NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. - One of the more interesting theories at this week’s Winter Meetings, as opposed to being a straight-up rumor, involves how Edwin Encarnacion could be a fit for the Orioles.
It makes little sense on the surface, considering how Encarnacion turned down a four-year, $80 million offer from the Blue Jays. Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette warned that his club won’t be making any splashy moves. They don’t seem inclined to fatten up their payroll beyond raises for arbitration-eligible players and attempts to re-sign Mark Trumbo.
And yet, there are murmurings inside the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center that Encarnacion’s market is dwindling and he may have to settle for a lesser deal, which would enable the Orioles to jump into the bidding and plug him into the designated hitter role.
I’ll believe it when I see him standing at the podium in an Orioles jersey and cap.
The Jays reportedly are done courting Encarnacion after signing Steve Pearce to a two-year, $12.5 million deal. The Astros and Yankees are set at designated hitter. The Rangers seem to be content for now with their options at first base and designated hitter.
However, the Red Sox still need to a replacement for David Ortiz and don’t figure to ... wait for it ... phone it in.
MLBTradeRumors.com predicted that Encarnacion would sign a four-year, $92 million deal with the Red Sox. He can only hope for that kind of a payout.
Meanwhile, ESPN.com’s Adam Rubin reported that the Mets offered the Orioles Curtis Granderson or Jay Bruce, knowing their need for a right fielder, in exchange for a “high-end reliever.” No dice.
“That wasn’t going to fly,” Rubin tweeted.
The Mets are trying to give it wings.
As it turns out, the Mets want Brad Brach and the Orioles don’t want Granderson’s $15 million salary. They’d need some relief if parting with one of their best relievers.
All of this further illustrates how teams are eager to raid the Orioles bullpen. Manager Buck Showalter talked about it last week, singling out Brach as a reliever who will bring tremendous appeal to teams in the market for a closer and unable to secure Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen.
Former Nationals closer Mark Melancon is off the board after agreeing to terms with the Giants on a four-year, $62 million contract. Brach will make $2.9 million next season if MLBTradeRumors.com is accurate with its arbitration projection.
Brach isn’t a proven major league closer with only three saves, but he’s posted ERAs of 3.19, 3.18, 2.72 and 2.05 over the past four seasons - the last three with the Orioles - while compiling a 23-8 record.
Brach was a prolific closer in the minors, saving 33 games with Single-A Fort Wayne in 2009, 41 games with Single-A Lake Elsinore in 2010 and 34 combined with Double-A San Antonio and Triple-A Tucson in 2011.
Executive vice president Dan Duquette has made it clear in multiple interviews that he wants to keep closer Zach Britton despite the potential return. While Brach isn’t in the untouchable zone, the Orioles should be hesitant to weaken a bullpen that’s needed to cover for a rotation that’s deep but not regarded as a strength.
Where would the Orioles have been this year without Brach, especially in the first half? And can they count on Darren O’Day to give them a full season after two trips to the disabled list this season?
I’m fairly confident that O’Day will be fine and return to his usual form, but Brach makes the unit so much better. And yet, teams needing to fill other needs tend to deal from their strengths, from areas where they’re deepest.
Granderson hit .237, drove in only 59 runs and turns 36 in March, but he also belted 30 home runs, bats from the left side, has a career .340 on-base percentage and can play anywhere in the outfield.
Mychal Givens also appeals to clubs, but the Orioles love his upside and the flexibility he provides with minor league options. It’s conceivable that he could morph into a closer down the road if they need to replace Britton.
Givens is under team control through 2022 and hovering around the league minimum in salary. The Orioles would be wise to hold onto him.
As for catcher Matt Wieters, the Orioles haven’t completely moved away from him. Let’s get that straight. They continue to monitor the market for him and whether his price will drop. However, they’re doing the smart thing by preparing for life without him. They have no other choice.
Their assumption is that he’ll stay out of their price range, their comfort zone, and they’ll sign a veteran to a one- or two-year deal to pair with Caleb Joseph and wait for Chance Sisco to prove that he can handle the load behind the plate. They’ll have to move on from Wieters if they reach agreement with a veteran unless they’re willing to option Joseph.
That’s not likely to happen.
If Wieters has any desire to remain in Baltimore, he needs to act fast because that window is preparing to slam shut.