Baltimore Orioles

Free-agent slugger market could open up for Orioles in new year

Before baseball went into a hiatus between Christmas and New Year's Day, the Cleveland Indians tightened their grip on the top spot in the American League by signing slugger Edwin Encarnacion to a deal worth as much as $85 million over four years.

Its context affects the Orioles in two ways — one looking backward, and the other forward. First, the future ramifications. Earlier this month, the consensus at the winter meetings was that everything would fall into place in the slugger market once Encarnacion signed. There wasn't much of a chance to have the market shake out during this hiatus, but that's not to say it can't start moving.


When it does move, it will do so in a direction the Orioles will probably like. Encarnacion's guaranteed money is three years and around $65 million, with good short-term value but not a long commitment in terms of years. That's the top of the hitter market, and everyone else will be slotted below Encarnacion. That means Mark Trumbo, Jose Bautista, Mike Napoli and Chris Carter have had a week to adjust their expectations to the value of their services.

All it takes is one team to give a slugger a contract that's above market value, but given how slowly everything went at the beginning of the offseason for these hitters, that's unlikely. And it's certainly unlikely it's the Orioles who make the first post-Encarnacion move for several reasons.


First, there are reports that Napoli is nearing a return to the Texas Rangers. Second, they already jumped the market to get catcher Welington Castillo. Third, they might not have the financial flexibility to make that big of a splash before the market suppresses prices further.

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That's where the Orioles can see Encarnacion's deal, look back and wonder how taking the top slugger off the market at above-market price last year looks now.

The Orioles are going to be in a financial bind for the considerable future after topping the market last offseason with a seven-year, $161 million contract for first baseman Chris Davis. He still has $17 million per year coming his way over the next six seasons, with deferred money coming to him after the deal expires.

Given the return this year, and the reality of having a volatile hitter on your books for six seasons, doubling down on another player who offers power and not much else can't be appealing to the Orioles at the moment. Lucky for them, there will be power available late in the offseason, as there's simply not enough teams for all of the best power hitters to find homes at this point. In addition to those listed above, there's former Oriole Pedro Alvarez, Brandon Moss and even Colby Rasmus out there as a power source at a corner outfield spot.

The Orioles broke through the top of the market to bring back Davis last year, but with plenty of money invested in returning players already, that's not likely to happen this year for someone like Trumbo.

They could use the Encarnacion signing to their advantage and bring in a player short term, essentially continuing the revolving slugger door that has seen Nelson Cruz come and go and could end the same way for Trumbo.