Now that the San Francisco Giants have sealed their second World Series title in three years – officially ending the 2012 baseball season – the focus shifts to next season.
And over the next week, we will begin seeing the Orioles’ direction in constructing their 2013 roster
The day after the end of the World Series begins a five-day window in which the Orioles can exclusively negotiate with their seven unrestricted free agents: Nate McLouth, Joe Saunders, Jim Thome, Randy Wolf, Endy Chavez, Nick Johnson and Bill Hall.
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The Orioles are likely to pursue McLouth, Saunders and Thome. They will hit the open market on Saturday if terms aren’t reached.
All three expressed interest in returning. McLouth blossomed into one of the team’s most important players down the stretch and throughout the postseason after taking over the leadoff spot for Nick Markakis. He would continue to be a nice fit with the uncertainty in left field.
Saunders proved to be a big-game postseason pitcher – he had a 1.59 ERA in two playoff starts – and has local ties having grown up in northern Virginia. Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette covets opportunities to secure pitching depth.
Thome, because he’s limited to DH duties, seems to be a less-likely fit, but he gave the Orioles some key hits in September and offers an intangible clubhouse presence.
A new rule forces teams to make free agents a qualifying offer – which is $13.3 million – in order to receive a compensation draft pick if the player signs with another team. Each of the three players the Orioles will likely pursue would be had for cheaper, but that won’t come into play regardless because none of the three spent the entire season with the team.
Today is also be the first day of a three-day window in which the Orioles must decide whether to exercise options on first baseman Mark Reynolds and right-handed reliever Luis Ayala.
The decision on Reynolds – and his $11 million option – might be the club’s toughest decision of the offseason. But since Reynolds still has one year of arbitration eligibility, the Orioles could buy out his 2013 option for $500,000 and keep him under team control for next season. However, since Reynolds made $7.5 million last season, he would likely make around $9 million in arbitration. They could also non-tender him and attempt to work a new deal with him.
On the other hand, Ayala’s $1 million option will likely be picked up after he made 66 appearances and had a 2.64 ERA last season.
The Orioles have until Wednesday evening to decide on those options.
Also, looking ahead, the Orioles could have as many as 15 arbitration eligible players if they buy out Reynolds’ option. They have until Nov. 30 to tender contracts to those players.