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Will waiting on free agents work for the Orioles this year?

September 28, 2016: Baltimore Orioles Outfield Mark Trumbo (45) [5085] is congratulated after hitting a home run during the game between the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre in Toronto, ON. (Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire)
Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire

The free agent market is heating up. Yoenis Cespedes has just signed, setting the market for the highest-profile position player available this offseason, and now as the Winter Meetings loom the rest of Major League Baseball’s teams are getting serious — whether with free agents themselves, or in trade talks, like those the Washington Nationals are having with the Pittsburgh Pirates over the future of outfielder Andrew McCutchen. Still others, like the Milwaukee Brewers, are heading overseas to sign players away from foreign pro leagues after big seasons — see Eric Thames, their new first baseman and last season’s MVP of the South Korean KBO.

And the Baltimore Orioles have spent the tumultuous last few days…signing outfielder Logan Schafer to a minor league deal out of the Twins organization, and sending cash to the New York Mets to acquire Logan Verrett, a guy they’ve had their eyes on for awhile but whose upside doesn’t extend far past the swingman role on a playoff team. Since the Josh Reddick signing there hasn’t been much noise about Baltimore’s interest in any major free agents save their own — the departing Mark Trumbo and Matt Wieters — and the most recent news on that front is that they’re most optimistic that instead it’ll be Pedro Alvarez coming back.

This is all business as usual for the Orioles. They technically have six warm bodies for five rotation slots next year already on the roster — Kevin Gausman, Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, Yovani Gallardo, Wade Miley, and (one hopes) Dylan Bundy. There will be injuries so it’s always good to have more pitchers than you need, and the pitching market is weak enough this year that Edinson Volquez’s signing with the Marlins represents a significant removement of talent, so the Orioles won’t be making any impact moves here. The rotation is what it is: quite bad, actually, but stable.

The lineup is returning every key player except Trumbo, which is a fairly major “but.” Even if they got Trumbo back, however, there’s no guarantee he’d continue his production from last year in any real way, shape or form — he had a great first half (.923 OPS), an extraordinarily Trumbo second half (.754 OPS), and it’s likely he’s closer to the latter in true talent than the former.

That said, the Orioles are unlikely to be jumping in too heavily on soon-to-be released Brewers first baseman Chris Carter, either; the Orioles don’t win a lot of negotiations with more than one team participating in them, because the Orioles have very firm ideas of what they want to pay for players. If the market exceeds what Baltimore thinks a player is worth, then, they’ll just…wait. If the guy eventually signs with the O’s after realizing there’s no other better offer on the table, good! If not, well, there’s always other players out there. The Orioles will break from this approach on occasion — the last time we saw it happen was the deal that brought Chris Davis back to Baltimore — but the Davis deal took ownership intervention to come together and was for a player that had already performed at an MVP level. There are few other comparable cases to it.

That means the O’s most likely will wait until the end of the free agent season to get majorly involved in what they need: an everyday rightfielder, a lead-off man (probably the same guy), a catcher, and a designated hitter. More likely than not, the position of catcher is going to be the one that just doesn’t get filled this time around. Jason Castro’s deal with Minnesota was a fairly hefty overpay from expectations, and there’s no one out there that’s so much better than Caleb Joseph it’s worth spending major money on him. The exception, of course, is Matt Wieters — the Orioles would quite gladly take him back on some modest three year deal worth a slight bit more than Castro’s was. But that seems unlikely to happen, given Wieters’s skills as a defender and his acceptable bat.

So while, say, Ian Desmond might be near-perfect for the Orioles given their needs, them being completely silent on his market right now and pursuing Angel Pagan instead makes perfect sense, because Baltimore doesn’t sign players like Ian Desmond unless they’re still around in February (which Desmond probably won’t be, this time). All in all, it should be a quiet offseason in Baltimore — and then the entire model will change again under the new CBA, and the Orioles will have to figure out the new proper way to only buy things when they’re on sale.

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