Free-agent market flush with potential upgrades for Orioles
As of 12:01 a.m. Saturday morning, free agents could begin signing with clubs besides the ones they played for in 2015. That means the Orioles' six free agents — Wei-Yin Chen, Chris Davis, Gerardo Parra, Steve Pearce, Darren O'Day and Matt Wieters — can all begin testing their free-agent value elsewhere.
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette has said the club will have the resources to add players via free agency. His emphasis will be on improving the Orioles' starting pitching.
This year's free-agent market is a dynamic one and Duquette said players could come off the board quickly. Here's a look at some of the free agents that could fit the Orioles and how likely they are to come to Baltimore.
This list doesn't include the Orioles' six free agents.
RHP Jonny Cueto: Cueto struggled after being moved at the nonwaiver trade deadline, going 4-7 with a 4.76 ERA in 13 regular-seasons starts with the Kansas City Royals. He still had a 2.62 ERA in 19 starts with the Cincinnati Reds before the deal and is one year removed from a 20-win season. Cueto is a workhorse, throwing 455 2/3 innings over the past two seasons. He has some doubters after his late-season struggles this year, but he's still only 29 and turns 30 in February. If the Orioles are willing to spend on a free-agent pitcher, Cueto could be the guy, especially if his stock drops.
RHP Marco Estrada: Estrada enjoyed the best season of his career in 2015, going 13-8 with a 3.13 ERA in 34 games (28 starts) with the Toronto Blue Jays. He had that kind of season in the American League East, which would make him even more attractive to the Orioles. Still, before his 2015 breakout — which was facilitated by finally getting a feel for using his changeup — Estrada owned a pedestrian 4.23 career ERA. He'll be pitching at age 33 next season, so he's unlikely to get a deal beyond two or three years. Estrada also received a qualifying offer from Toronto, perhaps making him less attractive to the Orioles.
RHP Doug Fister: Fister's stock dropped dramatically over the past year. He lost his rotation spot with the Washington Nationals and ended the season in the bullpen, but the Orioles like reclamation projects. Fister has dealt with injuries — he missed more than a month with forearm stiffness in 2015 — and his fastball velocity and strikeout rate have dropped over the past three years. But we know from history that the Orioles would ensure Fister is healthy before completing a deal with him.
LHP Scott Kazmir: Since the Orioles will likely lose the only left-hander in their rotation (Chen), they desperately need another lefty to replace him. Kazmir is 32-29 with a 3.54 ERA in 92 starts over the past three seasons. He has a track record of success in the AL East from his days with the Tampa Bay Rays — even though he's a much different pitcher now. Like Cueto, the Orioles can hope Kazmir's stock dropped because he struggled with his new team after the trade deadline. He was 2-6 with a 4.17 ERA in 13 regular-season starts after the Oakland Athletics sent him to the Houston Astros. Kazmir turns 32 in January.
LHP David Price: The Orioles need pitching and Price is the top free-agent prize this hot stove season. He's exactly what the Orioles need: a proven, battle-tested, left-handed, top-of-the-rotation arm. But if history tells us anything, it's that the Orioles don't give out the kind of deals that Price will likely command. Price could get a six- or seven-year deal paying him $28-30 million annually, and the Orioles have never given a free-agent pitcher more than Ubaldo Jimenez's four-year, $50 million deal in 2014. Price is out of the Orioles' range.
LHP Tony Sipp: The Orioles could be in the market for a lefty reliever, and Sipp would fit that role nicely. He enjoyed the best season of his career, posting a 1.99 ERA with the Astros in 2015. He was actually better against right-handers (.190 average) than lefties (.227), so he's not necessarily a situational lefty. He could help out in a setup role, especially if the Orioles lose O'Day. Given the value of dependable bullpen arms, the 32-year-old Sipp could get a multiyear deal.
RHP Chris Young: Young will turn 37 in May, so he's no spring chicken, but he had a solid year in 2015 and will receive a World Series championship ring to show for it. The 6-foot-10 right-hander was 11-6 with a 3.06 ERA in 34 games (18 starts) and 123 1/3 innings with the Royals last season. He's not the anchor arm the Orioles need, but he could fill a rotation hole nicely at a value cost.
RHP Jordan Zimmermann: The 29-year-old Zimmermann will be a nice consolation prize for the teams that get outbid on Price. Zimmermann has a lot of fans in the Warehouse. He has shown remarkable reliability in his time with the Nationals, throwing 195 or more innings in each of the past four seasons. He posted a 58-32 record and 3.13 ERA in 129 starts over that span. He will draw his share of suitors, so it's difficult to imagine the Orioles would win a bidding war for one of the game's most dependable free-agent arms.
IF Daniel Murphy: Murphy, whose playoff power surge earned him National League Championship Series MVP, will be another player whose stock rose dramatically following a strong postseason showing. The Orioles don't need a second baseman or third baseman, but Murphy has made 171 career starts at first base, including 14 last season. But since Murphy performed so well in October — he homered in six straight postseason games — someone is likely to overpay, which could take the Orioles out of play. He also received a qualifying offer, and will require forfeiting a draft pick to sign.
1B Byung-ho Park: Duquette is often eager to tap the international free-agent market and the 29-year-old South Korean has been posted by his team, the Nexen Heroes. The 6-1 Park is coming off back-to-back 50-homer seasons in the Korean Baseball Organization, but it's unclear how that power translates to the big leagues. The Orioles, who have scouted Park, would need to win a blind bidding process just for the right to negotiate with him. So if the Orioles truly expect to retain Davis, their push for Park might be tempered. The club's most recent foray into South Korea (right-hander Suk-min Yoon) didn't go well.
IF/OF Ben Zobrist: Zobrist fits the Orioles' needs perfectly. He's a switch-hitter who gets on base and can play solid defense all over the diamond. He'd fit in best as a corner outfielder, but can also play all four infield positions. He has a .355 on-base percentage over his 10-year career. Even though Zobrist turns 35 in May, he could receive a four-year deal coming off a strong playoff showing with Kansas City, which would likely take the Orioles out of the market for him.
OF Nori Aoki: The Orioles were interested in Aoki when he was a free agent last season before he signed a one-year, $4.7 million deal with the San Francisco Giants. He has a .353 career on-base percentage, walks more than he strikes out and often makes contact, which would diversify the Orioles' high-strikeout lineup. A concussion held Aoki to 93 games last season, but his .287/.353/.380 slash line with 14 steals should be enough to get him a one- or two-year deal slightly better than the $5.5 million 2016 club option the Giants declinedthis week.
OF Dexter Fowler: The Orioles hit just .240 as a team against left-handed pitching, so adding Fowler would be an upgrade. He's a switch-hitter who is a .303 career hitter against lefties, including a .326/.399/.467 slash line in 2015. Fowler enjoyed success in the Cubs' leadoff spot this past season, despite the fact that he slumped in the final month. Still, the fact that Fowler owns a .363 career on-base percentage and can draw a walk (84 in 2015) would make him a welcome addition. He doesn't turn 30 until March, so his youth could earn him a lucrative multiyear deal out of the Orioles' comfort range. OF Jonny Gomes: The Orioles had some interest in Gomes last offseason, but instead he signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the Atlanta Braves. As was the case last year, the Orioles would be interested in Gomes mostly as a platoon corner outfielder/designated hitter against left-handed pitching. Gomes owns an .855 career OPS against left-handed pitching, but is just a .221 hitter against right-handers. He is a consummate winner, always seeming to find a way onto contenders. He was traded to the Royals in August, played in just 12 regular-season games and didn't make the postseason roster. Kansas City declined his $3 million option for 2016.
OF Alex Gordon: The longest-tenured Royal's days in Kansas City are likely over after he declined his $12.5 million player option for 2016. Gordon is a four-time Gold Glove winner who is in the mold of Nick Markakis, lauded for his steadiness on the field and his low-key leadership off it. He missed time with a groin injury this past season, but the 31-year-old Gordon would give the Orioles much-needed stability in left field. However, he received a qualifying offer, meaning he will cost a first-round pick. Set to turn 32 in February, he could draw a four-year deal.
OF David Murphy: The 34-year-old Murphy has long been a favorite of Buck Showalter. He's a proven left-handed outfield bat, and has hit 20 points lower against lefties over the course of his career but owns a career .795 OPS against right-handed pitching. Murphy posted just a .281 on-base percentage in 48 games with the Los Angeles Angels after a July trade, and his $7 million club option for 2016 was just declined. So Murphy might be a value option to help fill the club's corner-outfield openings.