Examining the free agent outfielders who could upgrade the Orioles defensively

Orioles outfielder Chris Davis talks about the team bringing back slugger Mark Trumbo and improve the defense. “We don’t need more offense,” Jones said. “I think we need to improve the outfield defense. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)

Now that all invested parties — from management to his teammates to fans — have had the time to process Orioles center fielder Adam Jones' call for better outfield defense and athleticism at the corner spots, here comes the hard part.

While there are loads of veteran free agents still on the market with spring training less than two week away, just how many options do the Orioles have that can fit this mold for them in 2017? And given their roster construction, how many make sense for them?


If they're looking for someone to do anything other than come off the bench, the Orioles probably need a right-handed bat (or someone who can hit lefties generally well), with Seth Smith and Hyun Soo Kim already holding down the outfield spots against right-handers.

However, the primary concern is defense. While we went through the list of available defensive outfield candidates in December at the Winter Meetings, that list has changed a lot in two months.


Using FanGraph's defensive metrics, here are the players who best fit what Jones and the Orioles need to round out the roster.

Sam Fuld

The case for: Among players who have played more than 1,500 innings in the last three seasons, Fuld is one of the best defensive outfielders on the market. The statistic ultimate zone rating per 150 innings (UZR/150), which measures a fielder's values based on the batted balls he does or not convert into outs and then assigns run values to each, has Fuld eighth on that criteria list with a 16.8 UZR/150. Most of that production came in 2014 and 2015, as he missed 2016 with a shoulder injury. Additionally, he plays all three outfield positions.

The case against: As with most of these players, the drawback is the bat, or lack thereof. Fuld is a career .227 hitter with a lifetime .632 OPS, and though he's a left-handed hitter who hits arm-side pitching better than opposite side (.231 vs. .226), it's still not very enticing. For a straight-up defensive replacement, the way Drew Stubbs was last year, that's fine, but the Orioles could argue they need more.

Chris Coghlan

The case for: Another strong defender and an important cog on the 2016 World Series champion Chicago Cubs, Coghlan is looking for work and fits Jones' bill. The 2004 NL Rookie of the Year does more than play outfield, but for this purpose he can play either corner spot and has a 7.3 UZR/150 since 2014. To show how these stats don't always match up, he has a minus-9 defensive runs saved (DRS) rating, but he can still cover ground.

The case against: Like Fuld, Coghlan's biggest knock is that he's a left-handed hitter. The Orioles have said they want one for lineup balance purposes, but Mark Trumbo's return and presence as a right-on-right killer makes that moot. Coghlan wasn't really hitting with Oakland early in the year, but when he returned to the Cubs, he posted a .779 OPS down the stretch. He's a much better hitter against righties (.268) than lefties (.226), which doesn't help his cause here.

Will Venable

The case for: The 34-year-old Venable spent most of last season in Triple-A in the Dodgers and Phillies organizations, but had a matching UZR/150 and DRS over the last three seasons: 5.0. He last played center field extensively in 2015 with the San Diego Padres, but has major league experience at all three positions.

The case against: That there was no major league job for him last year, and he had one hit in 19 at-bats when the Dodgers did call him up isn't a ringing endorsement of where the game sees Venable. And like the rest, he's a left-handed bat who is better against righties. If that's what they're going for, he's probably not the best option.

Desmond Jennings

The case for: If the Orioles want to bet on a player who once appeared to be a star in the making and hope he can regain that form, Jennings could be an interesting candidate. He didn't fill in well for star gloveman Kevin Kiermaier last year in Tampa Bay, but has shown decent range over the last three years with a 1.4 UZR/150 and 13 defensive runs saved. Left field works best for him defensively at this point.


He also, unlike the rest, is a right-handed bat. He didn't hit lefties well last season, but is a career .264 hitter against lefties, up nearly 20 points from his .245 career average overall.

The case against: Released by the Rays late last year, Jennings has fallen a long way from those early years. Injuries kind of derailed him, and there might still be some pop in the bat. He was getting expensive, but his health and the fact that the Rays straight-up released him could give pause.

Also in consideration: There's really no perfect solution, but these players on the downside of their career are less perfect than those listed above: Michael Bourn, Coco Crisp, Angel Pagan.

Jones has a point, but it's pretty late in the game to make a substantial upgrade, especially considering how defense is valued these days. The Orioles might get a piece that helps, but the list of candidates isn't a long one.

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