With the World Series ending early Monday, six Orioles are now free agents. The club has five days — until 11:59 p.m. Friday — to exclusively talk extensions before the players can begin negotiating with other teams.
Rarely do players sign during the exclusive period — since they are so close to testing the market and discovering what other teams think they are worth. Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette conceded this point recently, saying he expected all six to test the market.
Here's a six-part look — in alphabetical order — at each Oriole free agent's prospects along with a prediction of the likelihood of their return (one being the lowest chance, 10 the highest).
Name: Steve Pearce
Position: Right-handed-hitting infielder/outfielder
Born: April 13, 1983
2015 stats: .218 average, .289 on-base percentage, 15 homers in 92 games
2015 salary: $3.7 million
Qualifying offer possibility: None.
Prospects heading into free agency: Somewhat disappointing because of an uneven 2015 campaign. After giving the Orioles a huge lift in their 2014 playoff run, Pearce drifted through a nightmare for much of this past season. He battled injuries and ineffectiveness at the plate and never really got into a rhythm. He hit six homers in his final 22 games, which was encouraging, but he batted .198 during that span.
Why he'll stay an Oriole: After bouncing around for years, Pearce found a home with the Orioles and manager Buck Showalter. He's the ultimate Showalter player. He'll run through a wall, play any position needed and won't complain. He didn't blink when Showalter put him at second base this year despite having never played the position as a pro. And he handled it adequately, which likely increased his free-agent value some. If anything, Pearce's work ethic can be detrimental because he tries so hard that he often ends up pressing — and occasionally hurting himself. His wrist woes worsened in 2013 because of all the extra batting practice he took. In an open market, Pearce might be able to get more money from another team, but there's no guarantee they'd trust him and utilize him the way Showalter does. A solid offer should get a deal done, especially since Pearce could be valuable insurance at first base if Chris Davis leaves via free agency and Christian Walker and Trey Mancini aren't yet ready for a full-time gig.
Why he'll leave the Orioles: His numbers are replaceable and he's coming off a tough year. But Pearce has still hit 36 homers in 632 at-bats over his past two seasons, and there are scouts that love his gritty attitude and right-handed pop. Every time he has been released by one organization, another is there to give him a shot. So it wouldn't be surprising if some small-market teams that want to add power jump in and dangle a two-year deal worth more than what the Orioles would offer. For a guy who has bounced around as much as Pearce has, multi-year security has to be a major consideration. Although it is not a perfect comparison, designated hitter/first baseman Kendrys Morales was a year younger than Pearce last offseason when he secured a two-year deal (and an option) with the Kansas City Royals worth a guaranteed $17 million. Morales, a switch-hitter, has a more established track record, but had five fewer homers (in 337 more at-bats) and batted a few points lower than Pearce (.258 to .255) over his two seasons before heading into free agency. Morales was a risk last offseason and it paid off tremendously for the Royals; maybe another team sees the same in Pearce. It's what makes free agency so hard to predict.
Best landing spot: The Tampa Bay Rays sure seem like a match. Pearce has hit more homers (seven) at Tropicana Field than in any other ballpark besides Camden Yards. He grew up in Lakeland, Fla., an easy drive to St. Petersburg. And he definitely fits the Rays' free-agent profile: An under-the-radar player with defensive versatility and a team-first attitude.
Connolly's scale of return: 7