03 December 2014

The Orioles Can Replace Nelson Cruz With a Corner Infielder

With Nelson Cruz signing with the Mariners and the return of Nick Markakis reportedly becoming increasingly unlikely, the Orioles are rumored to be in the market for a corner outfielder such as Melky Cabrera or Matt Kemp, both of whom have been discussed here at Camden Depot. It makes perfect sense for the Orioles to target a corner outfielder, and any noteworthy move they make in terms of a position player is likely to involve one.

However, the Orioles aren't handcuffed to only addressing the loss of Cruz (and the potential loss of Markakis) by bringing in a corner outfielder. If the market for a corner outfielder doesn't make sense for the Orioles, they can sign a corner infielder and have Steve Pearce enter 2015 as part of the OF (Pearce is likely to get some OF playing time regardless, but more of his time will likely come at 1B/DH if the O's add to their OF). I've already written about why I think an outfield of Peace, Adam Jones, Alejandro De Aza, and David Lough would be serviceable.

So, here are three corner infielders the Orioles could pursue if the outfield market doesn't develop to their liking.

Photo by Keith Allison

Mark Reynolds

Yeah, I'm serious. Reynolds spent last season in Milwaukee, where he posted an (career worst) 87 wRC+ and 1.6 fWAR in 433 plate appearances. Steamer projects Reynolds at a 103 wRC+ and 0.8 fWAR for 2015.

Dave Cameron at Fangraphs predicts Reynolds to sign a 1-year, $4 million deal, and actually predicts the Orioles as the team that will sign him. $4 million for Reynolds is the exact kind of low-risk, value deal the Orioles have targeted during the Duquette era.

Reynolds could split time between 1B and DH with Chris Davis (and likely a Delmon Young-type signing). While his defense at 3B is cringe-worthy, his experience at the hot corner gives Buck Showalter the roster flexibility he covets in case something were to happen to Manny Machado.

Reynolds is the exact opposite of the OBP-type player Orioles fans have been clamoring for. However, another reason he may be appealing to the club is that they may look to move Chris Davis if the opportunity presents itself, which would eliminate the Reynolds-Davis strikeout duo problem. I have no knowledge of Dan Duquette trying to move Davis, but rumors of them pursuing Adam Lind before he was traded makes me think they are considering it.

Chase Headley

This might be a bit of a pipe dream, and would require some creativity, but hear me out. Headley is coming off a 2014 campaign in which he had a wRC+ of 103 and a 4.4 fWAR. His Steamer projections for 2015 are 112 wRC+ and a 3.9 fWAR.

The Orioles could bring in Headley with the intention of using him at 1B/3B/DH. He could play a lot of 1B, where he played played 54 innings for the Yankees last year. Headley could also be a more than adequate option to spell Manny Machado every so often, which might not be a bad idea given Machado's injury history. Speaking of the injuries, Headley would serve as tremendous insurance in case Machado were to have any more unfortunate luck with injuries.

Dave Cameron projects Headley at 4 years for $60 million. He will be 31 in May, so a potential gradual shift to full-time 1B over the course of a 4-year deal isn't a terrible idea. I've heard nothing about the Orioles pursuing Headley and would be shocked if they did, but he's a great option if the team and the player are willing to think a bit outside the box.

Michael Morse

Okay, so Morse is technically more of a corner OF, but the Orioles would probably be better served pushing Pearce to the OF and using Morse as 1B/DH were they to bring him aboard.

Morse had a tremendous bounce back campaign in 2014, posting a 133 wRC+. Morse's fWAR was just 1.0, thanks to him being 18 runs below average defensively. In 2015, Morse is projected to have a wRC+ of 112 and a fWAR of 0.5. If the Orioles are to bring Morse aboard, it should probably be with the intention of playing him in the field far less then Nelson Cruz did in 2014. Morse has a career UZR/150 of -19.2 as an OF. I'd much prefer Morse to spend much of his time at DH, with some time at 1B, where he has a career UZR/150 of -2.0.

Cameron projects Morse to land a 2-year deal for $20 million.

Headley is definitely the least likely of the three to sign with the Orioles. Reynolds is the least desirable, but also the cheapest. Morse is probably the most realistic, and would be a perfectly adequate replacement for Cruz. However, all three of these players are affordable and all give the Orioles options as they seek to replace the loss of Nelson Cruz.

All stats from Fangraphs


Eric said...

Great post and something not many people have thought of. Cruz was mostly a DH, so no need to replace him with an outfield exclusive player. If better players and options are mainly infielders, why not. Provides flexibility and like you guys have posted before, out outfielders on the roster right now aren't that bad. Headley would be great, but like you I doubt they go after him. And while this may be influenced by his tear in September 2012, Reynolds has a soft spot for someone who hits for power and isn't the worst fielding 1B ever (but maybe the worst 3B, at least today). Getting one of those to play some time at DH to fill in for Cruz and/or Young isn't a bad idea. Great job.

Pat Holden said...

Thanks, Eric.

Yeah, I think Morse would be the guy I'd prefer of these 3, and probably the most realistic, too. I really hope they'd limit his OF time more than they did Cruz's, though.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I don't see the Headley fit, but I guess anything is possible. Definitely see Morse as an option.

On Reynolds, I don't trust him defensively. If he's going to be a DH option, then it's worrisome that his wRC+ has dropped for four straight years. As a low-risk move, like you noted, it could work, but I wouldn't have much confidence in it.

Unknown said...

Don't see Headley as a fit either, but he does have almost 1700 innings in LF. Below average defender out there by advanced metrics though and the bat may not be your typical corner outfield profile, so his value could take a serious hit.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Forgot that Headley played that much left field. Way to go, Kevin Kouzmanoff.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that I could face another season of watching Mark Reynolds, the "K" machine. Good for a streak of about two weeks, and then the cooling breezes begin. I liked Morse when he was with the Nats, but he showed nothing when he was in Charm City. Chase Headley will be signed by the Evil Empire.

Erik said...

We want players that are a good fit for the next-man-up mentality. Who are willing to try to win the game when it comes to them, even if they are batting #8 or #9 that day. What are the reputations of these players as players? Are they tough season-long?

Michael R said...

We lost Markakis to the Braves. Nothing at all against him, but I'm not too sorry to see this happen.

My question is this: Where is the farm system in all this? I didn't write anything down, but during the 2nd half of the season, I saw some good numbers being reported. Instead of this millionaire and that millionaire, isn't there someone, young and hungry, that's ready to take his spot? Or am I being whimsical and foolish for thinking this way? (Go ahead and tell me. My team of psychiatrists tell me I can take it.)

Unknown said...

Orioles have some pitching in the upper minors that are ready (or at least close to ready) to help the big club (more than just Bundy). Not much in the way of positional players who could make a difference though. Alvarez and Urrutia probably max out as platoon/role players, not replacements for Markakis and/or Cruz.

Anonymous said...

People prefer not to believe this, but the Orioles have not had an exceptional minor league system in decades. Sometimes elite prospects are present but it is always shallow. They have pretty much ignored international markets.

Cal said...

Resign Delmon Young and replace Markakis/Cruz with Upton/De Aza. With Wieters, Machado, and Davis back that's a lot stronger lineup than what we had in the playoffs (better defensively too!)

Flaherty, Pearce, Paredes, Lough and Joseph as our backups and enough money to get a solid RP (Luke Gregorson, Tom Gorzelanny?)

Erik said...

Following up on Anonymous, the Yankees spent like $15M on international free agents (with penalties, to be $30M), and got 10 of the top 30. Better to do that than sign 1 guy for $10M a year for 3 years. At least try for a genuine future at some point.

Pat Holden said...

Yeah, I don't see Headley as a "fit" necessarily, either. But, I think there are worse moves they could make. That being said, I included more as a point that they could get creative rather than just replace the losses with another OF. I think there is probably a 0% chance they actually sign him.

Anonymous said...

Stanton is also a 0% chance. He would look nice out there.

Pat Holden said...

Great point, Anon. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I like the Reynolds idea. If you compare last year vs. Davis, 22/26 HRs 122/173 Ks, .287/.300 OBP, .681/.704 OPS. If Reynolds can be picked up for 4M there is nearly 6.5M to use elsewhere over Davis. I don't think Reynolds got enough credit for the work he did in upgrading his 1B play that last year and everyone should take a hard look at Flaherty's stats as a utility. Reynolds has been making a living with his swing flaw and doesn't appear inclined to address it. Davis had a pronounced "upswing" on the ball for most of the season and worked some of it out later on. The point is, although younger, if Davis plays forward like last year - the two are very comparable, with Reynolds being less expensive.

To this point in the Off Season, it almost appears to be the start of a fire-sale Red Sox fashion. Nelson & Nick gone. Talk about Chen & Duquette. The OS always makes us O's fans chew our fingernails wondering what's next. Now we have the guys in the dugout doing the same. Jones won't talk?? Wow!

I like our guys as much as anyone. If we could only keep that bench together. It didn't happen. We move on. If a sale Is in the making, you would think that it would start with the damaged goods before the serviceable.

As far as pitching goes, Chen
is our rock. If he goes, it should only be for a significant LHP upgrade.

I'm down to the quicks now...

Matt Kremnitzer said...

How do you figure there's a fire sale going on? Who have the Orioles traded away?

Good teams sometimes let decent but aging veterans leave. Hopefully the O's can find better ways to plug holes. They have money to spend. Let's see what they do before we get upset.