In the days since the Orioles finally got their front office situation sorted out – by hiring the grand-slam choice of former Astros assistant GM Mike Elias – the offseason chatter has returned to the more mundane, run-of-the-mill topics familiar to every offseason: who will be non-tendered, which free agents should the team target, etc.
Speaking of non-tender candidates, one name keeps popping up here in Birdland: Tim Beckham.
I have no inside information on this situation – but with some more analytical heads up top making the decisions, I don’t think the club will be retaining the 28-year-old infielder, who struggled both offensively and defensively in 2018.
Questions have also surfaced about the future position of Jonathan Villar, and whether he’ll be the second baseman or the shortstop going forward. He has shown to be a better defender at the second rather than short, but the club’s decision at this point is anybody’s guess.
With my assumption that Beckham will be departing and assuming the Orioles still are undecided on the status of Villar, I have five free-agent infielders in mind who I think the club should pursue: three shortstops, two second basemen.
You should begin to see a trend on which I want to focus. And, sorry in advance, Orioles fans – none of these are Manny Machado. And none are likely to move the betting predictions and odds very much at all when it comes to the O’s winning anything of substance.
My five choices are listed alphabetically by last name, not by any order of preference. At the end, I’ll even throw in a bonus sixth option, but that player would only intriguing if another specific transaction happens this offseason.
Let’s get started.
Freddy Galvis, SS
Freddy Galvis, 29, has proven to be a very durable shortstop over the past four seasons, playing in over 150 games in each year since the start of 2015. He has two-consecutive 162-game seasons entering 2019, the former with the Philadelphia Phillies and the latter with the San Diego Padres.
The switch-hitter isn’t known for his abilities at the plate, with a slash line of .246/.290/.374 in his career and .248/.299/.380 in 2018. But what makes him an interesting candidate is his talent on the defensive side, as he recorded +7 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) with the Padres this past season. That ranks as the eighth-best mark among qualified shortstops, fifth-best among National League shortstops.
For comparison, in their times at shortstop with the Orioles in 2018, Machado had -18 DRS and Beckham recorded -3 DRS. Yes, Machado’s defensive stats at shortstop showed to be much better with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but I’ll just tip my cap to the Dodgers staff for helping make adjustments to better his game. Hopefully, I’ll be able to tip my cap to this new Orioles staff in some time down the road.
Keep in mind those defensive numbers Orioles shortstops posted in 2018 while I bring up these next options.
Adeiny Hechavarria, SS
Adeiny Hechavarria bounced around in 2018, starting with the Tampa Bay Rays before being dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates then to the New York Yankees. This wasn’t to say Hechavarria didn’t present value last season – quite the opposite. He was a decent infield option that multiple teams coveted during the waiver-trade period in August.
Like Galvis, and multiple others on this list, Hechavarria isn’t an offensive threat by any means, posting a .247/.279/.345 line in 2018. The value that he brings forth is defensively, as he recorded +3 DRS this past season, bringing his career total to +22 at shortstop. Like most of the options on this list, he’s not one of the flashy names on the free-agent market that will pop out at you. But that’s the reality you have to swallow when you’re a fan of a rebuilding team. You’re likely not going to see the stars play for your team.
So instead, the Orioles can look to bring in a good defensive shortstop like Hechavarria to improve the defense behind young pitchers during the rebuild.
Jose Iglesias, SS
Jose Iglesias will probably be the most expensive of the SS options on my list.
The 28-year-old shortstop slashed .269/.310/.389 in 2018, with +1 DRS and +8.2 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating), which ranked fourth-best among all qualified shortstops. Iglesias is coming off his best overall season in the big leagues, in which he totaled 2.5 fWAR.
Iglesias is a shortstop that multiple contenders may take a look at on a multi-year deal. But if he slips through the cracks and teams look elsewhere, the Orioles should be jumping on the opportunity to sign him.
Ian Kinsler, 2B
Kinsler, 36, got to enjoy a World Series championship with the Boston Red Sox this past year, after being dealt by the Los Angeles Angels earlier this summer. The veteran second baseman isn’t the same hitter that he used to be, as he slashed .240/.301/.380 with an 87 wRC+ in 2018. He still has a little bit of pop left in his bat, as he hit 22 home runs in 2017 and 14 in 2018.
No matter how much his hitting skills have declined, however, his defense is still among the best in the game at second base, as he recorded +10 DRS and +9.4 UZR in 2018, both good for second-most among all qualified second basemen in the game.
It’s possible that the veteran Kinsler could be coveted by a contender this offseason, but it’s also possible that he could be skipped over with some younger, pricier, more-intriguing infielders on the open market. There’s also a chance that a contender may view Kinsler as a utility option.
If he’d rather start, Camden Yards could be a good park to try to have a bounce-back year in offensively, while providing Orioles young pitchers with some defensive help.
D.J. LeMahieu, 2B
Now this one may be the most unlikely of the five I’ve listed, but it’s still a possibility.
Remember when I wrote above that Kinsler had the second-most DRS and UZR among qualified second basemen in 2018? Well, the only guy above him was D.J. LeMahieu, who posted +18 DRS and +11 UZR in 2018, making his total through 7,460 innings at second base in his career +67 and +26.5, respectively.
LeMahieu has always been a plus defender for the Colorado Rockies, but his bat finally broke out in 2016, when he slashed .348/.416/.495 with a 130 wRC+. His slash line dipped to .310/.374/.409 in 2017, and then again in 2018 to .276/.321/.428.
Now that’s a respectable line, especially for one of the best defensive second basemen in baseball. But what may push potential suitors away is how much they believe in the “Coors Effect.” In his career, he has a home batting line of .330/.387/.448, compared to .264/.311/.362 on the road. This may not push interested teams away entirely, but it would sway them to not offer as big of a contract as LeMahieu is probably hoping for this season.
The Dodgers, Washington Nationals, and Minnesota Twins have all had “at least preliminary talks with reps” for LeMahieu, according to Morosi. It’ll be interesting to see what the market is for the 30-year-old second baseman. If he doesn’t like the offers, and teams start looking elsewhere, Baltimore could be a short-term option for him to try to bounce back – especially away from Coors Field – to try to score a bigger deal for himself in the future.
These could be big ifs, however, and not something I’m necessarily banking on.
Bonus Option: Jose Bautista, corner infield/outfield
I bet I caught you off guard with this one.
Remember when I said this possibility would only be an option if another specific transaction would happen first? What I’m talking about here is trading Mark Trumbo. The Orioles already have Chris Davis locked into the huge contract, and he isn’t going anywhere. My assumption is the designated hitter role will belong to Trumbo, which means the Orioles will have Trey Mancini trotting back out to left field on Opening Day again.
If the club wants to prepare for the young crowd of outfielders who have come in to Baltimore and those who are on the horizon – Cedric Mullins, D.J. Stewart, Austin Hays, and Yusniel Diaz – then getting Mancini out of the outfield and into a first baseman or designated hitter role may be a priority. Finding a way to trade Trumbo could free up a spot for this to happen.
I think I may know what you’re thinking now – what would Jose Bautista offer this club that Trumbo doesn’t?
The answers are: flexibility, and a defined role that isn’t hurting the club.
We know that Bautista has most of his experience as a corner outfielder, but he also has over 100 innings-experience at first base in the majors, as well as 3,233.2 innings at third base. 139.1 of those innings played at third base came in 2018 when he logged time with the Atlanta Braves, New York Mets, and Philadelphia Phillies. He’s not an above-average defender at third by any means, but he’s serviceable.
I think Renato Nunez has earned the right to start Opening Day at third base, as he slashed .275/.336/.445 with seven homers in 60 games with the Orioles in 2018. But what Bautista could offer is a corner utility that would play just a few times a week, whether it be filling in at third base, first base, left field, right field, or as an occasional designated hitter. He slashed .203/.348/.378 with 13 homers in just 399 plate appearances in 2018, so you could probably get him cheap on a low-risk, high-reward deal. And if the deal makes out well, he may be a decent trade candidate in the summer.
In the end, Bautista may not even be an option to think about if the O’s don’t find a way to deal Trumbo away this winter.
Looking at the five initial candidates I picked out above, one common factor plays with all five: defense. With a rebuilding franchise, better defense – especially up the middle – could be a big help to young pitchers looking to progress at the major-league level.
There aren’t going to be any high-priced players that are coming to Baltimore in this first full-year of the rebuild process, so you might as well look to see which free agents could help your up-and-coming players and pitchers out the most.