Playoff teams rarely populate the bottom third of payrolls in baseball, but this past season the Tampa Bay Rays ranked 30th in spending and the Oakland Athletics ranked 25th, according to Spotrac. The Rays and Athletics earned wild-card spots in the American League.
The Baltimore Orioles, meanwhile, ranked 28th in payroll at about $73 million. First baseman Chris Davis, designated hitter Mark Trumbo and right-hander Alex Cobb represented much of that payroll. Trumbo’s contract has expired, but Davis and Cobb will still take up a big chunk of the 2020 payroll.
So, that word “sifting” in the headline — that is exactly how the Orioles as presently constituted will look through a pool of about 230 free agents. They cannot afford to spend excessively at a time when they are not ready to win.
So, let’s not kid ourselves. There is no Anthony Rendon or Cole Hamels flying in to rescue the Orioles from another summer of losing baseball. That doesn’t mean smart moves can’t make the games closer and begin to build a bit of hope for what is to come.
Before he left for the GM Meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz., Orioles GM Mike Elias said on 105.7 The Fan that a veteran middle infielder and starting pitching help are on his offseason shopping list. Here are four players I see value in — maybe even as a possible trade chip later on. Any one of these players would be a big plus. Two would be beyond my wildest dreams.
Starting Pitcher Kendall Graveman
Graveman, who turns 29 in December, was a one-time Toronto Blue Jays prospect who was well enough regarded by Athletics executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane that he was an important piece of the return the A’s got in the Josh Donaldson trade.
Graveman never fully bloomed for the A’s, but he was a productive pitcher when healthy. The right-hander posted a 4.11 ERA in 71 starts for the A’s from 2015-2017. Graveman had Tommy John surgery during the 2018 season, and the Chicago Cubs signed him last offseason to a one-year contract that paid him $575,000 to rehab. The deal included a club option for $3 million in 2020, but the Cubs declined the option, making him a free agent.
I’ll bet the Cubs try to reenter the picture and get him for $1.5 million. Perhaps the Orioles can get creative with a one-year deal that guarantees Graveman between $1 million and $1.5 million with a $3 million club option for 2021. Graveman offers a nice upside for a rebuilding club as a pitcher and as a trade chip.
Shortstop Jose Iglesias
The surest way for a rebuilding club, especially one with pitching woes, to get better is to improve its defense up the middle. Jonathan Villar, who split time between shortstop and second base in 2019, is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn $10.4 million in arbitration. That means the club will be all-in on trading him for younger pieces.
Iglesias made more than $10 million with the Detroit Tigers from 2017-2018 combined. He was forced to sign a minor-league deal with the Cincinnati Reds ahead of the 2019 season, but he made the big-league team and earned $2.5 million. He batted .288/.318/.407 with 21 doubles, 11 homers and 59 RBIs and, as always, was a solid defender at short.
Iglesias turns 30 in January. If he could be had on a one- or two-year contract that averages between $3.5 million and $4.5 million, he’d be a solid fit in orange and black should the Orioles decide to move Villar.
Catcher Stephen Vogt
At the end of the 2019 season, I thought Pedro Severino and Chance Sisco were decent enough placeholders until catcher Adley Rutschman was ready for prime time. But since then I’ve had some time to digest Sisco’s overall skill set, and I’d like an inexpensive pickup to improve the position during the next two seasons.
If you want to see the intangibles the 35-year-old Vogt offers, simply Google “I believe in Stephen Vogt” to find out how much the fans in Oakland loved him. For a team in need of a professional approach at the plate and behind it, Vogt would be a very solid pickup for the next two seasons for a total of about $3.5 million or $4 million.
Vogt is a career .253/.310/.426 hitter. Plus, he would help provide some leadership in the clubhouse with his personality and passion for the game.
Starting Pitcher Felix Hernandez
This one is a real long shot. It only works if Hernandez is hell-bent on pitching for a very low base of about $1 million and equally hell-bent on trying to reinvent himself. He’ll be 34 in April. He has thrown more than 2,700 big-league innings, and with all that wear and tear on his arm, how much tread is left on the tires?
True, he was a combined 9-22 the past two seasons, and he’s allowed 147 earned runs during his last 227.1 innings (5.82 ERA). But that was Hernandez pitching as if his stuff hadn’t diminished. I saw Frank Tanana reinvent himself — albeit very early in his career — and go on for 15 more seasons after he lost his fastball.
If the Orioles provide some useful instruction and Hernandez wants to do his part to tackle a very difficult task, maybe — just maybe — the Orioles can get their investment back in spades at the trade deadline.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox
Issue 259: November 2019
Originally published Nov. 15, 2019