There was obviously an awful lot of time spent the past two weeks discussing the Orioles' pursuit of free agent designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero. Now that the pursuit has ended with the club and the slugger agreeing to a one-year, $8 million pact last night, I think it is worth taking a look at several questions about the signing.
Why, all of a sudden, did the Orioles raise their offer from between $3 and $5 million to $8 million when no other suitor for Guerrero had publicly emerged?
This is probably the million dollar question – or should I say $4 million one? - and unfortunately, it's hard to answer, especially since officials involved in the negotiations won't comment until Guerrero passes his physical, making the deal official. This we do know: the Orioles had offered between $3 and $5 million and as late as a couple of days ago, they had no plans to up the ante because they feared that they were bidding against themselves. Obviously, they had a change of heart to present Guerrero with the contract that they did. Was it because they learned that there was, indeed, another team out there willing to pay Guerrero that kind of money? Was it a case of Guerrero's agents telling the club that it was going to take the Orioles no less than $8 million to land the player who was prepared to either sit out to see what develops or go to a contending team for less money? Or was it a matter of owner Peter Angelos listening to his restless and frustrated fan base, who have been calling for Guerrero for weeks, and deciding that the club had to get this guy no matter the price? I suspect we'll know more about this in the coming days, but what transpired yesterday represented a strong reversal from what the club had been saying all along about their plans in the Guerrero negotiations. It also goes against just about all of Andy MacPhail's tendencies since he took over as president of baseball operations.
How does the Guerrero acquisition affect the roster?
Luke Scott, the Orioles' DH and best hitter last season, will become the team's starting left fielder, leaving Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold in competition for the fourth outfield role. Pie is the favorite because he had a better year than Reimold in 2010, he's better defensively – and the fourth outfielder will probably be used a lot as a late-game defensive replacement for Scott – and he also is out of options. The club can send Reimold down to Triple-A Norfolk without losing him, so that would be the path of least resistance. It's unlikely that there is room for both on the big league roster. As things stand, the Orioles' four-man bench will include Pie/or Reimold, utility infielder Cesar Izturis and a backup catcher (either Craig Tatum or Jake Fox). That final bench spot will depend on whether manager Buck Showalter decides that he needs an extra outfielder or infielder. The candidates for that final spot include Fox, Randy Winn, Robert Andino, Nick Green and Brendan Harris.
Does this signing make a trade more likely?
While I've been given no indication that the Orioles are involved in any serious trade talks, they certainly are in position to move either Pie or Reimold. As of now, I expect the Orioles to hold onto them both at least through a good part of spring training. Pie and center fielder Adam Jones have had some injuries over the past couple of years. Scott's defense in left is also a question mark and Guerrero isn't getting any younger. The more outfield depth the better. However, if another team loses an outfielder in spring training or isn't happy with how its current group is performing, the Orioles would certainly listen on Pie and Reimold. Team officials would still love to add a proven veteran to the middle of their rotation and that piece just isn't available via free agency. Neither Pie or Reimold would be enough to get that type of starter, but perhaps if the Orioles included a young pitcher or two, another team would bite. I'm not saying this will happen so please don't misunderstand, but a situation where Scott starts in left, Reimold starts in Triple-A, Pie gets traded and Winn makes the club as a fourth outfielder wouldn't stun me.
How will the lineup look?
The meticulous planner that he is, Showalter almost certainly has had this figured out for weeks, though don't expect him to let us in on his plans just yet. My prediction is this: 1. Brian Roberts; 2. Nick Markakis; 3. Derrek Lee; 4. Vladimir Guerrero; 5. Luke Scott; 6. Mark Reynolds; 7. Adam Jones; 8. Matt Wieters; and 9. J.J. Hardy. However, I could see switching Jones and Reynolds, at least until Reynolds gets comfortable with his new team and in a new league. I also wouldn't dismiss batting Jones second, and then moving Markakis to third in front of Guerrero, Lee, Luke, Reynolds, Wieters and Hardy. Either way, if Roberts stays healthy – and he said again last night that he feels great and his workouts have been going real well - this lineup is drastically improved.
What will the Orioles' Opening Day payroll be?
I cannot provide an exact number, but I should at least, get you in the neighborhood. The Orioles still haven't settled with their two remaining arbitration players, Jeremy Guthrie and Luke Scott. A "significant" portion of Guerrero's contract is deferred, according to Ken Rosenthal at www.foxsports.com. And Justin Duchscherer's contract could be worth $700,000 or $4.5 million depending on his ability to stay healthy, make the Opening Day roster and achieve incentives. However, before the Duchscherer and Guerrero signings, the Orioles' payroll for 2011 was at about $82 million, representing a $10 million or so increase from last season's payroll. When you add Guerrero and Duchscherer into the mix, that leaves the payroll in the low $90s.
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