I want to preface this post by saying that I realize that offseason proposals like this can come off as pipe dreams or unrealistic, but I think this is closer to the truth than most people would think.
The Orioles were a brand new team when Buck Showalter took over and while they might not have the talent and depth of their AL East brethren, now is not the time to bury your head in the sand. The Orioles might not match their division rivals pound for pound, but they do have their fair share of potential. Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis are well established major leaguers, who could play on any team in this league. Supplementing them in the lineup is a solid collection of young talent, and guys with potential. Guys like Adam Jones, Felix Pie, Nolan Reimold, Matt Wieters, and Josh Bell have a ton of promise. While they might not all reach their ceilings, they give Baltimore a chance to compete in this division.
In addition to their young talented lineup, the Orioles have a very promising and young rotation. Jeremy Guthrie has turned the corner and looks like a solid number 3 starter. Brian Matusz looks like the frontline starter the Orioles were hoping for when they drafted him two years ago. Top prospects Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman haven’t reached their potential yet, but the talent is there. While neither profiles as a great starting option the Orioles do have, young cheap options in Brad Bergesen and David Hernandez to round out their rotation. In the minors top prospect Zach Britton should be ready by mid-season and should develop into a number 2 starter.
Here is a step by step list of what the Orioles should look for this offseason:
Step 1: Sign Victor Martinez- Now the initial reaction might think signing Martinez would be redundant considering the presence of Wieters on the roster. Except Martinez wouldn’t be signed to be the primary catcher, but rather the primary DH, and backup catcher. The majority of teams have far inferior offensive options for their backup catching duties and sacrifice offensive production for those 150 at bats. Baltimore would have first rate offensive production from their catching position all season, which would be a huge advantage over the rest of the league. He also would be a good veteran catcher for Wieters to learn from.
Martinez won’t come cheap as he will be looking for between $8-10 million a year, for at least 4 years. Despite not needing him as a ‘regular’ catcher, the Orioles should meet his asking price. Martinez hits well enough that even as a primary DH he is worth that contract. Martinez does qualify as a Type-A free agent, meaning Baltimore will have to give up a draft pick. Given their record the Orioles would only have to give up a 2nd round pick, which is a small price to pay for 4-5 years of Martinez. There will be multiple suitors for V-Mart, but I expect AL teams to be the biggest competition. That narrows the field significantly and makes it more likely that Martinez would come to Baltimore. By signing Martinez the Orioles would fill multiple areas of need, and reestablish credibility amongst their fans.
Step 2: Sign Adam Dunn- The Orioles have a major organizational hole at 1B, as well as lacking a true impact power hitter. Dunn fills both needs perfectly, and would be a major signing for Baltimore. Dunn would be the power hitter this team has lacked for years, and would team up with Martinez to give the Orioles a real threat in the heart of their lineup. Dunn has stated that he wants to continue to play in the field and not be a DH just yet. With the signing of Martinez, the Orioles would have their DH position covered, leaving 1B for Dunn. Although you can’t put it fully into the contract, you tell Dunn that you envision him playing first in 75-80% of the games, while giving him some occasional days at DH to help keep him fresh. That is probably a better offer than most AL clubs can give him. As for the National League, I see a number of teams potentially balking at giving him a 4th or 5th year, given the unpredictability of his defense. Baltimore would also have a leg up on a number of teams, given the fact that he has spent the past two years in D.C. and seems to really enjoy the area.
Dunn’s defense is far from great, but it improved drastically in his first full year as a first baseman. If he maintains it at slightly subpar, than he would be in line with the majority of power hitting 1B in the league. Dunn’s offensive ability also far outweighs his defensive liability, making him a good signing for Baltimore. He is well liked in the clubhouse, and already has a local connection to the fan base. Dunn would be well worth the investment and will help fill Camden Yards back up to capacity. I would have no issue with the Orioles giving Dunn between $12.5-14 million a year for 4-5 years (likely 4 years with an option for the 5th). He would be a great addition to the lineup and clubhouse, and would only cost the Orioles a 3rd round pick.
Step 3: Trade Luke Scott- With the signings of Martinez and Dunn, Scott would be pretty much without a starting role and would become a quality trade chip. Scott who can play corner outfield (primarily LF), 1B and DH, still has two arbitration years remaining. Given that he is coming off a career season, and is still fairly cheap the Orioles should have a handful of suitors for his services. While originally I thought a prospect trade was the most likely result with a focus on pitching, I think another option is becoming available; Gordon Beckham.
Beckham has been the White Sox 3B and 2B these last two seasons, but can also play SS a major need position for the Orioles. He is a former top prospect (though maybe not on the elite level), who struggled last season in his first full year as a pro. He has lost a little bit of his trade value, but he is still considered an everyday middle infielder.
Now the Orioles couldn’t trade Scott straight up for Beckham, but I do think he could be the centerpiece of a deal. Chicago is looking for another power bat (preferably from the left hand side) to DH and maybe play LF, which fits Scott perfectly. Given budget constraints the White Sox can’t take on a major contract, but should easily be able to afford Scott for the next two seasons. Scott would give them a 25+ HR threat, and had he been on the White Sox last season would have been Chicago’s 2nd best hitter. In addition I’d imagine Chicago would look at a reliever like Kam Mickolio. Mickolio is still relatively young (and has plenty of team control remaining) and is a power reliever with the potential to develop into a closer. Scott and Mickolio would fill two big needs for the White Sox, and I’d look for the Orioles to round out this trade with a pair of solid prospects (say Mychal Givens (SS-2B) and Wynn Pelzer (RHP)). While the prospects could change, they likely won’t be any of Baltimore’s top 4 guys.
Although a 4-1 deal seems like a lot for Baltimore to give up, Beckham is the type of player that its worth it for. Unfortunately the Orioles don’t have a great minor league system, so they need to get creative in the trade department. The deal would meet Chicago’s value, and wouldn’t be too prohibitive for Baltimore.
Step 4: Sign Javier Vasquez- Vasquez collapsed last season for the New York Yankees, but when he is 100% he is a frontline starter. There is an injury concern there, so I’d make sure the contract is incentive laden (as well as checking out his medicals), but he is worth the risk. The Orioles could use a quality veteran starter to go along with their young guns, and Vasquez would make the most sense if he is healthy. If injury concerns are too much of an issue there are other pitchers coming off injuries that could make sense, as well as lesser veteran starters, but Vasquez should be the Orioles top target.
Step 5 and 6: Sign two relief pitchers- While the Orioles have some interesting young options for the bullpen, their only sure thing is closer Mike Gonzalez (and he is coming off an injury filled year). Now I’d avoid any reliever that costs a draft pick, but I’d look to choose a couple from that next tier. If the Orioles get two from the group of Brian Fuentes, Jon Rauch, J.J. Putz, Jesse Crain, Joaquin Benoit, and Joe Beimel (Fuentes and Beimel are the only lefties), they would really solidify their bullpen. In addition if their young guys step up, they could always flip one or both of these relievers at the trade deadline. They don’t need to break the bank, to fix their bullpen, but they could definitely use some better options.
Conclusion: With most of their players either just starting arbitration or still making league minimum, Baltimore has the money to spend to add some top guys. I think they will avoid the big 3 (Lee, Werth and Crawford) since they will be all looking for $20 million a year for 5-7 years, but can be active in that next tier (i.e. Martinez and Dunn). If they make the significant improvements, the Orioles will see their attendance rise that will allow them to maintain a higher payroll, and begin to compete for the division. I know the Orioles are considered long shots for a number of these guys, but they have the need and resources so I wouldn’t count them out just yet.