A few days ago, I gave you the rundown of arbitration-eligible Orioles and educated guesses on which players could be non-tendered. There are enough names on the list to keep any team executive busy.
The Orioles don’t have nearly as many pending unrestricted free agents. The 40-man roster includes outfielders Nate McLouth and Endy Chavez, pitcher Joe Saunders and designated hitter Jim Thome. Pitcher Randy Wolf and first baseman Nick Johnson are on the 60-day disabled list.
This group can declare for free agency immediately after the World Series.
Wolf is facing a second ligament-reconstruction surgery on his left elbow and will miss the 2013 season. He’s gone.
Johnson was limited to 38 games because of recurring pain in a right wrist that has undergone multiple surgeries. He batted .207/.324/.391 with four doubles, four homers, 11 RBIs, 11 walks and 26 strikeouts in 87 at-bats, and the last we heard, he was home instead of rehabbing in Sarasota. He could choose to retire. He’s not expected to re-sign with the Orioles.
Johnson was inked to a minor league deal in February to improve the Orioles’ on-base capabilities and give them a plus-defender at first base when he wasn’t serving as the designated hitter. Mark Reynolds ended up moving across the diamond to give the Orioles a plus defender while also leading the club in walks with 73.
The Orioles acquired Thome from the Phillies on June 30 for minor league pitcher Kyle Simon and catcher Gabriel Lino. He was limited to 28 games and 101 at-bats because of a herniated disc in his neck, though he returned in September and made the wild card and American League Division Series rosters. He hit .257/.348/.396 with five doubles, three homers, 10 RBIs, 14 walks and 40 strikeouts in the regular season, and went 2-for-15 in the playoffs.
Thome is still deciding whether to play in 2013. The Orioles would at least consider bringing him back, though, as I’ve written, I’m not sure how he’d fit if they re-sign Reynolds and also have Chris Davis and Wilson Betemit in camp.
Chavez, signed to a one-year contract as a fourth outfielder, batted .203/.236/.278 with six doubles, two homers and 12 RBIs in 158 at-bats, made two trips to the disabled list and accepted an outright assignment to Triple-A Norfolk. He figures to move on in 2013.
The Orioles have plenty of outfield candidates, especially if they re-sign McLouth and keep Nolan Reimold healthy, and they certainly can find a defensive replacement who offers a little more at the plate.
McLouth could be the every day left fielder or platoon. How much is he worth on the open market after batting .268/.342/.435 with 12 doubles, a triple, seven homers, 18 RBIs, 22 walks and 12 stolen bases in 55 games after the Orioles purchased his contract? And after he seized the opportunity to become the leadoff hitter?
His value increased after he went 8-for-26 with a home run and five RBIs in the postseason. The world was watching, and it noticed how much he resembled the 2008 McLouth who made the All-Star team and won a Gold Glove with the Pirates.
The Orioles will try to keep him and McLouth is interested in staying, but money talks. So does the promise of a starting job.
That leaves Saunders, who went 3-3 with a 3.63 ERA in seven starts with the Orioles after an Aug. 26 trade with the Diamondbacks. He allowed two earned runs in 11 1/3 innings in the playoffs and won the wild card game. He pretty much gave the Orioles what they sought when they shipped reliever Matt Lindstrom to Arizona.
The Orioles had interest in signing Saunders as a free agent last winter. They traded for him two months ago. It stands to reason that they’d be interested in re-signing him. But again, money talks, and Saunders made $6 million this year.
When asked whether he would be more inclined to pursue a big-ticket free agent this winter, executive vice president Dan Duquette replied, “The success of the club gives our fans hope that we can have a good team year in and year out. The idea of having a foundation and then adding to the foundation as the season progresses, like we did this year with Saunders. ... You take a look at the work Saunders did, he pitched good for the team down the stretch, he helped us win both elimination games, he was a veteran pitcher we added who did exactly what we wanted him to do. He helped stabilize the pitching staff, and his experience in the playoffs showed the way for some of our younger pitchers.
“I think that’s more likely the type of acquisition we would make, but I’m going to tell you right now, we have the foundation to have a good team here. We have the guys on this team to be competitive and be a top-flight team.”
My translater tells me if Saunders is “the type” of acquisition the Orioles are likely to make, it may as well be Saunders if the price is right.