Does shortstop depth shift Orioles away from highest-priced free agents?

The launching of true free agency last week, with executives allowed to begin negotiations with representatives of players outside the organization, also ignited the annual offseason predictions, speculation and rumors that spread like weeds.

The baseball media’s popular board game, matching player with team. A low-risk roll of the dice.

The Athletic tabbed the Orioles as a best fit for seven of the top 10 free agents – Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Carlos Correa, Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Rodón and Kodai Senga. Forget the cost. The club is seeking a top-of-the-rotation starter and a big-time run producer, so that qualifies as a “fit.”

But we can’t ignore the cost.

Does deGrom work for the Orioles at a projected two-year deal worth $90 million and including an opt-out clause after the first season? Or Verlander at three years and $135 million, Correa at 10 years and $327 million, Turner at eight years and $264 million, Bogaerts at seven years and $196 million, Rodón at five years and $144 million, and Senga at three years and $72 million?

(I’m not sure why the club was omitted among the fits for Dansby Swanson with a prediction of six years and $154 million.)

We don’t know the Orioles’ exact budget or the exact definition of “fit,” but the word will be tossed around. Statcast can measure the velocity as the rumor mill spins out of control.

The Orioles aren’t targeting a specific position to address in their quest to improve the lineup. They’re already linked to some of the top shortstops in free agency, headed by Correa, whose ties to executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias lead to assumptions about him being within their reach. However, the club is more likely to go after a corner outfielder who can rotate into the designated hitter slot and allow others to do so, or a first baseman to get Ryan Mountcastle off his feet more often as DH or sit against certain right-handers.

Rest and the occasional platoon really come into play here, as well as lessening the pressure on Kyle Stowers to break out in 2023.

A second baseman also is possibility, preferably a left-handed bat. Think Rougned Odor, but a higher level of player. Lessening the pressure on Terrin Vavra to break out in 2023.

Shortstop simply isn’t a pressing need for the Orioles, and certainly not at that cost.

The list has been printed so many times, it’s beginning to fray. Rookie Gunnar Henderson, American League stolen base leader Jorge Mateo, Gold Glove third baseman Ramón Urías, who can slide over to short. Prospects Jordan Westburg and Joey Ortiz also provide options at the position. Jackson Holliday is in the system and displaying the skills that made him the first-overall selection in this year’s draft.

It's a real stretch to envision the Orioles as high bidders for any of the top-shelf shortstops. Something crazy would need to happen, like Correa accepting a three-year deal from the Twins last offseason with opt-outs after the first two.

The Orioles will engage in discussions because, why wouldn’t they? But giant-market teams with wide-open shortstop positions are the obvious favorites.

Playing shortstop is priced into them in the market. A team with a black hole at the position will pay.

An executive with another team described the Orioles as “probably one of the richer shortstop organizations right now.” And that figures to curb their appetite.

The market also has free-agent starting pitchers who are out of reach, but I’d expect the Orioles to float offers to some of the first-tier guys.

Reading the tea leaves of reality, it’s more likely that the club will be super-aggressive at the second level and below. But there are definite upgrades available to them, wherever they shop. It doesn’t have to be deGrom, Verlander or Rodón.

Multiple players can be acquired this way, accounting for a significant part of the payroll increase.

The Athletic also tabbed Philadelphia’s Zach Eflin as a fit for the Orioles at three years and $36 million, which seems like a more reasonable projection. ranks Chris Bassitt as the No. 13 free agent and estimates his contract at $60 million over three years. None of the site’s four writers predicted a signing by the Orioles.

Two writers have the Orioles signing No. 14 free agent Jameson Taillon at $56 million over four years. One has the Orioles signing No. 16 free agent Taijuan Walker at $52 million over four years, and one has the Orioles reeling in No. 17 free agent Sean Manaea at $52 million over four years.

(For perspective, no one had the Astros re-signing reliever Rafael Montero, but the sides reportedly reached agreement yesterday).

The Orioles aren’t going to share specifics with the media, which is why the tea leaves must be read instead of trashed. And why the club will be associated with players who probably aren’t coming to Baltimore.

This time of year used to be more of a bored game for Orioles fans. The team is perceived now as in position to be among the most active of the 30.

Note: Outfielder Heston Kjerstad, the second-overall pick in the 2020 draft, was named the Arizona Fall League's Most Valuable Player.

Kjerstad slashed .357/.385/.622 and led the AFL in hits (35), doubles (nine), extra-base hits (15) and total bases (61).

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