Orioles can expect company in waiting out free agent market come January

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

No reminder is required when it comes to how the Orioles typically sit out the big-ticket free agent market in November and December in lieu of making targeted signings in January and February.

Some of their best business, like Nelson Cruz, and their worst, like Yovani Gallardo, have occurred after the turn of the year, when prices go down and players get anxious to find a home.

The relative paucity of business done this offseason — absent the Marlins' teardown and the Shohei Ohtani posting — means the Orioles aren't the only team that will enter 2018 with work to do. They've been at the forefront of making late signings, but like everything else they've paced the league at lately — home runs and relief pitching, to name a few — there's now a lot more competition.

"They've been adept at doing that," former Rockies and Indians general manager Dan O'Dowd, now an MLB Network analyst, said last week. "Dan [Duquette] has been great at doing that, bottom-feeding the market and getting value at the end of the market. He'll probably do the same again this year, but there will be a lot of other clubs trying to do the same thing. I think there are 160 free agents still on the market. ... The reality is there will still be players floating around in February heading into camp."

Some of those who have come off the market, like Tyler Chatwood, Doug Fister, and Miles Mikolas, would have been ideal fits for the Orioles. Absent that, there are plenty of options for the Orioles to fill out their rotation and maybe add a bat or two, but on opposite ends of the price spectrum.

The likes of Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta, plus Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb, will command massive deals. The bottom of the market is full of reclamation projects and short-term deals, too, though the gulf in quality will be commensurate with the gulf in salary required.

One thing the Orioles have taken advantage of, however, is the qualifying offer. That's changed drastically this year, with penalties for signing free agents who have that attached to them far less for clubs overall — and especially so for smaller clubs like the Orioles.

Cruz, Gallardo, and Ubaldo Jiménez all were signed because the Orioles were the only team willing to give up a draft pick for their services. They also got to keep Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo in part because of the qualifying offer that they carried onto the market, too.

The new penalties for signing such free agents haven't had much time to influence the market, and many qualifying offer free agents are still on the market, but that could be owed to the general slow movement more than anything else.

It could be the case that free agency has simply changed to the point that no one is going to play in it the way they used to, and that could benefit a team like the Orioles trying to make one last run.

They've shown in the past that there's no deadline for building their team, and they will drag it into spring training if it means getting the right deal. That might be required this year in a market that not only the Orioles are waiting out.

jmeoli@baltsun.com

twitter.com/JonMeoli

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