A realistic - maybe pessimistic - look at Orioles' free-agency plans - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Dan Connolly

A realistic — maybe pessimistic — look at Orioles’ free-agency plans

The 2016-17 free agent season is now upon us.

I know, because we’ve already had our first report that the Orioles have some interest in “fill-in-the-blank” free agent.

The over/under for the number of these particular reports/tweets involving the Orioles between now and mid-February is 122. Place your bets accordingly.

The first of the offseason comes courtesy MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, who Tweeted on Tuesday morning that the Orioles have interest in Ian Desmond as a corner outfielder.

It’s true. He’s right.

They also have interest in anyone who can effectively play corner outfield and put up a decent on-base percentage. That includes Josh Reddick and Jon Jay. Heck, you might as well throw in Yoenis Cespedes, Michael Saunders and, yes, Dexter Fowler and Jose Bautista.

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The Orioles need at least one corner outfielder, even if they re-sign Mark Trumbo (who could slot more at DH). They need to diversify their lineup and they need to get some speed on the basepaths and better defenders on either side of Adam Jones, if possible. Adding a part-time DH is a consideration.

They have to find a stop-gap catcher to at least share time with Caleb Joseph if they don’t re-sign Matt Wieters. They also wouldn’t mind bolstering a strength and finding another solid reliever, maybe a veteran lefty as Donnie Hart insurance. And they are never, ever going to walk away from rotation help, even though they have six starters penciled in for 2017.

So, the Orioles are going to have some interest in just about every free agent, sans some infielders. Some interest and getting things done aren’t exactly married, though.

Basically, don’t expect the Orioles to make a splash in free agency the way they did last year when they re-signed Chris Davis, Darren O’Day and Wieters and added Yovani Gallardo, Hyun-Soo Kim and Pedro Alvarez.

I’d be surprised if they sign anyone that will get you excited about the club’s 2017 season. That excitement will have to come from the existing group.

Sorry for being the journalistic version of the old guy yelling at the kids to get off his lawn, but we deal in reality here at BaltimoreBaseball.com. If you want to dream about Cespedes or Desmond or somehow landing a legitimate ace, go ahead. That’s your call.

But the sense I get from everyone I’ve talked to is that the Orioles’ payroll is going to set a new franchise record this year – topping $150 million — just based on raises due to the existing players. Plus, they need to look at potential extensions, including one for No 1 starter Chris Tillman, a free agent next winter.

So, it’s a safe bet their budget is not going to grow exponentially through free agency.

Want more proof?

The fact the Orioles did not offer Wieters a one-year, $17.2 million qualifying offer screams poor to me. It would be really surprising if he accepted the offer two years in a row, so it seemed like a calculated gamble for a high draft pick.

But the Orioles chose not to risk it. And, since they don’t have a Plan B at starting catcher that they are thrilled with, the decision seemed to be more about the Orioles’ financial plan than Wieters’ production.

Maybe I’m wrong here, but when the dust settles, I expect the spending spree of last offseason to be the exception, not the rule.

What I anticipate is for the Orioles to land a few solid pieces to fill roles – maybe re-sign a Michael Bourn or a Steve Pearce – and then wait for someone (or several someones) to be overlooked as spring training nears. Then executive vice president Dan Duquette will swoop in and hope that he can maximize a player’s desire to make good on a one-year contract.

Sound familiar? It’s the new Oriole Way. And, to be fair, it’s helped the club get to the playoffs three times in the past five seasons under Duquette and manager Buck Showalter.

If you’d rather choose to follow the dreams and the random, vague reports, go ahead. I understand.

Just get off my lawn in the process.

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