That left the Orioles with a couple of unappealing trade options: Jay Bruce and Carlos Gonzalez. There have been others mentioned here and there, but those were the names floated the most the past few weeks and months. Either of those players would have helped to some extent, but between what it would take to acquire and pay them, the O's decided to do something else. They added a left-handed bat, all right, but it's not someone you would confuse for an outfielder.
|Photo: Keith Allison|
If there's a category that Alvarez fits, it's left-handed power hitter. Over the past three seasons, Alvarez ranks 15th among qualified major leaguers in isolated power (.217). He sits comfortably between Nolan Arenado and Brandon Moss/Yoenis Cespedes.
Overall, Alvarez has a career wRC+ of 106, and last year he tied his career best of 114. That would have been good enough for third best on the O's last year, ahead of Jonathan Schoop's injury-shortened 112 and Adam Jones's 109. Alvarez also hits the ball hard. According to Baseball Savant's batted ball data for 2015, Alvarez's average exit velocity of 92.6 miles per hour was 24th best (among all players with 50 at-bats with data). Manny Machado was 27th; Chris Davis was 32nd. (In terms of max exit velocity in that same group, Mark Trumbo and Davis tied for fourth (117 mph); Schoop, Alvarez, and Machado were among the 14 players tied for sixth at 115 mph).
Anyway, Alvarez's on-base skills (career .309 OBP) weigh down his numbers a bit, so he's not amazing or anything. Still, his bat is certainly helpful.
But Alvarez has clear limitations. He's a bad defender -- he has rated poorly in Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating metrics at third base and last year at first base -- and is terrible against left-handed pitching (career 68 wRC+). Those are two chief reasons why the 29-year-old former second overall pick is still available at this stage of free agency, and on a one-year deal.
The positive is that Alvarez helps the Orioles on offense against right-handed pitching (career 118 wRC+), no matter how Buck Showalter decides to order his lineup. Unfortunately, the Orioles already traded for a designated hitter earlier in the offseason: Trumbo. Davis is a first baseman and a DH. Trumbo is a first baseman and a DH. Alvarez is a DH. Now Showalter's task is to make these pieces work.
The easy solution is: Alvarez should DH exclusively and only play against right-handed pitching. That means Trumbo will move to the outfield in many of those games (most likely right field, depending on the progression of Hyun Soo Kim). Against left-handed starters, Trumbo shifts to DH, Alvarez heads to the bench, and Nolan Reimold, or Joey Rickard, or Dariel Alvarez, or some other underwhelming right-handed outfielder fills in.
A corner outfield duo of Kim and Trumbo could be a train wreck defensively. Kim is a question mark, and Trumbo is an exclamation point at the end of the sentence, "You don't want him in the outfield." Some have suggested that Davis could play right field instead of Trumbo, and sure, he could. Others have even thrown out the terrifying possibility of a Trumbo/Jones/Davis outfield, which would surely give Showalter nightmares. But August Fagerstrom of FanGraphs covered that point well in the first link above: "Some have suggested Chris Davis might be the better option in right field, which could be true, but the bigger point is that when the better alternative is Chris Davis playing everyday in the outfield on purpose, you’ve got a problem on your hands."
The downside of this move is obvious because defense matters. But it's tough for fans to be too upset by this particular move. Flawed strategy or not, the O's went hard after both Yovani Gallardo and Fowler. The front office apparently thought they had Fowler. So did Adam Jones. So did everyone. You don't get bonus points for trying, but the O's were clearly in pursuit and close to a deal.
Now the Orioles are at least an outfielder short, but they'll try to make due. How? By hitting the ball out of the ballpark, playing strong infield defense, utilizing very good relief pitching, and outmaneuvering opposing managers. But they'll also have to win despite having arguably the worst rotation in the AL East, a bad defensive outfield, and a need for improved team speed and on-base skills.
That doesn't mean the Orioles can't win. It does mean they have flaws, and that they spent an awful lot of money to put together a very similar roster to last year's.
Stats via FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference, and Baseball Savant. Contract information via Cot's.