field porch which is like heaven for lefties, so this split alone shouldn’t chase the Orioles away from signing CarGo.
CarGo is now an average to slightly below average right fielder, with a -6 DRS in 2018, but can still make the necessary plays and can hold the fort down for a season. Gonzalez brought a certain flair to the Rockies clubhouse, and he would do the same in the Orioles clubhouse. If this next team isn’t going to compete, why not have some fun with it? Especially for just $5 million or so – which is what I expect him to get in the offseason, considering that was his salary last year.
No introduction is needed for this Oriole legend, a future Oriole Hall of Famer and the face of the franchise. Jones had a very productive 2018 season, slashing .281/.313/.419 with 15 home runs. His power numbers are not what they are used to be, but he still hits for a good average and is a scary middle-of the-lineup hitter. Everyone knows his offensive capabilities even in his older age (33).
Last season Adam made the transition from center to right to accommodate Mullins. Just like in center, Adam is not the best right fielder, as he had -6 DRS in just 33 games. He is a sub-par defender but like CarGo, isn’t nearly the liability Trumbo would be.
The obvious reasons to sign Jones are the leadership qualities and what he means to Orioles fans. Adam is the leader of the clubhouse and a great role model. Jones was once a prospect and had to go through exactly what Mullins is currently going through. He can also teach these players that off-field actions mean just as much as on-field ones. He has a tremendous presence in the community; his annual Stay Hungry Tailgate raised over $125,000 just last week. He means a great deal to the Baltimore community and has become the face of the franchise over the last decade because of this. He has held this team together for over a decade and not having Jonesy in an Orioles uniform would be heartbreaking.
The problem is that the Orioles and Jones’ terms to sign would not likely match up at all. Jones has said he wants to win a ring but that won’t happen on any Oriole teams in the foreseeable future. Also, Jonesy most likely does not want a one-year deal, but that is exactly what Elias would be looking for. If Jones were to sign on for more than one year he would only block young players like Austin Hays, Yusniel Diaz, Stewart and Ryan McKenna. A multi-year deal would go against everything a rebuilding team would do, so a deal between the two parties is unlikely.
All four options would be great pickups for the Orioles on one-year deals, as they fit the needs of a rebuilding team. All offer leadership, some offensive capabilities, and sturdiness in the field and aren’t going to break the bank.
There are other options out there, but Birdland should be happy if one of these players is signed to be the Opening Day right fielder for the 2019 Baltimore Orioles.