As the free agent market gets off to its expected slow start, there are still two Orioles starting positions that have no clear incumbent.
The muddiest is second base. One of 2013’s second basemen, Alexi Casilla, is already gone. The Orioles declined his $3 million option for 2014, and he joins the free agent ranks.
Brian Roberts would like to remain with the Orioles, but it’s a matter of how much of a pay cut from the past four years’ $10 million, he’d take to stay.
If the 36-year-old Roberts stays, Jonathan Schoop could begin the year at Norfolk or Schoop could play second while Roberts fills in and is an occasional designated hitter.
Ryan Flaherty will be there, too. Flaherty may start the season at third base if Manny Machado’s recovery doesn’t allow him to be ready for Opening Day.
The surgery on Machado’s left knee may also give the Orioles added impetus to retain Roberts.
What if Roberts isn’t back?
The name that’s been floating around is another 36-year-old second baseman, Mark Ellis.
Ellis would be a clear stopgap solution. If the Orioles were convinced that Schoop isn't ready to start the season at second, they may try to sign another cheaper utility player instead.
But, Ellis would be a solid stopgap. Ellis has played 11 years in the majors for Oakland, Colorado, and for the last two seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Ellis batted .270 in 126 games with a .323 on-base percentage. Those are close to his lifetime averages. He doesn’t have much power. Last year, he had 13 doubles, six home runs and 48 RBIs.
That’s OK. The Orioles have lots of power and can afford one relatively powerless slot in the batting order.
Ellis’ lifetime fielding numbers are good. He has a .991 fielding percentage with six errors in 119 games at second.
Last year, he made $5.25 million, and the Dodgers paid him a $1 million buyout instead of a $5.75 option for 2014.
He may cost a little more than Roberts, but Ellis doesn’t have the injury history.
Besides Casilla, Ellis and Roberts, MLBTradeRumors.com lists 12 other free agent second baseman.
Don’t even think about Robinson Cano. There’s no chance the Orioles will get into the bidding for him.
MLBTradeRumors ranks Omar Infante as the second best second baseman on the market and the 18th best player overall. They predict Infante will return to Detroit for a three-year deal at $25 million.
They also say they think the Orioles will be in the mix for him. Infante will turn 32 next month and batted .318 for the Tigers with 10 home runs and 51 RBIs.
He’d probably make a nice addition to the Orioles, but if they gave him a two or three-year contract, would Infante be better than a 2015 version of Schoop?
Infante’s lifetime fielding percentage of .981 is well below Ellis’. He’s played 100 games in the outfield, and that may well be attractive to the Orioles, too.
Many of the others on their MLBTradeRumors list are obviously backups at this stage: Jamey Carroll, Alberto Gonzalez, Brendan Harris (who was in Orioles spring training in 2011), Ryan Roberts, Ramon Santiago and Josh Wilson.
It’s not inconceivable that they sign someone from this list later on if they want another utility player.
Tampa Bay’s Kelly Johnson was available all last winter, and they had no interest then.
An interesting name is Skip Schumaker, who plays both second and the outfield. Buck Showalter likes players who can multitask like Flaherty, and Schumaker has divided his time equally between second and the outfield.
Schumaker has no power, just 25 home runs in nine years, but he’s a lifetime .285 batter with a .344 on-base percentage. He was a popular Cardinal for eight years, and helped the Dodgers out this year.
Nick Punto was a teammate of Schumaker’s in Los Angeles this season, but at 36, he’s two years older and has less punch. He plays the second, short and third.
Robert Andino, who played lots of second base for the Orioles while Roberts was injured is on the available shortstops list. Andino was traded to Seattle for Trayvon Robinson a year ago. Robinson split his time between Norfolk and Bowie and was declared a minor league free agent on Monday.
Andino had an unhappy time in Seattle. After 29 games and a .184 average, he was sent outright to Tacoma, and then traded to Pittsburgh in late July. He was not brought up by the Pirates.
The Orioles considered bringing Andino back after he was designated for assignment by Seattle, but they decided against it. If he has no major league offers, it’s not absurd to think the Orioles would offer him a minor league contract.