Much has been written in this space over the past few months about a slow-moving free-agent market, so without regurgitating the conspiracy theories about why so many players still remain unsigned less than three weeks before pitchers and catchers report to spring training for most teams, the Orioles enter an important part of their offseason this week.
It’s just three days until the team hosts its annual offseason event, and the focus is supposed to be on drumming up excitement about the season. But so far the Orioles’ offseason acquisitions have amounted to a minor trade for outfielder Jaycob Brugman and three Rule 5 draft picks last month. That likely won’t be enough to electrify the fan base for Saturday’s FanFest.
Fans will come. The autograph sessions are sold out. And the event has attracted announced crowds of 15,000 in four of the past five years. But attendance doesn’t necessarily correlate with contentment, and every year, some season-ticket holders grill executive vice president Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter, asking them why the Orioles haven’t done more.
This season, they’ve done less than in any of the past six offseasons under Duquette, and while some of that has to do with the fact that most teams have been inactive this offseason, the Orioles have more holes to fill than most, beginning with reworking a starting rotation that ranked last in ERA last year.
The Orioles don’t have to make a big move by Saturday. The team announced Miguel Tejada’s return at FanFest in 2010. But under the current regime, the biggest week-of-FanFest move has been the trade for outfielder Travis Snider before the 2015 season. That move didn’t work out well for the Orioles as Snider was released by mid-August.
Even if the Orioles do acquire a player by FanFest, it’s not likely to be a prominent one, because the club appears content to wait out the market the way most other teams are in an effort to get some bargains closer to spring training. They’ve done it before, but this offseason, everyone else is as well.
Still, there are bargains to be had, and this isn’t a situation in which other clubs don’t have offseason shopping to do, but if the Orioles were more proactive, they’d play more of a role in setting the market.
As of now, that title belongs to the San Francisco Giants, who followed two major trades — acquiring outfielder Andrew McCutchen and third baseman Evan Longoria — with a less-heralded signing of outfielder Austin Jackson.
Jackson received a two-year deal worth a base salary of $6 million ($3 million per year), which offers considerable value for a player that in 2017 finished with 1.9 wins above replacement — a measure of a player’s value to a team compared to average. He didn’t necessarily fit the Orioles, who are looking for a left-handed hitter to balance out a righty-heavy batting order, but can play all three outfield positions and would have been a defensive upgrade.
Having said that, to think the Orioles would have given an oft-injured player like Jackson a two-year commitment is probably a reach given how finicky they are when it comes to physicals. But it offers an example of a value signing.
The Giants seem to be the only team active right now, and whether it takes them out of the running for left-handed-hitting free-agent outfielders such as Jon Jay and Jarrod Dyson remains to be seen, but both veteran outfielders are fits for the Orioles and the team has shown interest in them.
Neither Jay nor Dyson would lower the heat on the team at FanFest. Only announcing an extension with third baseman Manny Machado (not happening) or second baseman Jonathan Schoop (likely not happening) would do that. But at the very least, it would be something the Orioles can use to show they’re being proactive in building for next season.