Not as key as upgrading the rotation, but a left-handed-hitting outfield bat is still a must - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Dan Connolly

Not as key as upgrading the rotation, but a left-handed-hitting outfield bat is still a must

We all know pitching is the primary need for the Orioles. And the secondary need. And the thirdary need, if there were such a word.

We’ve stated since free agency began in November — based on this offseason, that seems like 17 years ago – that the Orioles were also seriously considering adding a left-handed-hitting outfielder to play right field.

At December’s winter meetings, Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said the club had had extended conversations with other teams about acquiring a right fielder. He said it was more likely that the Orioles would trade for one than add an outfielder via free agency.

But basically six weeks have come and gone and the free-agent outfield market – like basically all free-agent markets – has remained relatively stagnant. Therefore, the chances of the Orioles adding a veteran outfielder through free agency have increased dramatically.

We know the Orioles have interest in Jon Jay, have touched base with his camp and have discussed him internally. And, according to a recent MASNsports.com report, the Orioles have reviewed the medicals of 33-year-old speedster Jarrod Dyson, whose season was cut short last year due to sports hernia surgery.

Dyson is left-handed, can fly and plays good defense, so he was always going to be on the short list. There are others, too, that seem like a potential fit. Depending on price, here are three that have intrigued various members of the organization: Carlos Gonzalez, Melky Cabrera and Nori Aoki.

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If prices have fallen on one of those guys, expect the Orioles to pounce.

First, we know Camden Yards is an attractive landing spot for hitters trying to re-establish themselves on a one-year deal.

And since not re-signing Nick Markakis in the 2014-15 offseason, acquiring a right fielder has been a bit of a hobby for Duquette. He’s added Travis Snider, Gerardo Parra, Mark Trumbo and Seth Smith. So why not keep the tradition going (but improving on it, of course)?

Unless Trumbo is back out in right starting March 29 – something the Orioles are hoping to avoid doing regularly in 2018 – the club will have its fourth Opening Day right fielder in four years; Markakis started eight straight there from 2007 until 2014.

There will always be some interest internally in trying to bring Markakis back from Atlanta – an irony since the main reason the Orioles allowed him to fly to the Braves in December 2014 is because they were concerned he wouldn’t remain healthy for four more seasons. Markakis, now 34, has played in all but 12 games in the first three years of his four-year deal with the Braves.

To be fair, the Orioles have plenty of internal candidates to start in right field, such as Trumbo, Joey Rickard, Austin Hays and Anthony Santander. But each has his drawbacks, and only Santander, the 2017 Rule 5 pick from Cleveland who must stay with the team for 44 more days in 2018 before he can be sent to the minors, isn’t strictly a right-handed hitter. He bats from both sides, but is so raw that he can’t be counted on to be a regular starter to begin 2018.

The only lefty hitting outfielder on the 40-man roster is 26-year-old Jaycob Brugman, whom the Orioles acquired from the Oakland A’s in a minor trade in November. He’s probably ticketed for Triple-A unless he has an eye-opening spring – and if the Orioles don’t add another outfielder before the season starts.

Frankly, the internal options aren’t terrible; just not perfect fits. The most intriguing is Hays, the 22-year-old, right-handed hitter who has skyrocketed through the system after being drafted in the third round in 2016.

In a normal situation, it would make sense to give him or Rickard or Santander a chance in right and hope you have something.

But the Orioles lack of left-handed hitters on the roster is a major concern. Of the 14 hitters currently on the 40-man, only three bat exclusively from the left side: first baseman Chris Davis, catcher Chance Sisco and Brugman.

So even if the Orioles wanted to go with Hays, for instance, the imbalance of the lineup would remain disconcerting.

Therefore, despite the expansive need for starting pitching, you have to expect the Orioles are going to find a right fielder, simply to add another lefty bat (and hopefully some speed and defensive prowess), as much as anything.

The hope, of course, is that the outfield bat is added in addition to several rotation arms and not in lieu of that.

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