The Bautista and Saunders news - and what it means for the Orioles' RF pursuit - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Dan Connolly

The Bautista and Saunders news — and what it means for the Orioles’ RF pursuit

Two reports on Monday caught my attention – at least with how they might affect the Orioles.

The Philadelphia Phillies signed free-agent outfielder Michael Saunders and the Toronto Blue Jays were closing in on re-signing free-agent outfielder Jose Bautista.

Both played for the rival Blue Jays last year. Both names were connected to the Orioles this offseason: Saunders as a player the Orioles were interested in and Bautista as one they weren’t.

You all know by now how Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette told Bautista’s agents at the winter meetings that the club wasn’t pursuing Bautista, partially because he is reviled by the Orioles’ fan base.

That got a lot of attention. And Duquette never really backed down from those comments despite reports to the contrary. Remember, Duquette also isn’t keen on losing a draft pick this year, and that had something to do with the “no” for Joey Bats.

Bautista fit the Orioles’ needs: Another powerful hitter with good on-base skills who can play right field and give opposing pitchers another reason to fear the Orioles lineup. But Bautista is 36, coming off a season in which he played in just 116 games and hit just .234. And there’s no question there are several guys in the Orioles’ clubhouse who aren’t fans of the brash, dramatic, right-handed slugger.

The fact that the Orioles passed – and seemingly, most other teams did, too – on Bautista is not surprising.

Saunders’ reported one-year, $9 million deal (with a team option for 2018) has more of a bearing on the Orioles’ 2017 plans, I’d think.

Saunders, 30, also was a good fit to play right for the Orioles. It was never thought that the lefty hitter would be too expensive – and he wasn’t. According to Fox Sports, Saunders will make $8 million in 2017, and $11 million in 2018 if his option is picked up (there is a $1 million buyout).

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That’s reasonable, given Saunders’ relative youth and talent, though his vast injury history makes him a risk on anything besides a one-year deal.

And the fact that Saunders agreed to those terms with the Phillies makes you wonder what the Orioles are doing. This is where the jaded fans will chime in and say this typical Orioles, waiting around for scraps, blah, blah, blah.

I get it, but, really, it’s hard to make the argument that the Orioles don’t participate in the mid-level free agent market. They are kings of the mid-level free agent market. And that’s what almost all of the 2016-17 class is.

Truth is, no one finds meatier scraps better than Duquette. He’s been fairly good at reading when to dive and when to spectate (though the argument can be made he should have spectated more in the mid-level market).

There are several remaining options on a market that had 100 free agents – an incredible number – still available at the start of Monday.

There’s Angel Pagan, who I’ve been suggesting for months now; there’s Brandon Moss; there’s a potential reunion with Mark Trumbo or Michael Bourn.

There’s always a trade, considering the Orioles haven’t touched their deep bullpen yet.

So, I don’t view the news from Monday involving Bautista or Saunders as particularly damaging for the Orioles. But I do see the Saunders signing as an indication that the number of free-agent outfielders who can truly help the Orioles, is starting to wane.

That’s key, because adding Welington Castillo and Seth Smith has to be the start of the club’s plan to be better than it was in 2016 and not the full plan.

 

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