While most of you were watching football, Dan Duquette was talking about preparing for free agency.
In an interview with former Nationals general manager Jim Bowden on Sirius/SM radio, Duquette intimated that he wasn’t planning on bidding aggressively on Zack Grienke or Josh Hamilton.
That’s not a big surprise.
He did talk about a decision he needs to make by the end of this week. Friday is the deadline for teams to tender players contract offers. While the Orioles have a number of players they could non-tender, the most important is Mark Reynolds.
Earlier this month, the Orioles declined to pick up Reynolds’ $11 million option for 2013. Duquette said he liked Reynolds as a player, but not his contract.
Reynolds said he wasn’t surprised the Orioles passed on him at that price, but the wanted to come back.
On Sunday, Duquette said that bringing Reynolds back “will help our ballclub.” He added: “If we don’t bring back Mark Reynolds, I know we have some people in-house that are very capable of doing the job.”
Reynolds had a horrible start at third base, moved to first on May 10 and played no other position the rest of the season. In 2011, his first year with the Orioles, Reynolds struggled in his first months in the American League, His third base play was atrocious and led the majors in errors. He also hit 37 home runs.
After Chris Davis was acquired, he occasionally played third base and Reynolds played first. The Orioles played somewhat better with Reynolds at first, but he convinced manager Buck Showalter things would be different next time.
Things were different. They were worse.
Reynolds made six errors in 15 games at third base before the move to first. After a late May stint on the disabled list for an oblique strain, Reynolds hitting wasn’t very strong, and it took until August for him to break out.
His play at first base was shaky, but in the last two months of the season, he sparkled there. Reynolds committed five errors in 44 games at first base in 2011. He made the same number in 108 games last year, and most of them were early in the season.
As for Duquette’s in-house candidates, the most obvious is Davis.
He hit a team-high 33 home runs, most as a designated hitter. Davis played first base in 38 games, just once after July 23. Manager Buck Showalter played Davis in the outfield, which he’d never done before in the majors, but continued to insist he would be a capable first baseman.
Using Davis as the team’s primary first baseman would also create a hole at designated hitter. Even though Showalter has said he doesn’t like to have a player who’s primarily a DH, Davis worked out well there, and there hasn’t been any talk about bringing Jim Thome back.
Wilson Betemit remains under contract, though the team doesn’t seem to have a spot for him. Last season, he played 15 games at first, making one error. Betemit has played just 80 games at first base in his 10-year major league career, and the 15 he played for the Orioles were the most he’d played in a season since 2008.
Ryan Flaherty, Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters have played first base briefly, but aren’t going to play there regularly. Nolan Reimold hasn’t played first base in the major leagues at all, but has at Norfolk. It’s unlikely that they’d trust first base to an injury-prone 29-year-old who’s yet to play a full season with them.
The Orioles do have another first baseman on their 40-man roster, Joe Mahoney. “Big Irish” played two games for the Orioles last season, but unlike many of his minor league counterparts, wasn’t called up in September.
Mahoney’s spot on the 40-man could be in jeopardy, too.
The best of the first basemen on the free agent list is Adam LaRoche, who nearly signed with the Orioles two years ago. He wanted a longer commitment than one year, so the Orioles went with Derrek Lee.
LaRoche’s preference is to return to Washington, but he’s open to looking around. He could be an improvement over Reynolds, but he’s four years older and would probably cost more.
Jeff Keppinger, Casey Kotchman, James Loney, Carlos Pena and Kevin Youkilis are all older than Reynolds and less attractive. Some of them would be cheaper, but would they be better? Nick Swisher is three years older and far too expensive.
The betting is that Reynolds will be offered a contract by Friday. The parties will go to arbitration in February and settle on a two-year deal to prevent this from happening a year from now when Reynolds will be an unrestricted free agent.