There is no doubt that the Baltimore Orioles have made some waves this offseason, but I don’t think these moves are aimed at making them a contender in 2011. I believe these moves were made to improve the team enough in 2011 to make the Orioles a more desirable destination for free agents and other possible acquisitions for the 2012 season and beyond.
The acquisition of Mark Reynolds solidifies the third base position through the 2012 season with an option for 2013. The Orioles were able to acquire him for a couple of promising young arms, Dave Hernandez and Kam Mickolio, but neither of them was a cornerstone of the bullpen nor were they impertinent to the success of the team. As a matter of fact, Mickolio pitched in just three major league games last year while posting a 5.80 ERA in the minors. Dave Hernandez has the highest upside of the two, but the Orioles had given up on him as a starter and decided to sell high on his limited success in the bullpen. They did, however, have to eat the rest of Reynolds’ contract at $5MM this year and $7.5MM next year with an option for 2013 for $11MM with a very manageable $500,000 buyout. Were Mark Reynolds to have a great year at the plate, the Orioles will be able to decide whether it would be smarter to keep him for the 2012 season at a reasonable price or if they would want to trade him for some prospects to a contending team in need of a third baseman. I have a feeling though, the Orioles plan to hold onto Reynolds at least through the 2012 season.
The acquisition of JJ Hardy gives the Orioles the ultimate flexibility at the shortstop position. The cost to acquire Hardy was a little steeper than they had hoped with the O’s sending Brett Jacobson and Jim Hoey to Minnesota. We all know who Hoey is. He had been in the majors before with the Orioles and showed a good fastball. Hoey, however, is coming off 2008 shoulder surgery and is already 28 years old so it isn’t like the Orioles are going to miss him too much. The biggest loss in this trade is Jacobson. He was the 16th ranked prospect for the Orioles in Baseball America’s 2009 rankings. He compiled a 2.79 ERA in relief in high-A ball this year, but at the age of 24, he should really be further along in his progression to the majors. So, in this trade the orioles gave up 2 relievers that have been a little slow in their ascent to becoming substantial major league bullpen arms to acquire an oft injured shortstop with plus potential in a walk year. Hardy is under contract for 2011 for $5.85MM and he becomes a free agent at the end of the season. Depending on how Hardy does and the record of Orioles, the Orioles will have lots of options. They could trade him mid-season for prospects if he is doing well and the Orioles are not. If he is doing super well, they could hang onto him, offer arbitration and receive draft pick compensation for him for next season. Or they could try to sign him to a long term deal if he is the player they are looking for to fill the shortstop position for years to come. Either way the O’s have a good situation at short to help them now and in the future.
The move that I wasn’t expecting was the signing of Derrek Lee. He was one of those guys that you put a star next to when looking over the available free agents but you didn’t circle him because you didn’t think the Orioles would pull the trigger on that kind of money for one year deal. Lee had a down year last year but he was playing through a wrist injury most of the season. However, just like Hardy, Lee’s deal is a one year deal. The cost of the contract is $7.25MM with the potential to reach $10MM with incentives. If Lee is able to put together a good season he should be a type A free agent and if the Orioles offer him arbitration and he declines, they would get a first round pick as compensation were he to leave for another team.
The players traded and the money spent on all three of these players is not just an investment in this year but it is an investment in 2012 and beyond. If the Orioles can continue on the success at the end of last season and all of their new acquisitions play up to their potential, the Orioles could be looking at getting close to a .500 record. I know that doesn’t sound super sexy for 2011, but if free agents take notice to the squad as an up and coming team maybe the Orioles will at least seem like an attractive destination as opposed to a leper colony. Then, in turn, they can also use the prospects acquired via trades or draft to bolster the system for beyond 2012. It was nice to see the Orioles not overpay and fall for the $100MM plus organization killing contract and instead pursue short term options that are much more flexible for the organization while providing a bit of optimism for this season. In the end, what seems like short term fixes could have long term positive effects on the organization for 2012 and beyond.