More free-agent thoughts
While we await news of whether we’ll be ushering in the Dan Duquette era in Baltimore, here’s the second installment of my thoughts on whether potential Orioles free-agent targets, as identified by Dan Connolly, would be good signings for the club.
I looked at the first four players on Dan’s list Thursday and today tackle four more. Again, these are strictly my opinions, not an indication of the likelihood of the Orioles’ signing any of these players.
Edwin Jackson, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals: Jackson has been, and continues to be, a bit of an enigma. At 28 years old, he has five full major league seasons as a starter under his belt. However, he has also been traded a jaw-dropping six times. That speaks to Jackson’s inconsistency, or at least his perceived inconsistency. Jackson’s season-by-season ERA since 2007, his first year as a starter: 5.76, 4.42, 3.62, 4.47, 3.79. However, I’m higher on Jackson than many. While his ERA fluctuated quite a bit over the past five seasons, you have to take into account that he pitched for five different teams during that span, including going from the American League to the National League to the AL to the NL. He’s hardly had a chance to acclimate himself to each league’s hitters. Furthermore, ERA isn’t the be-all, end-all stat for measuring pitching performance. Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), a metric that estimates what a pitcher’s ERA should’ve been while factoring in only things he is thought to be able to control, indicates that Jackson has improved each season as a starter. His season-by-season FIP since 2007, according to FanGraphs.com: 4.90, 4.88, 4.28, 3.86, 3.55. With Jackson demonstrating steady improvement and also coming off his best season as a starter in terms of walks per nine innings (2.79), home runs allowed per nine innings (0.72) and rate of fly balls that resulted in home runs (8.2 percent), he’s someone I think could really help the Orioles. I still wouldn’t advocate giving him a five-year contract, but in his case, I don’t think four years is unreasonable. It’s obviously not a matter of simply going out and getting Jackson — other, more attractive teams will be throwing money at him — but I believe the Orioles would be wise to make a push for him.
Mark Buehrle, LHP, Chicago White Sox: Here we have another player who could greatly help the Orioles at the position where they need it most. He’s 32, so he’s probably not going to be part of any grand Orioles turnaround. But he’s exactly the kind of competitive innings-eater the team’s young starters should aspire to be and who would lighten the load on the bullpen, which has been severely taxed year in and year out. Buehrle has made no fewer than 30 starts every year since 2001, his first as a starter. Perhaps more importantly, he has topped 200 innings every one of those years and averaged well over six innings per start. Buehrle is a terrific fielder; that’s something all the Orioles’ young pitchers could learn from. Additionally, he has consistently excelled at inducing ground balls (45.9 percent of balls put into play against him over his career have been hit on the ground). They’re not identical pitchers, but you’d still have to think Zach Britton — a fellow lefty and a ground-ball pitcher himself when he’s at the top of his game — would benefit from working with Buehrle and watching him pitch on a regular basis. As long as the Orioles didn’t have to break the bank for him — and because he’s far from a flashy, power pitcher, I think they wouldn’t — he would be a very good fit in Baltimore.
Roy Oswalt, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies: Oswalt, an All-Star from 2005 to 2007, is a pitcher many Orioles fans seem intrigued by, and it’s easy to understand why. The highest ERA he has posted in his 11-season career was 4.12 in 2009; throw that out and last year’s 3.69 is his worst mark. His career ERA is 3.21 (3.35 FIP), he has averaged 3.5 strikeouts for every walk allowed and he has seven seasons of more than 200 innings pitched. That said, it’d be very risky to give Oswalt anything longer than a one-year guaranteed contract. He made just 23 starts last season, in part because of a trip to the disabled list with inflammation in his back. Back problems of any sort are troubling, and Oswalt has a history of them. Throw in the fact that he’s 34 years old, and it’s fair to speculate that Oswalt might not have more than one or two healthy and effective seasons left in him, if that. This is not to say the Orioles shouldn’t pursue Oswalt, who would immediately become their best pitcher. Rather, they shouldn’t let what could be a competitive market for his services — the pitching-hungry New York Yankees have reportedly already reached out to his agent — force them to offer him a multiyear deal, at least without some kind of dependable backup plan.
Carlos Pena, 1B, Chicago Cubs: You probably watched enough of Pena’s games against the Orioles when he was still a Tampa Bay Ray to know the book on him. Great power (an average of 34.4 homers over the past five years), not so great at hitting for average (.236 average from 2007 to 2011) or avoiding strikeouts (158 K’s a year over that span). Because of his penchant for striking out, it gets overlooked that he draws a good number of walks, too (at least 87 each of the past five seasons). Does that description remind you of anyone? As Dan pointed out, he’s a very similar offensive player to the Orioles’ Mark Reynolds. For that reason, I can’t see him being a fit with the Orioles unless they’re also planning to trade Reynolds. The team’s lineup isn’t nearly deep enough to be able to accommodate two players who create as many unproductive outs as Reynolds and Pena, and bringing Pena in to play first base would entail moving Reynolds to third base or designated hitter, neither of which are attractive options. And, frankly, if I had to pick between the two, I’d rather keep Reynolds. Reynolds is 28, young enough that he might still be able to improve as a hitter. We’ve probably seen all the improvement that Pena, 33, is going to show us. Additionally, Reynolds is significantly cheaper than Pena is likely to be. It’s true that Pena, a Gold Glover in 2008, has the edge defensively, but Reynolds looked solid last year during his time at first. Assuming that wasn’t an aberration, there’s not enough of a disparity there for me to overlook the five-year age gap and price difference.
What say you? Who among the above four would you like to see in an Orioles uniform?