The Orioles made the Nate McLouth signing official on Thursday and, technically, that counts as a fairly important move for the club this offseason.
Yes, the Orioles picked McLouth off the scrap heap last year and there is no guarantee that he has a 2013 similar to the final two months of last year. That said, a $2 million (with $500,000 more available in plate appearance bonuses), one-year commitment certainly seems reasonable with minimal risk.
But shortly before the Orioles announced that move Thursday, news broke that the Los Angeles Angels had agreed to a five-year, $125 million deal with outfielder Josh Hamilton. And the Boston Red Sox had agreed to a two-year, $26.5 million contract with pitcher Ryan Dempster.
Surely there were some cries from Orioles’ fans – the best free agent is off the board and the rival Red Sox improved, meanwhile the Orioles haven’t added anyone of significance from outside the organization (and have lost Mark Reynolds).
Surprise? Shouldn’t be.
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette has said since this offseason began that he didn’t expect to go after big-ticket free agents. And, with the exception of initially kicking the tires on Nick Swisher, they haven’t. They were never in on Hamilton. No matter what some fans wanted to believe. No matter what some national reporters were speculating. They didn’t think Hamilton was worth the investment, given the risk involved. And these Orioles are all about maximizing investments and minimizing risks.
Duquette has said continually he is attempting to target a power bat and Thursday, during the McLouth teleconference, he reiterated that when answering a question about what Hamilton’s signing does to the players’ market.
“When these big free agents sign, that usually opens the door for opportunities for some of the other free agents. I don’t know that there was another high-level free agent in this class the caliber of Hamilton,” Duquette said. “So it’s hard for me to say what the effect on the market will be, but I can tell you that we’ll keep looking for a capable bat to add to our ballclub.”
The Hamilton signing in Los Angeles causes somewhat of a logjam of talented Angels’ position players. And that will automatically bring to question whether the Orioles could pry away Mark Trumbo or Kendrys Morales, two power hitters who can play first base or serve as the designated hitter.
The easy answer is that they’ll likely try – but so will plenty of other teams. And if the Angels aren’t smitten by the Orioles’ available crew of young starters than they likely will go elsewhere for a trade partner. The early indication is that the Angels have no interest in dealing away the 26-year-old Trumbo, who is under team control for several more years. That, of course, can change depending on who is being dangled in front of them.
One thing to keep in mind here is that it is mid-December. And Duquette didn’t really make his signature pickups last year until much later. Wei-Yin Chen was signed in January, Jason Hammel was traded for in February and Miguel Gonzalez didn’t join the organization until March (and McLouth, not until June).
The point is that there is time. And that Duquette is looking for undervalued players. Those guys are often around in the second half of the offseason.
I’m of the belief that Duquette will add a bat. It’ll probably be through trade. And it probably won’t satisfy most Orioles fans. It will probably be a guy who underwhelms in the name and stats test. But my guess is Duquette still gets a bat before the season begins.