Non-tendered players offer intriguing opportunities for the Orioles - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Paul Folkemer

Non-tendered players offer intriguing opportunities for the Orioles

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

Last Friday marked Major League Baseball’s deadline for teams to either extend contracts or non-tender their arbitration-eligible players, and the Orioles’ Tim Beckham and Caleb Joseph were just two of the many notable names around baseball who were cut loose.

A few of those non-tendered players could potentially be a fit for the Orioles, including a couple who have previous ties with the club’s new executive vice president and general manager, Mike Elias.

RHP Mike Fiers

Elias, who spent the past seven years in the Houston Astros’ front office, is quite familiar with Fiers, who pitched 70 games for the Astros from 2015-17 after they acquired him from Milwaukee (in a deal that sent ex-Orioles prospect Josh Hader to the Brewers). Fiers went 21-19 with a 4.59 ERA for Houston, including a no-hitter Aug. 21, 2015, in his fourth game as an Astro. Fiers was a regular member of the Astros’ rotation during their World Series championship season in 2017, but struggled to a 5.22 ERA and was non-tendered after that season.

Fiers, who doesn’t blow hitters away with his fastball but mixes in an effective curveball and changeup, would provide some stability for an Orioles rotation that has only three spots accounted for: Dylan Bundy, Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner.

The Orioles have held interest in Fiers in the past. Last offseason, after the Astros non-tendered him, Fiers reportedly turned down a two-year contract offer from the Orioles to sign a one-year deal with Detroit. His 12-8 record and 3.56 ERA with the Tigers and Oakland Athletics (who acquired him in August) helped boost his pedigree. Fiers will find a spot in someone’s rotation, and perhaps the Elias connection will give the Orioles a leg up on signing him — provided, of course, that the club is interested.

RHP Shelby Miller

If the Orioles are looking for buy-low candidates, they won’t find one much lower than Miller, whose once-promising career has been derailed after a regrettable three-year stint in Arizona. The Diamondbacks paid a hefty price in 2015 to acquire the right-hander from Atlanta, where he’d been an NL All-Star with a 3.02 ERA in 33 starts despite a league-worst 17 losses. Among the trade package Arizona surrendered were shortstop Dansby Swanson, whom they’d drafted with the No. 1 overall pick six months earlier, as well as center fielder Ender Inciarte, who has won three straight Gold Gloves since joining the Braves.

In his first year with the Diamondbacks, Miller was among the worst pitchers in baseball, going 3-12 with a 6.15 ERA and giving up 11.3 hits per nine innings. Then the injuries struck. He underwent Tommy John surgery in May 2017, limiting him to four starts that season, and after returning in June 2018, he suffered elbow inflammation and made just five appearances.

Elias was a St. Louis Cardinals scout in 2009 when the club drafted the highly touted Miller out of Brownwood High School (Texas), so the Orioles’ new general manager has seen first-hand how effective Miller can be when he’s at his best. Miller spent his first six seasons with the Cardinals before his trade to the Braves in 2014. Miller’s glory days may be behind him, but with Elias’ extensive knowledge of the 28-year-old right-hander, perhaps he’ll be willing to take a flyer.

OF Billy Hamilton

Arguably the most high-profile player who was non-tendered on Friday, Hamilton is an electrifying player on the basepaths and in the outfield. Not so much at the plate, though. Hamilton has a career batting average of .245 and an on-base percentage of .298. Only once in his five seasons has he posted an OBP of .300 or better. His offensive deficiencies convinced the Cincinnati Reds to cut ties with Hamilton rather than give him a raise over his $4.6 million salary in 2018.

On the plus side, Hamilton would provide a much-needed defensive upgrade for an Orioles club that was one of the worst last season — especially in center, where Adam Jones struggled (and was moved off the position) and Cedric Mullins endured a shaky adjustment to the big leagues. Although Hamilton’s glove has declined in recent years, with a career-worst four Defensive Runs Saved in 2018 per FanGraphs, the 28-year-old is still capable of making spectacular plays. He ranked fifth in the majors this past season with 16 Outs Above Average (a stat I explained in detail earlier this year).

Hamilton would also represent the Orioles’ biggest base-stealing threat since Brian Roberts’ heyday, and perhaps their biggest ever. When he broke into the majors in 2013, some thought Hamilton could rack up MLB’s first 100-steal season since the 1980s. Hamilton’s inability to get on base has stifled those expectations, but he still had four seasons of 56 or more steals and is 277 for 340 (an 81 percent success rate) in his career. It seems a long shot that the Orioles would sign Hamilton, but he’d be a fascinating addition.

C James McCann

With the Orioles’ non-tendering of Joseph, they could look for a veteran catcher to provide support for the relatively inexperienced Austin Wynns and Chance Sisco. McCann has served as the Detroit Tigers’ primary catcher for the past four seasons.

McCann, though, isn’t exactly a huge upgrade over Joseph. In fact, the two put up similar offensive numbers in 2018; McCann batted .220 with a .581 OPS, while Joseph hit .219/.575. In general, though, McCann has a bit more offensive upside than Joseph, and at 28, he’s four years younger. He’s also thrown out 37 percent of attempted base stealers as opposed to Joseph’s 31 percent.

Still, if the Orioles thought Joseph wasn’t worth a salary higher than the $1.25 million he earned last year, would they be willing to offer comparable deal to McCann?

RHP Brad Boxberger

The Orioles’ bullpen is a work in progress, especially from the right side. Closer Mychal Givens and long reliever Miguel Castro appear to be safe bets to crack the Opening Day relief crew, but no other right-handers are assured a spot. The Orioles could look to sign a veteran who not only could help anchor the bullpen, but could be dealt away for a prospect at the trading deadline, when relievers are often a valuable commodity.

Boxberger is one such possibility. The 30-year-old spent much of 2018 as the Diamondbacks’ closer, notching 32 saves, but tailed off after the All-Star break. He had a 7.00 ERA in 22 games in the second half compared to a 3.06 mark in 38 games in the first.

Boxberger’s experience in the AL East could appeal to the Orioles. He had a 3.33 ERA in four seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays, including an All-Star selection in 2015, when he led the AL with 41 saves. The previous season, he enjoyed an immaculate inning against the Orioles on May 8, when he entered in a bases-loaded jam and struck out the side on nine pitches. Boxberger would provide a backup closer option if Givens struggles or is traded.

2B Jonathan Schoop

I’m including Schoop on this list because he’s an Orioles fan favorite and would provide instant name recognition on an O’s roster that’s going through sweeping changes. And the Orioles do have an opening in the middle infield, with Jonathan Villar able to start at either second base or shortstop. It would be quite a twist to see Schoop and Villar, who were traded for each other just five months ago, team up as the Orioles’ double-play combination.

In reality, though, there’s little chance Schoop will return, to echo Rich Dubroff’s thoughts. Schoop’s track record of success — including a 2017 All-Star bid — and age (27) mean he’ll probably find better offers on the table elsewhere. Maybe he’ll even attempt to reunite with his best friend, Manny Machado, who is also testing the free-agent waters. Elias and the as-yet-undetermined Orioles’ coaching staff have no previous ties to Schoop, so it’s unlikely they’ll feel any nostalgia to return him to the fold in Baltimore.

19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. jimmyv

    December 3, 2018 at 7:38 am

    Other than Miller, you landed on the same names as I did. I’d really like to see Schoop here again, and maybe Fiers. Otherwise, I could pass on all the rest in order to continuing developing what we have up or in the minors. We don’t need a lot more below average players.

    • Paul Folkemer

      December 3, 2018 at 11:03 am

      The idea is that most of these guys would simply be placeholders, to fill roster spots where the O’s don’t have prospect depth or their prospects need more time in the minors. And of course it’s contingent on these players being willing to sign reasonable, low-cost deals so the O’s can cut them loose if they don’t pan out.

  2. Orial

    December 3, 2018 at 8:24 am

    Boxberger’s name stood out when I first saw the list. Just remember him blowing everybody out while with Tampa Bay. Please no to Hamilton–don’t need another .290 OBP type. If Schoop comes reasonable why not? Doubt it though. Trade,free agency,Rule 5 just get the best defensive SS out there.

    • Paul Folkemer

      December 3, 2018 at 11:06 am

      That’s a valid point on Hamilton. In his case, though, I’d be willing to overlook the low OBP because he’s so good defensively, which is something the O’s badly need (as last season showed), and he provides a ton of value on the basepaths. I think he’ll be able to get a better contract somewhere else, though.

  3. bigdaddydk

    December 3, 2018 at 9:41 am

    My problem with Schoop is that he’s kind of the antithesis of what analytics-driven teams are looking for. He strikes out a ton, doesn’t walk much, and is big time streaky. His arm makes up for a limited range in the middle infield and I can’t envision him at 3B. I loved him while he was in Baltimore. He can really crush the ball when he gets hold of it. I remember watching him hit a few and just go WOW! But he’s below .300 lifetime OBP, and a team that is building around analytics will either need a middle infielder with a high OBP or a plus glove. I don’t see him being enough of a plus on either side, and for the money he’ll probably cost I don’t see him worth the risk hoping that he’ll be part of the rebuilt team. Hate to say that too, because he seems like a good guy. I love his smile and his overall attitude. But I want players that offer plus defense and good OBP.

    • Orial

      December 3, 2018 at 10:46 am

      Well said and true. The type the organization is trying to rid itself of.

    • Paul Folkemer

      December 3, 2018 at 11:07 am

      I can’t argue with you much. I think you’re right that Schoop isn’t the type of player the new O’s administration will be looking at.

  4. Bhoffman1

    December 3, 2018 at 10:04 am

    Signing over the hill or mediocre players to fill the roster is how we got to this place. Remember Colby Ramos that’s just one example. Bringing back Schoop would rile up the fan base and sell tickets . That’s the only move that makes sense out of everything you wrote.

    • Paul Folkemer

      December 3, 2018 at 11:19 am

      The major difference is that the Orioles signed those previous players when they were hoping to be contenders, and fell apart when those guys didn’t live up to expectations. This time, they would be signing veterans only as placeholders, not relying on them to be key parts of a winning team. The best case scenario is that they sign some of these guys, they play well in the first half, and then the Orioles can trade them for more prospects to continue their rebuild.

      Look at what the Cubs did in 2013 — even in full rebuilding mode, they signed veteran Scott Feldman to fill a hole in their rotation, and he pitched well enough that they were able to trade him for future Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta (as Orioles fans are all too aware).

  5. PA Bird Lover

    December 3, 2018 at 11:42 am

    Keep in mind we are rebuilding. If there is no prospect suitable to fill a position, a veteran signing should be a consideration. A few are necessary for the club house. Pitchers are horses of different colors. This summers team is going to need a basket full of starters, young, old or even decrepit.

  6. Sisco Kid

    December 3, 2018 at 12:22 pm

    I really actually like the idea of Miller. With a new staff coming in under Elias, I think there’s hope that a change of scenery could get this guy back on track, to the point where if he puts together a semi-strong season, a contending club would definitely be willing to take a flier on him come trade deadline time. I’m also advocating that the O’s look into bringing Schoop back not on a one year “prove it” deal, but for the longer term. He’s a free agent whose value will likely never be lower, and we know what he can do when he’s not dealing with an oblique injury or switching teams. Sign him to a longer term deal, and he could be around when the next competitive O’s team rolls around.

    • Bhoffman1

      December 3, 2018 at 1:08 pm

      I go along with that

  7. jimmyv

    December 3, 2018 at 12:33 pm

    Schoop has some weaknesses — even many good players do. I see him as still young enough and improving — with good defense and average to potentially above average offensive numbers. I feel we could do far worse in the interim, and I’d be willing to give him a two-year deal with incentives to see what might develop.

  8. SpinMaster

    December 3, 2018 at 2:27 pm

    In my opinion, our first priority is to field the best defensive team we can put together. That will help our pitching staff. Among these defensive wiz kids, our second priority is to have players with above average on-base percentages. I would like this team to not be enamored with how many home runs are hit compared to other teams in the AL East. Let the metrics tell us how to put together this type of team.

    • cedar

      December 3, 2018 at 5:19 pm

      I agree with SpinMaster. A defensive team can ease the transition from the minors to the majors of a young inexperienced pitching staff. I’d like to see more OBP hitters as opposed to mashers but I really worry the Yard doesn’t suit those types.

      • Paul Folkemer

        December 3, 2018 at 5:29 pm

        OBP plays everywhere. It’s just as easy to draw a walk at Camden Yards as it is at any other park.

  9. willmiranda

    December 3, 2018 at 9:22 pm

    Thanks for the full and interesting survey of possibilities, but it seems to me that management has done a good job of non-tendering the right people. I think you have to consider them as part of the overall free agent pool and go from there. Two things about the O’s. I don’t think you’re going to get a decent catcher for less than a million, and I think the three starting pitchers we have are 3-4-5 in the rotation (take your pick on any given day). We need a 1 and a 2. I don’t think the non-tendered pool is the place to look. It’s good for supplemental players, but we have lots of those, in my opinion. Question: what were the Brewers thinking in the Schoop trade? Just a rental?

    • Disco Stupid

      December 4, 2018 at 12:56 pm

      The Brewers were thinking Schoop was going to be good instead of terrible. He was one of the leagues hottest hitters at the time of the trade and then was incredibly bad after the trade. Due to make 10m this year is more than a small market Milwaukee wants to pay. Too bad for them and Schoop. Hopefully he lands on his feet.

  10. John in Cincy

    December 6, 2018 at 2:07 pm

    “Hamilton would also represent the Orioles’ biggest base-stealing threat since Brian Roberts’ heyday, and perhaps their biggest ever. ”
    …………………………………………………………………………
    He and Jonathan Villar. Hamilton has put up more years stealing 50+ bases, but Villar has a higher single-season mark (62 SB to Hamilton’s best of 59). And it looks like the Orioles will want Villar to start being a significant base stealing threat again, if last season was any indication: in just 54 games with the O’s, he had an excellent 21 steals in 24 attempts.

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