Sometimes they work out. Recently – in fact – for the Orioles.
I would define that kind of acquisition as any player that was non-tendered for any reason other than his salary, a released player, a player acquired for cash, or a minor league free agent signing of a career (or near-career) minor leaguer. Four of those types of acquisitions have worked out tremendously for the Orioles the past two years:
1. Darren O’Day (2012: 2.5 rWAR; 2013: 2.0 rWAR)
2. Miguel Gonzalez (2012: 3.1 rWAR; 2013: 2.0 rWAR)
3. Nate McLouth (2012: 1.0 rWAR; 2013: 1.6 rWAR)
4. Danny Valencia (2013: 0.7 rWAR)
That is 13 wins above replacement level in two seasons from one waiver claim, one minor league signing of a pitcher playing in the Mexican League, one mid-season signing of a released player, and one off-season cash acquisition. 24% of the Orioles 2012 pitching WAR was compiled by O’Day and Gonzalez. That is about as significant as it gets from two players.
The Orioles have had other low-risk acquisitions pay some amount of dividends these past two seasons including – but not limited to – Josh Stinson and Steve Pearce.
When these types of acquisitions have not worked out – Trayvon Robinson, Matt Antonelli, Yamaico Navarro, Nuiman Romero, and Jair Jurrjens, amongst others – there has been no real negative impact to the Orioles at the Major League level. That is, of course, unless you believe that Dan Duquette was too preoccupied last winter with trading Robert Andino for Robinson that he was unable to acquire a better major league outfielder that he otherwise would have obtained. Even Alexi Casilla – whose time in Baltimore felt like a bust – was ½ win above replacement level in 2013.
Given that a quartet of “scrap heap” signings have made significant contributions to the Orioles these past two years, others have contributed, and none have really hurt the team, I am befuddled as to how anyone can legitimately claim that these signings are not worthwhile or that the O’s are merely hoping against all hope to strike oil. Duquette has a decent track record during his tenure of adding value – sometimes significant value – to the organization through these methods. The evidence is right there for all to see. Yet some disgruntled fans still act as if these signings actively hurt the organization.
The Orioles will certainly position themselves better for a playoff run if they can add a few proven and valuable pieces this winter. I think that is self-evident. I also think it is fairly obvious that low-risk signings also have potential to pay-off without much (or any) risk involved. O’Day, Gonzalez, McLouth, Valencia, and others are proof of that. The relative inactivity in relation to large free agent signings have nothing to do with the Orioles’ activity in other areas and both are needed in order to field a competitive team.