Thoughts on potential free-agent targets
The free-agent market opened just six hours ago, and we’re not likely to see many major acquisitions — either by the Orioles or baseballwide — right away, but it’s not to early to check out Dan Connolly’s a primer on 12 intriguing targets the Orioles could consider.
Since piggybacking off my reporters is what I do best — just ask them — I decided to break down Dan’s list and examine why I think each player would or would not be a good signing for the Orioles. These are purely my opinions and should not be taken as an indication of the likelihood of any player’s coming to Baltimore. Because you’re busy people and brevity is not my strong suit, we’ll break this into three installments of four players each. Here goes:
Prince Fielder, 1B, Milwaukee Brewers: Much like Dan, I don’t see Fielder ending up with the Orioles for a variety of reasons. But even if Fielder for some reason had his heart set on Baltimore — maybe he really likes the cartoon bird; he wouldn’t be the first player — I just don’t see him working out well with the Orioles. We know he’ll be looking for a huge contract, both in terms of length and money — perhaps as much as eight years and $200 million. The chances that the Orioles, or any other team, actually get what they paid for from Fielder over an eight-year deal of that size are virtually nonexistent. He’s just 27 and thus entering what should be his prime years, but players’ prime years don’t last until they’re 35. Yes, that’s speaking in generalities, but your general major league star also isn’t listed (perhaps generously) at 275 pounds. Field has been remarkably durable so far, having played in 157 games or more each of the past six seasons, but his body type — to say nothing of simple luck — leads me to believe he’ll break down before his contract is up. Additionally, there’s nothing to lead me to believe the Orioles will be contenders for the next few seasons, when Fielder’s performance is peaking. Having the big guy in orange and black, regularly hitting majestic home runs onto the Camden Yards flag court, would be a lot of fun, but one power hitter can help a team only so much. It doesn’t make sense for the Orioles to guarantee Fielder either the money or the years he’s looking for in a new contract.
C.J. Wilson, LHP, Texas Rangers: This is going to sound like more of the same, but the number of years the Orioles would likely have to guarantee Wilson in order to land him would scare me off. Wilson, who turns 31 this month, is looking at a five-year deal. I’m of the opinion that five-year contracts for free-agent pitchers are almost never good ideas. How many talented pitchers have we seen break down at a relatively young age, never to be the same again? Mark Prior, Brandon Webb and Justin Duchscherer — remember him, O’s fans? — come to mind immediately, and that’s the tip of the iceberg. It’s true that Wilson doesn’t have as much wear and tear on his arm as many 30-year-old pitchers because he wasn’t a starter until 2010 and hadn’t pitched more than 73 2/3 innings in a season until then. But in a thin market for free-agent starting pitching, he’ll get paid like an ace. The odds are against his both being healthy and still pitching like an ace five years from now.
Michael Cuddyer, IF-OF, Minnesota Twins: Lest you think I was going to say that no one in Dan’s Dozen would be a good acquisition for the Orioles, I’ll come out in favor of signing Cuddyer. He’s got decent power both over the fence and in the gaps, having sandwiched 32 homers in 2009 and 20 last year around 14 in 2010, and turning in 25 or more doubles in six of the past seven seasons. He draws his share of free passes as well, with a career walk rate of 9 percent. (For comparison’s sake, his 48 walks in 139 games last year would’ve tied him with Matt Wieters, also in 139 games, for third on the Orioles, behind Mark Reynolds and Nick Markakis.) But what should make Cuddyer really attractive to the Orioles is his versatility. He played 77 games in the outfield last year, 46 at first base and 17 at second base, as well as eight as a designated hitter (he even pitched a scoreless inning). He has also played 171 games at third base over his career and has, at one time or another, played every position except shortstop and catcher. That means he could essentially be an everyday player for the Orioles without them having to give him a set position. As Dan wrote, he’d provide insurance in case second baseman Brian Roberts has another injury-shortened season. He might even be capable of being the Orioles’ everyday left fielder if it came to that. Perhaps best of all, he should be available at a reasonable price and contract length.
Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Chicago Cubs: If he weren’t the top third baseman on the free-agent market, he might make more sense for the Orioles. That might sound backward to you, but here’s my reasoning: Because he’s the best free-agent third baseman, a team will almost certainly have to overpay to sign him, and it will be to a multiyear deal. Ramirez is 33, hasn’t been a model of durability recently, and isn’t exactly seen as the kind of guy who brings a clubhouse together. He also had a down year (albeit a 25-homer year) in 2010 before his resurgent contract year in 2011. Looking at it from a different angle, signing Ramirez could, depending on what other moves the Orioles make, leave Chris Davis without a regular place to play. That’s not a reason in and of itself to not bring in another player who improves the team overall, but it’s something to think about. Sure, Davis might never pan out as an everyday major leaguer — the Rangers obviously believed he wouldn’t — but you’d have to think the Orioles want to get a better look at how he fares against major league competition. They didn’t have much of chance to do so after acquiring him in a deadline deal last year, as he played in just 31 games and recorded only 123 at-bats as an Oriole. Bottom line: Does signing Ramirez make sense for a contender? Absolutely. Does he make sense for the Orioles? Probably not.
I’ll be back with thoughts on the rest of the list soon. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on Fielder, Wilson, Cuddyer and Ramirez? Please share your opinions in the comments section.