The 2012 Baltimore Orioles were composed of players from a wide variety of backgrounds and successes. One of the more interesting cases on the team was Nate McLouth. Nate seemed destined for success a few years back as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates, a hard-nosed young player on a team struggling to build an identity, Nate was quickly anointed a fan-favorite after a break out season in 2008 which gave the fan base a real glimmer of hope.
After filling a 4th OF type role with the team in 2006 and 2007, McLouth was promoted to starting CF in 2008, mostly because the Pirates have constantly traded away players that developed some kind of trade value in hopes of bringing multiple players back in return to build a team for the future. Nate responded to this opportunity by hitting .276/.356/.497 while stealing 23 bases, playing gold glove defense, and drawing 65 walks. This was an amazing season which had McLouth labeled as a star in the making at 26 years old. Pittsburgh responded by signing him to a three year contract extension at a team friendly value of $15.75m, which is a steal for the kind of production he provided in 2008. The team then further rewarded him by continuing their "major league farm team" ways and traded him to the Atlanta Braves the following season for a package including Charlie Morton and Gorkys Hernandez, two of Atlanta's top 10 prospects.
The trade seemed to hurt McLouth personally as he really enjoyed the city and team in PIT and was blindsided after just agreeing to an extension with the team. That was followed by two injury plagued seasons in which he sustained a concussion in a collision with Jason Heyward in the OF, an oblique injury that led to a DL stint, and a sports hernia that robbed him of more than half a season of baseball. The Braves then declined his option making him a free agent, so he tried to go back home again and signed a 1-year deal with PIT. The reunion wasn't the same however as the team and environment was far different than when he left and he never seemed to get comfortable in his second go around with the team. After he was DFA'd by the Pirates, the Orioles signed him to a minor league deal and sent him to AAA, later recalling him in August, aligning the call up of Machado, these two moves drastically altered the team and gave them the push they needed to get to the playoffs.
Third base and left field were black holes for the Orioles for the first part of the 2012 season, with errors and lack of production haunting the team after Mark Reynolds/Wilson Betemit were ineffective at 3rd and Nolan Reimold went down for the season after a promising start in LF. As Machado solidified 3rd base and improved the defense in the infield, McLouth had the same effect on the OF. Seemingly comfortable playing in Baltimore, as showed by his slash line in Camden Yards of .314/.395/.505, Nate responded to the challenge, adding great defense and much needed speed to the lineup, filling two of the major holes this team just couldn't seem to overcome in 2012. After Nick Markakis ascended to the lead-off role and excelled, this team looked to have finally solved one of the missing pieces of the playoff puzzle, then down the stretch against the Yankees, he had a bone broken in his hand and was out for the season, placing doubt on the team's chances again. McLouth was inserted into the leadoff role and responded with a .797 OPS with 6 steals and 5 home runs in that period, helping to fill the gap Markakis left and helping the Orioles to secure the playoff bid down the stretch.
For his career, Nate has hit RHP to a tune of a .793 OPS and LHP to a .649 OPS which opens the door for a 4th OF to get some at-bats, and on a team that also features all the potential that lies in Reimold, who just can't stay healthy, finding a place to get him some at bats could be key. With Markakis back in 2013 in RF and leading off, Jones entrenched in CF, and McLouth showing not only that he can provide great defense in LF, but can play all 3 OF positions if someone needs a day off, he increases his appeal.
The naysayers will point to his stint in Atlanta and the small sample size of success he had in Baltimore, however, his entire stay in Atlanta was marred by nagging injuries that made it impossible to really get his feet wet there playing in only 250 games out of about 410 possible. That all-star player potential is still in there somewhere, and his time in BAL showed that. Nate said in an interview with Dan Connolly that he really liked Baltimore and felt comfortable here, his numbers sure seem to show that, and with a hole in left field, the team will be hard pressed to find speed, defense, offense, flexibility and a desire to play in Baltimore that is also cost effective as Nate should be. You may see a few other teams willing to take a gamble on Nate being back and try to jump in the bidding, but there is a mutual interest from both parties, and for the first time in a long time, we can say that Baltimore offers the chance to play for a contender.
For a team that has all the potential in the world in Reimold, but can't rely on him to be healthy, Nate would be a great compliment considering the tools that he brings to the team. Having three former gold glove winners in your outfield is a great way to build a championship team, especially when you balance speed, defense and power like few teams can boast, and the team-friendly contract that comes with McLouth would allow us to keep the prospects we have in case we need them to make another deal, and keeps our payroll flexible in case the opportunity arises to add to secure extensions with our young core, or to add a marquis player to the team later.