With Melvin Mora’s time in Baltimore over, the O’s have a spot open at third-base next year. Despite his impressive showing in the AFL thus far, top prospect Josh Bell probably needs at least part of another season in the minors before he’s ready. With Ty Wigginton being an atrocious fielder at the hot corner (-16 UZR/150 at third for his career, -21 UZR/150 in ’09), the Orioles will likely need to hit the free agent market if they want any decent production at the position. They probably won’t want to spend much money (given that they’re unlikely to be competitive) or commit too many years (with Bell on the way), but there are a few options still available.
Here’s the list, courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors (2010 age and 2009 WAR in parentheses, Type A/B free agent also specified):
Rich Aurilia (38, -0.5)
Brian Barden (29, 0.4)
Adrian Beltre (31, 2.3) – Type B
Wilson Betemit (28, -0.7)
Aaron Boone (37, -0.3)
Craig Counsell (39, 2.8)
Joe Crede (32, 1.8)
Bobby Crosby (30, -0.7)
Mark DeRosa (35, 1.6) – Type B
Pedro Feliz (35, 1.2) – $5MM club option with a $500K buyout
Chone Figgins (32, 5.9) – Type B
Nomar Garciaparra (36, -0.4)
Troy Glaus (33, -0.2) – Type B
Adam Kennedy (34, 1.8)
Mike Lamb (34, -1.3)
Mark Loretta (38, -0.2)
Melvin Mora (38, 0.9) – Type B
Pablo Ozuna (35, -0.6)
Robb Quinlan (33, -0.9)
Miguel Tejada (36, 2.6) – Type A
Juan Uribe (31, 2.9)
Of those guys, the only ones I have any interesting in are Beltre, Counsell, Crede, Glaus, and maybe Tejada.
Adrian Beltre missed some time this year and his walk rate went down, but he still played his usual excellent defense (14.7 UZR/150) and so was still a valuable player. For his career he’s a .270/.325/.453 hitter, and that would be about what we could expect out of him if he played in Camden Yards (moving away from Safeco should help him). He has expressed interest in staying on the West Coast and playing for a contender, but if the O’s offered him a 2 year, $18 M deal I think that might sway. Such a deal would probably be the upper bound of what would be reasonable, so if they could somehow get him on a one year deal at less than $10 M I would be pretty happy. [Edit: In retrospect, Beltre's probably closer to a 3 WAR player and so 2/$27 would be a fair offer. And he might go 3-4 years in that case as well. Looks like he's probably not an option.]
Craig Counsell can’t hit much, but he does a nice job of getting on base: .258/.345/.350 line for his career. He also plays above-average defense, posting an UZR.150 of around +4 the last couple years at third and a +16.9 for his career. Considering he only made $1 M this year and hasn’t been above even $3 M since 2004, Counsell should be a nice bargain next year for whoever signs him. He’s actually not too dissimilar from Cesar Izturis in that way, and he would make a fine utility infielder if Bell gets called up mid-year.
Joe Crede is kind of a poor-man’s Beltre, hitting for some power (.254/.304/.444 career) and playing good defense (+9.8 UZR/150 career). He signed with the Twins for just $2.5 M before the season – largely due to injury concerns – and did play in only 90 games after appearing in 97 in ’08. If he’d come at less than $5 M, then that would be a solid move. If he misses some time then you just fill in with Wiggy until Bell is ready (which I guess is the default plan right now) – and he’d still likely be worth his salary – and if he recovers from his back surgery well and is actually healthy then the O’s get a bargain that they can maybe use as a chip at the trade deadline.
Troy Glaus missed pretty much the entire 2009 season injuries, so I wouldn’t be too confident in him returning to form offensively in 2010. He did hit .270/.372/.483 last year with 27 home runs, and had a +5 UZR/150 at third, so the last time he was on the field for any length of time he was a good player. Glaus knows how to take a walk (13.7% BB rate for his career),which is a definite plus, and he would provide some right-handed power in the middle of the O’s line-up. Even if he comes back only as above average batter – say, a .350 wOBA as opposed to his career .367 – and plays below average defense (-5 UZR/150), then Glaus should still be worth around $10 M in not even a full season of playing time. He might be one of the bigger bargains on this list (maybe signing for as little as $5 M), and he’d only require a one year deal.
If Miguel Tejada wasn’t a Type A free agent then I would be much more enthusiastic about signing him. Miggy hit .313/.340/.455 this year, and his UZR/150 the last three years (-8.3, +9.4, -8.4) indicate that he’s probably a below average defensive shortstop but not terrible. Move him over to third and he’s likely a plus defender. If Tejada is willing to come back to Baltimore and take a discount – something like 2 years, $12 M – then it would be really nice to see him back in an Orioles uniform.
I know those options aren’t going to turn the O’s into contenders, but they would all be improvements. MLB Trade Rumors also speculated on some potential non-tender candidates.
Garrett Atkins isn’t a particularly good defender (-4.9 UZR/150 career) and his offense has been sloping downward heavily in recent years: wOBA has gone from .410 to .368 to .337 to .291. I’d take a flier on him for a million bucks, but that’s about it.
Kelly Johnson is a second-baseman, but he could presumably be shifted to third. He had a down year in ’09 (.224/.303/.389) and lost his job, but is a .264/.346/.430 career hitter. He’s not a great fielder, but if he was available for $2-3 M I’d be more than fine with that. That he’ll only be 28 years old next season is also a plus.
Former top prospect Andy Marte might be worth an invite to Spring Training. Otherwise, the pickings are pretty slim.
The O’s could also go the trade route, but I don’t have any ideas about that off the top of my head. I have a good deal of faith that whatever move Andy MacPhail makes will be a good one.