Spoiler alert: This piece is not going to make you particularly excited if you are an Orioles fan.
This is not a “print the playoff tickets” suggestion for making the 2017 Orioles a sure-fire World Series contender.
That doesn’t happen in Birdland during free agency, anyway.
No, the Orioles’ recipe for success in the past five years is to try and retain their core of quality players while adding supplemental pieces to the roster throughout the year. If recent history is any guide, some of that building will come during the offseason, some during spring training and some within the season.
What you want to hear about now, though, is what the Orioles will – or should – do in December and January as free agency and the hot stove season are simmering.
Here’s my answer: Sign aging outfielder Angel Pagan.
He’s one of my primary targets if I’m executive vice president Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter.
Pagan’s definitely on the Orioles’ radar this offseason, and it’s because he could fit offensively, defensively and financially.
He’s not atop my wish list if money is no object, but he’s right there when reality sets in.
First, the head-shaking truth: Pagan turns 36 in July. He is no longer an elite outfielder. He’s definitely on the downside of his career. He doesn’t have a whole lot of pop and is usually good for one trip to the disabled list per season. He’s not Dexter Fowler Lite. He’s Dexter Fowler Old.
But the Orioles aren’t paying big bucks to fill their right-field hole. They aren’t paying big bucks to fill their leadoff hole. They aren’t paying big bucks to bring in someone with on-base capabilities. They aren’t paying big bucks for someone who can play each outfield position adequately, hit from both sides of the plate, steal some bases and put the ball in play.
In Pagan, they get someone who can do all of that and likely fit into the club’s budget – assuming he’d sign a one-year deal or maybe a one-year contract with an option for 2018.
That’d be a bit of a tumble for Pagan. But, frankly, he is viewed now as a fourth outfielder; there probably aren’t many teams, besides the Orioles, that would hand him a starting role. And you have to figure if he’d be willing to take a one-year deal, then playing half his games in a hitter-friendly park like Camden Yards must have some appeal. He hit a career-high 12 homers last year; he probably could duplicate that playing at Camden Yards and in other AL East parks.
I’m not saying one season in Baltimore would reinvigorate Pagan’s career at 36, but it might prolong what has been a pretty solid tenure in the majors.
After a splendid 2012 season in which Pagan hit 38 doubles, a league-best 15 triples, reached base at a .338 clip and helped the San Francisco Giants to a World Series title, the Giants re-signed Pagan to a four-year, $40 million deal.
He has had his moments since, but never duplicated those numbers during the length of the deal – which expired at the end of the 2016 season. Still, he’s a switch-hitter, an established leadoff man and a solid defender who has had an on-base percentage of .331 or better in four of his past five seasons and a career OBP of .330.
Among regulars, only Hyun Soo Kim, Manny Machado and Chris Davis had an on-base percentage of .331 or better for the 2016 Orioles.
Pagan has led off in 47 percent of his starts in 11 seasons as a big leaguer, and has posted a .293 average and .337 on-base percentage in those situations (he led off 12 times last season, mainly batting second for the 2016 Giants).
Pagan has never had a 100-strikeout season in his career; he fanned 66 times in 543 plate appearances for the Giants last year. That would be huge in an Orioles’ lineup that’s flushed with swing-and-miss types.
He also can steal a base, swiping 15 in 19 attempts last year and has been successful in 78 percent of his attempts throughout his career.
He’s better against right-handers than lefties, so he could fit into a platoon with right-handed hitting Joey Rickard if the Orioles wanted to experiment with Kim playing every day in 2017.
Defensively, observers say Pagan has slipped some since he was considered a solid center fielder a few years ago. If you like defensive metrics, though, he had the second-highest range-factor among National League left fielders in 2016.
He hasn’t played much right field in his career, but partially that’s because right field is a particularly difficult assignment in San Francisco. I think it’s a lot trickier than it looks at Camden Yards, too, but I’d imagine Pagan would be fine there.
He’s not the only free-agent that fits what the Orioles are looking for; they could just re-sign Michael Bourn, who will be 34 in December and did well in his brief run with the Orioles last season, both on the field and in the clubhouse. But Pagan probably grades out a little higher in most on-field categories than Bourn over their careers.
Rajai Davis is another speedy outfielder type that’s on the free agent market, but he’s already 36 and has never been much of an on-base guy.
Obviously, Fowler and Ian Desmond are more exciting players at this stage of their careers. But I just don’t see the Orioles offering four years and $60 million or more for those guys.
I, for one, really like Jon Jay, the former St. Louis Cardinal who played for the San Diego Padres in 2016. His career on-base percentage is .352, he doesn’t turn 32 until March, and has experience in right field and leading off. He also won’t break the bank after two seasons in which he was limited to 90 games or fewer due to injuries (mlbtraderumors.com predicts he’ll get a two-year, $12 million deal).
The left-handed hitting Jay would be a great fit — better than Pagan — but, again, I question whether the Orioles are willing to fight for him if a bidding war erupts.
All of that, for me, anyway, points to Pagan, who checks all the boxes the Orioles are looking for without a significant financial commitment.
It’s not sexy. It won’t sell tickets. But Pagan is definitely worth a hard look if the Orioles are serious about upgrading their on-base percentage, outfield defense and team speed.