Conservative Winter Meetings Predictions

Trading for a left-handed hitter

Dan Duquette made it clear that the Orioles are looking to add at least one left-handed hitter for left field or at the designated hitter position.  He has also dropped hints indicating that they will explore doing so largely in the trade market.  A look at the options left in the free agent market supports the notion that trading for a hitter is likely the better option.

The good news is that there are some of these types of players available and the Orioles match up relatively well the needs’ of the other teams.  It is no secret that the Mets are looking to move Ike Davis, who would fit in snuggly as the left-handed DH compliment to Danny Valencia.  The Mets have many needs – starting pitching, bullpen help, a SS, a backup catcher – so there seems like there could be a match.  Daniel Murphy – he could play 2B, LF or DH – is another Mets trade candidate.  The Mariners might attempt to follow up their signing of Robinson Cano by adding another big bat via trade or free agency.  If they do (and possibly even if they don’t), players like Nick Franklin, Justin Smoak or Michael Saunders could become available.  The latter two would fit into the O’s plans as a lefty DH and left-fielder, respectively.  The Marlins might also be open to trading Logan Morrison who could find a home at DH and LF in Baltimore.

My Prediction:  The Orioles ship pitching help – or possibly even a backup catcher – to the Mets for Ike Davis.  The team does not come away with a left-field option, opting to roll the dice with Henry Urrutia, Francisco Peguero, Nolan Reimold, and Steve Pearce in some combination to start the season.

Going Low Risk for a Starter

“It's not going to come from high priced free agents. So, if people are expecting the Orioles to go out and sign a significant pitcher, I think it's more realistic to look for good pitchers to come up through the farm system.” – Dan Duquette

Duquette was helpfully direct yesterday evening when speaking to reporters about how the organization will seek to upgrades its starting rotation.  It won’t come from big-time free agent acquisitions.  Now the definition of “significant pitcher” might differ from person to person, but I interpret that statement to mean that free agent starter earning north of $10 m next season is likely not in the cards for the Orioles.  That means no Ubaldo Jimenez or Matt Garza and likely even no Bronson Arroyo or Bartolo Colon.

While this news will send many Orioles fans screaming and running for the hills, there are is some value elsewhere in the free agent starting pitching market.  In particular, the market is filled with pitchers attempting to comeback from injuries that will most certainly be available on short-term, low-risk contracts.  The names on this list include Roy Halladay, Gavin Floyd, Shaun Marcum, Scott Baker, Jeff Niemann, Daniel Hudson, and Felipe Paulino.  The near Major League readiness of Kevin Gausman, the presence of Zach Britton, and the news that Brian Matusz will be given a chance to compete for a starting role during camp gives the Birds some flexibility in rolling the dice on a bounce back candidate.  Signing Roy Halladay does not guarantee much but there is likely to be little downside and a lot of potential gain if the former Cy Young winner ends up having something left in the tank.

On the non-injury side, Jason Hammel might be available on an affordable one-year contract.  Although he struggled for the Orioles in 2013, he still finished with an ERA below 5.00 (faint praise, I know).  If he can find a happy middle ground between his 2012 and 2013 performances, he would help round out a solid if unspectacular Orioles rotation.

My Prediction:  The Orioles re-unite with their 2013 Opening Day starter when they re-sign Jason Hammel to a contract in the neighborhood of 1 year/$6 m.  In addition, they make a low-risk move in signing a pitcher like John Lannan or Felipe Paulino to a minor league deal.

Replacing Jim Johnson

It is clear that the Orioles are also looking to bring in a closer to replace Jim Johnson, rather than simply rolling with what they’ve got.  I would be okay with rolling with what we have for the 9th inning but the right acquisition would give the Orioles a stacked bullpen.  Duquette mentioned there are several closers available who should sign for less than $10 million (a reference to Johnson’s predicted arbitration salary) and those will likely be the pitchers they target.

Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, Jose Veras, Chris Perez, John Axford, Joel Hanrahan, and Andrew Bailey are all kicking around the free agent market still.  The O’s have been tied to Axford who would be looking to bounce back from below average seasons in 2012 and 2013.  Balfour is going to make close enough to that $10 million figure that the O’s will likely steer clear of him, while the Boston duo of Hanrahan and Bailey have injury concerns.  Perez has injury and performance concerns.  Veras and Benoit appear to be the best options and my personal choices to round out the pen.

My Prediction:  The Orioles ink John Axford to a 1 year deal in the vicinity of $5 m, reuniting him former Brewers pitching coach Rick Peterson.