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Offseason Preview: Outfield

Austin Hays cycle
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Welcome back to the last installment of the Orioles Offseason Preview Series. Today we will review the last group of players, the Outfielders and designated hitters.

The setup will be the same as the last articles: go over the year as a whole for this group, then look at how they can improve, available free agents, then give my prediction.

Previous Installments:

Starting Pitching

Bullpen

Infield

This outfield is a doozy to talk about. There were so many ups and downs last season from this group that it can be difficult to break down. It just seemed like the whole group couldn’t get on the same page offensively and defensively this year. Most of these issues come from one person, and it isn’t hard to blame him for the overall lack of production: Austin Hays.

Hays had probably the worst offensive year on the team, outside of guys like Rougned Odor and Robinson Chirinos, of whom much less was expected. Hays looked like an All-star after his cycle in six innings against the Nats, but after that, he just turned into an unwatchable mess. If I am being honest, I can’t take it with Hays anymore. He is just so inconsistent that it drives me nuts. I can already see you typing in the comments about injuries being the cause, but this would be incorrect. While he did sustain a wrist injury, it occurred in May, well before he started slumping. So either that wrist injury got worse as the year went along, or he had another injury that the public didn’t know about.

Or… it wasn’t injury-related at all, and he just got worse as the year went on. He was so bad that I thought the Orioles would non-tender him, but his arbitration number was so low that it wasn’t even worth it to do that. Before people come in and also comment about his defense, he was a terrible defender in left field this year outside of his arm, which is the only valuable thing he has. Hays has simply run out of time, and the Orioles have to move on from him this offseason.

As for the rest, Cedric Mullins might have disappointed some people coming off his 2021 year, but I was honestly satisfied. I wasn’t expecting Mullins to repeat his nearly 7 WAR 2021, and he did put up good offensive numbers with his usual great defense other than his arm.

As for Anthony Santander, he showed what a healthy season from him can look like going forward. He didn’t hit for a high average, but he improved his on-base ability by spiking his walk percentage. He did this while keeping the power he already showed and played in 152 games this year. His defense just wasn’t good, which I think leads perfectly into the next position, the designated hitter.

The Orioles DH spot was weird. Trey Mancini was the DH in the first half, but the position was more open to anyone who needed it in the second half. That was until Kyle Stowers got the call and provided the defense that Santander couldn’t. Stowers took over right field, and Santander moved to DH.

So how does the Outfield market look, and how do the Orioles fix some of these issues?

The market looks decent but could be better in terms of what the Orioles need. The big name is Aaron Judge, who, no, the Orioles aren’t going to sign, nor should they. He doesn’t fit and has already taken verbal shots at the front office, so it isn’t happening.

In terms of upgrading left field, there aren’t a lot of options. Mitch Haniger is intriguing and does fit the middle-of-the-order bat the Orioles need, but he is injury prone and older, so the fit doesn’t make sense beyond the bat. Andrew Benintendi would be an upgrade over Hays, but a slap-hitting left fielder isn’t really what this team needs right now. Michael Conforto missed last season and wanted a big contract before getting hurt, but he could be an attractive buy-low option.

Outside of that, the corner outfield market is bad and full of over-the-hill guys.

Upgrading centerfield is something I don’t think is in the Orioles’ cards right now. They have Mullins, and unless he is in a deal to get an ace, I don’t see him getting traded. If you do trade him, who is playing CF next year? A worse option off the street? Yeah, no, Mullins isn’t going anywhere right now.

The DH free agent market is a bit better but also leaves much to be desired. The main name I like, regardless of needs for the Orioles, is Josh Bell. He struggled down the stretch for the Padres, but he seems to be the kind of hitter that Elias likes. He hits the ball hard, and he gets on base. The problem is that if he is the everyday DH, what makes him so different than starting Santander? Probably not much. Bell gives you a better upside because of how hard he hits the ball, but is that worth it? Another name is Jose Abreu. The longtime White Sox First Baseman had another good year. Abreu is 35 right now, so he isn’t a spring chicken, but he would be exactly what the Orioles need. He is also a great clubhouse leader, so he is checking on the boxes. Again though, is signing Abreu better than just putting Santander at DH?

These are the hard-hitting questions the Orioles have to ask. Is it worth signing Abreu or Bell if Santander is giving you close to the same production for less?

Another point is the Orioles’ outfield prospects. The closest that I see making a significant impact is Colton Cowser. Cowser tore up Double-A and had decent numbers at Triple-A, but the earliest I could see him up is mid-May. I have a lot of high expectations for Cowser this year, and I hope he can become the team’s starting left fielder by summertime. The other Prospect is Heston Kjerstad. He got off to a hot start, slowed down in High-A, then killed it in the Arizona Fall League, winning the league MVP award. Kjerstad still hasn’t seen Double-A yet, so I wouldn’t expect him until maybe the end of this year.

So with all that, let’s go into what I think the Orioles should do

  1. Trade Austin Hays. I don’t care how it gets done or what comes back, but please, it is time. Cowser can be ready by summertime and handle the new wall in left field. Add Hays into a bigger deal, trade him for a ham sandwich, whatever… just do something with him because he can’t be a starter after that second half.
  2. Check-in on the veteran Left Field market like Tommy Pham and Michael Brantley; sign them if the price is right.
  3. Check in Jose Abreu and Josh Bell. Sign Abreu if you value veteran leadership and a longer track record. Sign Bell if you value a higher upside and are younger with his switch-hitting ability with the Wall. If the price is too high, then roll with Santander at DH.
  4. Make Stowers the right fielder for 2023. Stowers offers much more defensive upside than Santander, and he showed a lot of potential with his bat. Please, Brandon Hyde, give him the starting right fielder role.
  5. Keep Mullins, unless for a potential Pablo Lopez or Ace-level trade.

Thank you for reading, and come back next week when I wrap a bow on this whole series and talk about what I would do with this offseason.

Mike Elias on his laptop.
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