Two areas where the Orioles would like to improve are outfield defense and on-base percentage. One possible free agent fit who checks those two boxes, Jon Jay, was just scooped up by the Cubs. Jay signed a one-year, $8 million contract.
Let's unpack a few things here. First, it's hard to ignore the parallel with Dexter Fowler's re-signing last year. Fowler spurned the Orioles' contract offer and returned to the Cubs on a one-year deal for similar money. He also apparently preferred to play center field instead of a corner spot. Jay is likely to spend a large chunk of his time in center field for the Cubs, and perhaps he's looking to do what Fowler just did: post strong numbers on a winning team in an effort to cash in the following season.
Second, the Orioles were not clearly interested in Jay, though Roch Kubatko mentioned Jay as having been a "more realistic target" this morning. Which, well, of course. Jay has a career on-base percentage of .352, hits from the left side but is not a platoon bat (108 wRC+ vs. RHP and 100 wRC+ vs. LHP), and has the ability to play well enough in center field (1.9 UZR/150, -5 DRS) but can also play adequate defense in a corner outfield spot. His arm doesn't play as well in right field, but he still covers a lot of ground.
Plus, Jay was not going to command huge money. Jon Shepherd's BORAS model projected Jay to earn a deal around two years and $20 million, so it's hard not to be impressed with what the Cubs were able to do. Jay isn't a superstar; you don't sign superstars for one year and $8 million. But you do get someone who has the ability to post a two- or three-win season, if things break right. Replicating Fowler's 2016 season is almost certainly a pipe dream, but there's no risk here.
Maybe the Orioles never had a chance. Jay may have preferred the chance to play center field over anything else, and as much as some fans clamor for it, Adam Jones is not moving to a corner outfield spot yet. Jay surely received a couple of multiyear offers, but maybe they weren't to his liking. And hey, playing for the Cubs should be a lot of fun. They just won something called the World Series, which was kind of a big deal.
Regardless, there aren't a whole lot of worthwhile outfield upgrades out there that won't break the bank. Some options include Michael Saunders, Brandon Moss, Angel Pagan, Rajai Davis, Franklin Gutierrez, Matt Joyce, Michael Bourn, Carlos Gomez, Austin Jackson, and Peter Bourjos, but many of them are not capable of playing full time or don't present real defensive upgrades (though lots of players are better in right field than Mark Trumbo). Regardless, the O's may have missed a chance by not being more aggressive in their pursuit of Jay.