While the Orioles continue negotiations to sign right fielder Nick Markakis to an extension and discuss which arbitration-eligible players may be non-tendered at the deadline, they also must figure out whether to bring back three former players who gladly would take part in a reunion.
Outfielder Nolan Reimold already elected free agency earlier this month after appearing in seven games with the Diamondbacks, his third organization in 2014, and relievers Koji Uehara and Jim Johnson will hit the market after the World Series.
Uehara still has a home in Baltimore and his family covets a return to the Orioles, where he spent his first 2 1/2 major league seasons before being traded to the Rangers on July 30, 2011 for first baseman Chris Davis and pitcher Tommy Hunter.
Is it buyer beware with Uehara? He turns 40 on April 3 and his performance with the Red Sox slipped badly over the final two months of the season. He lost the closer’s job and was used in only five games in September, finishing with a 6-5 record, 2.52 ERA and 26 saves in 64 games.
Uehara went 4-1 with a 1.09 ERA and 21 saves in 2013 and was named Most Valuable Player in the American League Championship Series. However, he was 1-3 with a 4.35 ERA in 22 games in the second half this summer. He posted ERAs of 0.93 in April, 0.69 in May, 1.80 in June, 2.45 in July, 5.56 in August and 6.23 in September. Opponents registered batting averages of .211 in April, .190 in May, .120 in June, .205 in July, .327 in August and .278 in September.
One member of the organization mentioned how there’s been a feeling that once Uehara went into decline, it would happen swiftly and it wouldn’t be pretty. The question is whether he could rediscover the form that made him practically unhittable with the Red Sox last season.
Uehara must be handled with care, something the Rangers failed to do after trading for him. He may come more cheaply after signing a two-year, $9.25 million contract with the Red Sox that the Orioles, who held interest at the 2012 Winter Meetings, deemed too expensive for a one-inning reliever who wasn’t projected to close.
Johnson saved 101 games for the Orioles over two seasons and is a favorite of manager Buck Showalter. They attempted to sign him to a minor league deal in August after the Athletics released him, but he chose the Tigers.
How the mighty have fallen. Johnson agreed to a $10 million contract with the Athletics after they acquired him on Dec. 2 for infielder Jemile Weeks and catcher David Freitas, the player to be named later. He will be challenged to secure another major league deal after registering a 7.14 ERA in 38 games with Oakland, allowing 60 hits and walking 23 batters in 40 1/3 innings and losing the closers job. He had a 6.92 ERA in 16 games with the Tigers, allowing nine hits and walking 12 batters in 13 innings and being kept off the Division Series roster.
Overall, Johnson posted a 7.09 ERA and a 1.95 WHIP in 2014. His mechanics are off and the Orioles may believe they can fix him, but only at a discount rate with little risk beyond an invitation to spring training.
Reimold, 31, went 11-for-52 with four doubles, two home runs, nine RBIs and 22 strikeouts in 22 games with the Blue Jays, who claimed him off waivers, and 5-for-17 with a double, one home run, four RBIs and 10 strikeouts in seven games with the Diamondbacks. His neck issues seem to be in the past after undergoing corrective surgery, and the Orioles may be in the market for right-handed hitting outfielders/designated hitters if Nelson Cruz isn’t re-signed. Delmon Young also is a free agent.
Brady Anderson, vice president of baseball operations, trains Reimold and would like to have him back in the organization. The Orioles couldn’t find a way to keep him before designating him for assignment. Offering a minor league contract isn’t out of the question, but Reimold obviously is seeking a better deal.
As for Markakis, I’ve heard that he turned down a preliminary offer and the sides continue to talk. The lines of communication remain open. It’s just not going to be a quick process.
Shortstop J.J. Hardy’s extension seemed to get done in the blink of an eye once the sides began to talk. Must be what executive vice president Dan Duquette meant by already having a “foundation” that didn’t exist with Markakis and Cruz.