Baseball is a unique sport and there are a couple things that distinguish it from the other three (yes, I am counting hockey) major sports: the importance of individual stats and the acquiring of free agents and trades. In no other sport is there a day-long television show focusing on the trade deadline like there is in baseball. ESPN and many other websites have entire sections dedicated just to free agent and trade rumors and for some websites it’s the basis of their entire existence. In baseball you likely can build a World Series in December at the Winter Meetings, which is a far cry from how contenders are built in the NFL. Baseball free agency might be one of the most exciting things in sports.
Orioles fans, however, have not seen any excitement in the hot stove season as the team has not brought in that high-priced big-name free agent. We are too familiar with just often being used by players (Mark Teixeira) to drive the bidding up for that player to then sign for more money with another team. The main reason for this was that in the previous 14 offseasons the Orioles were coming off a dreadful season and were viewed as a place where successful careers went to die instead of thrive. This year look for it to be different. The O’s are coming off a magical season that ended with a near playoff series win that would have taken us to the ALCS. There is a renewed fervor for baseball and a GM who looks to be dedicated to keeping the team good for years.
The Orioles should be buyers this offseason but they also need to be smart and not just make a deal for the sake of making it. Here are some names I believe the Orioles should seriously consider acquiring:
Josh Hamilton, OF:
Can any Orioles fan remember a time where the Orioles had a feared hitter in the middle of their lineup? It’s been a while and Hamilton would give them precisely that. He is one of the best players in baseball and would turn the Orioles lineup from a really good one to the best in the American League.
Hamilton, however, comes with some major red flags. First, he will be 32 when the 2013 season starts so any lengthy contract will likely have him playing for a team into his late 30s. We have seen players thrive at that time in their career, but it is rare. Secondly, he is going to be seeking a huge contract in terms of dollars and years. Do the Orioles want to pay 150 million dollars over seven years? That may be what it will take to get Hamilton. Lastly, he is injury plagued on the field and has issues off the field. Hamilton’s off the field demons are no secret and it looks like he struggles conquering these by himself. If the O’s do acquire him they will need to put a support system in place for him. Is that something you really want for a guy you are spending huge money on?
Hamilton would turn the Orioles into a legitimate World Series contender especially if he can do something he hasn’t done in a long time – stay healthy. Putting him in left field and DH may help this. Personally I love when teams make the “big splash,” and this would certainly be that. Would I give him a deal for more than five years? No, but if he is willing to accept a deal for about -5 years and $90-100 million dollars the Orioles should definitely bring him in.
Justin Upton, OF:
The fact that this guy is on the trading block is a major shock and I don’t see why every other team isn’t on the phone with the Diamondbacks right now asking what it would take to get him. Unlike Hamilton, Upton is only 25 and is under contract until 2015. However, that deal only is worth $50 million dollars so it is definitely manageable. The Diamondbacks are willing to trade him but likely are seeing middle infield and/or starting pitching help. His power numbers pale in comparison to Josh Hamilton’s but he plays in a much less hitter friendly ball park, in a lineup with no protection, so a change of a scenery could be precisely what he needs to become the superstar that his talent suggests he should be. He was virtually a 20 HR/20 SB a year guy in Arizona who doesn’t strike out a lot and plays good defense. Just imagine what he would do in Camden Yards?
Jeff Keppinger, IF:
I know this isn’t a “sexy” name, but Keppinger would be the perfect stop gap at second base until Jonathan Schoop is ready. I hate to say it, but it’s time to part ways with Brian Roberts and I am not sure the O’s want another platoon situation at second. Keppinger is a good fielder and he hit .325 with nine homers in just 115 games with the Rays last season. By no means would I make Keppinger the long-term solution but be would provide stability at a position the Orioles haven’t stability at in a LONG time.
Nick Swisher, OF:
I know he is a cocky and every O’s fan despised him when he was on the Yankees but Nick Swisher is a hell of a player. He has above average power and a high OBP, which would be a major asset to any lineup. His major question mark offensively is was his power numbers were due to the dimensions at Yankee Stadium? I believe he can put up good offensive numbers anywhere and he will prove that wherever he goes. I won’t even talk about his fielding because I don’t want anyone reading this to start feeling sick. I will just say that Nick Swisher’s bat would be a solid piece in the Orioles lineup and is worth looking into.
I know this is very broad but there is a ton of starting pitching available that should definitely interest the Orioles and something they should focus on. I believe the reason the O’s lost to the Yankees was because they did not have that “ace” like the Yankees have in C.C Sabathia. They need someone to hand the ball to when they absolutely need a win. Hammel and Chen were really good but neither are that rock solid ace that opposing hitters fear every time they face them.
With James Shields looking like he will be staying in Tampa, Zack Greinke is the only ace out there, but there are several above average pitchers who would bolster the rotation. Greinke will demand high dollars and come with a lot baggage but when he is on, he is one of the best pitchers in the game. The Orioles should look hard at bringing him in but if they can’t get him guys like Annibal Sanchez, Edwin Jackson and Dan Haren would also make the O’s rotation better.
Who knows what, if any, moves the O’s will make, but it will be fun speculating. For once there is excitement surrounding the Orioles this offseason and to me that’s all that anyone can ask for.
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