At this week’s General Managers meetings in Las Vegas, Mike Elias can meet with agents to determine which free agents might be possible fits for the Orioles.
It has been years since the Orioles were considered a destination for top-tier free agents. Even during their last successful run, the Orioles avoided bidding on the biggest names and spent their most money on one of their own, Chris Davis.
It would be wild if the Orioles this offseason exceeded the Davis contract, which was a seven-year, $161 million deal, but if they’re going to bid on the biggest names, they’ll have to.
Under Dan Duquette, the Orioles waited until the later stages of the offseason, often until spring training was underway before signing pitchers Andrew Cashner, Alex Cobb, Yovani Gallardo and Ubaldo Jimenez and outfielder/designated hitter Nelson Cruz.
Elias’ strategy is unknown. The biggest name he signed in free agency in his first four seasons was starting pitcher Jordan Lyles, and the Orioles haven’t decided on whether to pick up his $11 million option for 2023. A decision on the 32-year-old right-hander is due by Thursday.
Surveying free-agent lists from two widely followed writers — The Athletic’s Jim Bowden, former general manager of the Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals, and The New York Post’s Jon Heyman — finds divergent opinions on free agents they think would benefit the Orioles.
Of Bowden’s top 25 free agents, he thinks eight are good fits. Bowden groups the Orioles with seven of his top 10 free agents: right-handed pitchers Jacob deGrom and Justin Verlander, shortstops Carlos Correa, Trea Turner and Xander Bogaerts, left-hander Carlos Ródon and Japanese right-hander Kodai Senga, whom he ranks 10th.
Bowden also thinks Zach Eflin, who spent the last seven years with the Philadelphia Phillies and ranks the 20th free agent, would fit nicely with the Orioles.
In each case, Bowden groups the Orioles with several other teams, often the big spenders. For Ródon, he names the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Angels, Cardinals, Braves, Blue Jays and Giants. His prediction is that Ródon will get a five-year, $144 million contract, which would approach the Davis deal signed in January 2016.
Bowden’s forecast on Eflin seems more palatable, a three-year, $36 million contract, and he sees the Phillies, Cardinals, Yankees, Mets, Twins, Rangers, Blue Jays and Dodgers in the running.
Under Elias, the Orioles haven’t been competitive bidders on free agents, and it will be interesting to see if that changes this offseason.
There was speculation last winter, which was never substantiated, that Correa, who was drafted first overall by Elias when he was Houston’s pick in 2012, and the Orioles had engaged in talks.
Bowden predicts that it would take a 10-year, $327 deal to sign Correa, who opted out of his contract with Minnesota. Turner could command an eight-year, $264 million deal, he thinks. A Bogaerts deal would be more affordable, seven years, $196 million.
Those names might excite Orioles fans, and even sports betting sites have joined in. SportsBetting.ag sets the odds for the Orioles as Correa’s next team as 8-1, the same as the Cardinals and Red Sox and trailing the Cubs (3-1), Twins (5-1), Giants (6-1) and Phillies (7-1).
It assigns 7-1 odds that the Orioles are the next team that another star shortstop, Dansby Swanson, plays for. The Orioles are also 7-1 for Turner’s next team and 10-1 as Bogaerts’.
SportsBetting.ag doesn’t have odds for the Orioles linking up with deGrom or Verlander but does have odds for each of the other 29 teams should Aaron Judge fail to re-up with the Yankees. The Orioles are 33-1.
As for Heyman, he ranks the top 30 free agents, using an outside expert for contract predictions. He doesn’t have the Orioles as likely contenders for any of the top 30.
Elias raised expectations with his post-trade deadline and end-of-season news conferences.
“I do continue to view this as an offseason where we’re going to have the flexibility to invest in the major league payroll in a different way than I have done since I’ve been here,” he said on October 5th.
It would appear he Orioles will be more active than they have been during Elias’ first four years, but many fans are expecting the team to spend more than it ever has on free agents. If they take the middle ground and bid on second-tier free agents, that might not satisfy fans who are expecting more after they improved their record by 31 games this past season.
Notes: Catcher Cam Gallagher declined an outright assignment to Triple-A Norfolk, making him a free agent, and catcher Anthony Bemboom accepted his outright assignment to Norfolk. The 40-man roster is at 34.
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