Should The Orioles Sign A Designated Hitter?

Steve O Speak

With the recent additions of Mark Reynolds, J.J. Hardy and Derek Lee, the Baltimore Orioles are seemingly out of the mix for a Designated Hitter. While that makes sense on paper, considering the presence of Luke Scott on the roster, I wouldn’t count the Orioles out on the DH front just yet. Despite the fact they have a ‘full’ roster, neither Felix Pie or Nolan Reimold have a firm grasp on the LF job. And while Scott is by no means a great fielder, he can adequately handle LF if the Orioles need him to.

The Orioles payroll is basically at the exact same spot it was last year despite all the additions, meaning adding an accomplished DH would be well within budget. Baltimore President/G.M. Andy McPhail’s contract is up after this season, so he might look at making a move, even if it isn’t something the Orioles ‘need to do’. Whether he wants to ensure his job or just his legacy, adding another big hitter to their lineup would benefit McPhail longterm. Lastly, if the Orioles sign a D.H. it could give them a lot of trade flexibility going forward.

They could look to move Pie now to free up more at bats, and look to move either whomever they sign or Luke Scott at the trade deadline depending on a number of factors. While Pie won’t exactly fetch a big return, the O’s could get back a middle reliever or two, and help fill a need. The Orioles can go out and sign either some utility free agent (i.e. a Willie Harris type) or someone else with some CF background (maybe take a flier on Lastings Milledge) to be a backup OF.

The general theory with the Orioles signing a D.H. would be that they would target a Right-handed batter to compliment Luke Scott. While that idea is backed up somewhat by the rumored pursuit of Vlad Guerrero, I would purpose targeting a left-handed bat first, with Jim Thome as my top option.

With the additions of Reynolds, Hardy and Lee, the Orioles are suddenly very right handed. Although they have a couple of switch hitters, their only true lefties are Scott and Markakis (Pie hits lefty as well). Considering that they are likely to face a right handed pitcher at least two-thirds of the time, adding another big lefty bat makes some sense. And replacing Thome for Pie is a huge win for Baltimore at the plate (the difference between Scott’s and Pie’s defense negates it some).

Thome revitalized his career in Minnesota last year, and proved that he can still be effective for a large chunk of the season. The Twins used him primarily against right-handed pitching and he delivered. Thome hit .283/.412/.627 overall, and was even more deadly against righties hitting .302/.455/.698. Adding Thome would give the O’s another big time power hitter when they face right-handed pitching, and on his days off would be a deadly pinch-hitter.

Now Thome comes with some drawbacks. He is pretty much done playing in the field, so it is a roster spot used on basically a DH only. Also, Thome has an injury history, which when added to his age means that you should count on him missing at least 20 games next year. When you add those 20 games to those when he will be siting against a tough lefty or during inter league play (though he can of course still pinch hit), and that is a good chunk of at bats that he won’t used for.

While the missed time is something to be concerned about, it isn’t a deal breaker for the Orioles. They can always give those at bats when he is nicked up to Reimold, which should hopefully help him to continue to develop. And while Thome might only get 60-75% of the at bats for the season, he is more valuable during that limited time than most hitters on the market would be for 90%+.

There are other additional options of course if Thome doesn’t want to come to Baltimore, like Nick Johnson, Johnny Damon, or Jason Giambi. And if those don’t work the Orioles could end up signing a right-handed DH like Guerrero, Jorge Cantu, or Andrew Jones. In the end though, Thome is probably the best fit for the team and would cap off a very successful offseason.

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