|Happy Pedro Alvarez|
What this means is that we missed the budget in our blueprint series. We had pegged it at 130 MM, an increase of 12 MM. Based on the club's behavior, that limit may be somewhere between 140 and 150 MM. Duquette has mentioned that 2016 may be a one-year blip in payroll with a lower one set for 2017, but we are talking about only Brian Matusz' (~3.4 MM), Matt Wieters' (15.8 MM), and Mark Trumbo's (~9.2 MM) coming off the board. That might well suggest that true budget for 2016 to be North of 130 MM, but not higher than 135, if over expenditures in 2016 are to be made up in 2017. It also sets a viable budget at 140MM, which was our projected high-end budget (that we promptly ignored for being too optimistic).
Anyway, the big lefty bats out there are Chris Davis, Alex Gordon, and the shining star of the offseason, Jason Heyward. This column is not about those players. You are likely well aware of those players. What this column is about is who exactly that second lefty bat will be. It certainly will not be an elite bat because that would mean the club's budget would need to go to about 160 MM. As much as people seem to think Peter Angelos is made of money, the dire truth is that he is actually part of one of the least wealthy ownership groups in baseball and has not been keen to lose money since the 1990s. The Ring-like MASN war chest may (1) not exist to the effect many fans think it is a solution to all that ails Baltimore, or (2) may be held up due to MASN's future being held up. Anyway, we will be focusing on the motley crew of left-handed batters out on the market.
Pedro Alvarez, DH
Alvarez was pegged to earn 9.1 MM through arbitration, but the Pirates non-tendered him after no other club was interested in plopping down that amount of cash for him. Why? Well, Alvarez still has amazing raw power, but his approach is somewhat easy to plan for. He is not a dynamic hitter. Additionally, his body has taken a remarkable step downward with athleticism over the past two years. Watching him "run" now, it is hard to believe how he was capable of that inside-the-park home run he legged out in 2013. Alvarez has no first step, no acceleration, and has flexibility issues.
All this means that Alvarez is a positionless, platoon player with a bat that disappears against elite competition. His defense was perhaps the worst display of first base play since the inception of UZR. In fact, it ranks fourth worst at -14.3, which scales up to -26.4 over a 150 games (which is only better than the brutality witnessed in 2008 as Mike Jacobs tried to play first base in Miami). I would also suggest that Alvarez' marks were kind because they were likely depressed by Pittsburgh's notorious shifts, so we should expect that Neil Walker (not a defensive wunderkind either) was shifted over far enough to help Alvarez collapse his ground. This plays out with UZR as Alvarez' range looks average with his major demerit being a horrific error rate.
This makes it difficult for the Orioles to take on Alvarez. He is a designated hitter, a limited one at that, and nothing more. Local beat talk about the Orioles seeing Alvarez as a successor for Davis is a bit silly because, again, Alvarez cannot play 1B. Additionally, with Mark Trumbo on the roster, if anyone else is playing first base, there is no room for both Alvarez and Trumbo. The club needs a player who has more flexibility.
David DeJesus, Corner OF
Dejesus is an interesting option. His career has largely been him leaning on solid on-base percentages and providing good, sometimes excellent, defensive value in corner outfield positions while being able to competently man center field in a pinch. As father time has strengthened his grasp, DeJesus has lost his ability to stand in center and his corner outfield play is unremarkably average. His value with the bat cratered in 2015, making some wonder if there is anything left for him moving forward. Batters who rely on smoke, mirrors, and on base percentage tend to find a rather immediate collapse.
Hidden in the data is this scary nugget. Twelve of DeJesus' 317 plate appearances were against left-handed batters. Twelve. Any hope is minimizing performance cost by protecting him against lefties is readily exposed with those numbers. The Rays also implemented the same strategy in 2014, over the past two seasons he has faced a southpaw only 21 times. When one considers that, it seems difficult to see him more as a minor league invite. It is also difficult to see how he could fit into the roster when all he brings is average defense at the corner outfield positions and a passing hope that he might be able to walk again.
Kelly Johnson, UTL (maybe DH only)
Kelly Johnson used to be a somewhat special player. A big bat, walking potential, and passable defense at second base. He has changed a bit as a player. Johnson hacks a bit more than he used to, so his walk rate has dropped. However, he still manages to get his bat on the ball and shows good wood against right-handed pitching. That bat is useful, particularly if you can protect him from the feeble contact he generates against southpaws.
That said, he shares something in common with Pedro Alvarez. Whatever ability there used to be to play the field, it is gone. Johnson has tried to play first base, second base, third base, left field, and right field. He looks poor to awful wherever he stands. The bat passes as a platoon DH, but Alvarez gets you a bit more. Johnson might be preferred though because he will likely be about a third to half the cost Alvarez is plus can play poorly at more positions than Alvarez can butcher.
David Murphy, Corner OF
David Murphy is the anti-Trumbo argument in that Murphy will cost less than Trumbo by several million while providing the same value in a league average bat. The value in that bat obviously comes from different sources. Trumbo prefers to put extra postage on the ball while Murphy works the gaps hard and manages to walk at a slightly, but certainly, better clip. Murphy also still provides a relatively competent quality of defensive play from the corner outfield positions. However, you can certainly argue that his plus range is average now and that decrease has contributed to expose his average arm to the extent that he is not a desirable choice to place in right field.
Murphy, like several of the older lefty bats I am discussing here, is another player who is existing on the fringe of an MLB contract and an MiL contract with Spring Training invite. Again though, it is important to note that a league average bat at 1B, LF, and DH in 2016 would equal the production of those three positions last year. League average bats are not a bad thing and if Murphy can be had on a minor league deal, that is a solid option to have.
Justin Morneau, 1B/DH
Morneau is an iffy choice because of his lingering concussions issues and the Rockies decision not to pick up his rather affordable option (a choice that seems more puzzling given the cost of decent offensive production this off season). However, last year's injuries cannot be ignored, nor his relatively decent performance at the end of the year when he returned. The bat still looks strong with good contact skills and still enough umph to land balls over the fence as well as the legs to still garner a few doubles.
Morneau lacks a defensive position though. His concussion issue means you want to try to reduce his exposure on the field and protect him. Combine that concern with the reality that his range has collapsed over the past several seasons. If it comes down to Morneau or Alvarez, a lean to Morneau would mean a lean to the potentially more precious bat than to the more dependable health. Again, both players reduce flexibility on the bench.
Will Venable, OF
Venable has been a commodity that the front office has been interested in for years. He put together a string of solid first division starting corner outfield seasons through age 30 and could even play a passable centerfield. The past two seasons have been particularly unkind to him though. His plus power disappeared and his average contact rate dropped. He does still have his speed and it plays on the basepaths. All in all, it is difficult to look at him and think he is a starting outfielder anymore, but it is likely someone will take a chance on his abilities.
The benefit to the Orioles is that Venable would help push Chris Davis, if signed, out of the outfield and to first base or designated hitter (wherever he and Trumbo fit best). If Davis is not signed, Venable is a potentially league average bat who can play either corner outfield slot as well as back up Adam Jones, which opens other options to add another left-handed hitter on the team. He is a cheap version of Gerardo Parra.
Matt Joyce, LF/DH
Matt Joyce is another player who one might expect to deliver a league average bat. The concern for him though is his absolute loss of value this past season. A supposed complication is that his issues with concussions were responsible for more than was expected. That said, concussion issues may be way too convenient a narrative to seek here to explain away his issues. If Joyce can return to where he was, then he is a solid on base threat with marginal power. The problem is that he really no longer has the range to play right and simply plays a passing left where range issues are less damaging.
John Jaso, DH
Jaso is another highly limited bat. He is a pure platoon designated hitter, though you might also be able to call him an emergency catcher. He hits right-handed pitching very well with a solid on base percentage and good gap to gap power. Jaso's bat should be special enough to earn him a two year deal somewhere in spite of his limitations. Just to emphasize, he cannot under any circumstance hit southpaws. He literally hits like a pitcher against them. That kind of player can make late inning matchups difficult.
At you can see, all of these players have issues. Some have injury concerns; others are aging. Some have value tied to their bats while others have value tied to their ability to play the field. Wherever the Orioles choose to go here, it will likely be impacted greatly by what happens with Chris Davis.