In an offseason full of questions, perhaps the most puzzling one is: Who will be the Orioles’ left fielder next season?
There’s an easy answer, Nate McLouth, but his price may be too high for the Orioles.
MLBTradeRumors.com predicted that McLouth would get a two-year, $10 million contract. The Orioles probably don’t think McLouth, who they paid $2 million last year on a one-year contract, is worth that much.
In 2010 and 2011, McLouth had worked his way up to a combined $12 million salary, but after his performance tanked, he was not much in demand. He signed with Pittsburgh two years ago, but after a .140 average was let go less than two months into the season.
His two months with Baltimore in 2012 were great, and the Orioles outbid Tampa Bay for him.
In 2013, McLouth batted .258 in 146 games, but after August 2 watched his average drop from .287. In August, he hit .194 and in September, .218.
He batted .272 against right-handers and just .209 against left-handers. McLouth is an aggressive hitter, batting .346 when swinging at the first pitch.
It seems that McLouth simply played too much because manager Buck Showalter didn’t have an alternative.
Nolan Reimold didn’t play in the season’s second half. A healthy Reimold could have done wonders for the Orioles and McLouth, and when Michael Morse joined the team, he didn’t hit. As it turned out, Morse’s wrist was hurt, too.
If the Orioles re-sign McLouth, that takes care of left field. They could bring back Reimold, perhaps at a reduced rate, and augment the position with some relatively cheap free agents.
Henry Urrutia is batting .409 in seven games in the Arizona Fall League, but he has no experience as a major league left fielder. There aren’t any other major league ready left fielders in the Orioles’ system.
They can bring back Chris Dickerson for some help. He like Urrutia is left-handed. Steve Pearce can come back, too, but he’s a fill-in player with a history of injuries. Jason Pridie got two starts in the last week, but made two errors. McLouth made just one error in 136 games.
Maybe the Orioles will try to convert someone who’s already in-house to a left fielder. Maybe they’ll try to sign some of those cheaper free agents.
MLBTradeRumors names 16 free agent left fielders including McLouth and Morse.
There’s Jason Kubel, who has interested the Orioles in the past. He made $7.5 million after a 30 home run season in Arizona, but he slumped badly, hitting a combined .216 with the Diamondbacks and Cleveland.
Jeff Baker is a right-handed utility player, who hit 11 home runs in 74 games for Texas last year. He had a .360 on-base percentage and a .905 OPS, but he’s a fill-in player.
Lots of other underwhelming names are on that list including Delmon Young, who the Orioles had no interest in last winter, Jason Bay, Reed Johnson, Austin Kearns, Darnell McDonald and Laynce Nix.
Raul Ibanez, who had 29 home runs for Seattle at 41 is also on the list as is David Murphy, another bad slumper, whose average dropped from .304 to .280 with Texas.
McLouth provides excellent defense, speed, and a good ability to get on base. Twenty-four of his 30 steals were in the season’s first half, but he was getting on base more frequently then. He also fits in nicely in their clubhouse.
The Orioles could sign a guy from the free agent list, trade for a left fielder or re-sign McLouth. It seems the safest course is another year or two with McLouth and get a right-handed hitter to platoon with him.