The Orioles open the New Year in the same place they were when 2014 ended, searching for outfield help.
As we reported earlier this week, the team's focus is now on free-agent outfielder Colby Rasmus. Orioles manager Buck Showalter is slated to meet with Rasmus in the next few days at Rasmus' home in Phenix City, Ala.
The Orioles have done their homework on Rasmus, receiving mixed reviews on a player who doesn't own a sparkling clubhouse reputation. But Showalter wants to see if Rasmus passes his own eye test before judging the 28-year-old former first-round draft pick.
Like I mentioned earlier this week, this doesn't mean the Orioles are close on a deal with Rasmus, but they are serious about signing him. They know the outfield free-agent market is depleted, and Rasmus is the best outfielder currently available. They don't want to miss out if Showalter is sold that Rasmus could be a key addition on a one-year deal.
But like his pre-signing discussions with Nelson Cruz and Delmon Young, Showalter must first have peace of mind that Rasmus will cause more help than harm inside his clubhouse.
If Rasmus isn't a fit, the Orioles will continue their search for outfield help elsewhere:
**What about a familiar name who was a crowd favorite in Baltimore? Could there be a reunion with former Orioles outfielder Nate McLouth?
In some ways it makes sense. McLouth played well in Baltimore and his hustle made him popular with fans. The Orioles were interested in retaining McLouth before the 2014 season, but he signed a two-year, $10.75-million deal with the Nationals.
But McLouth struggled in a part-time role in Washington, hitting just .173/.280/.237 in 162 plate appearances before his season ended prematurely to shoulder surgery in August. McLouth is owed $5 million next season and has a $6.5-million club option for 2016 with a $750,000 buyout.
During the 2012 season, the August additions of McLouth and third baseman Manny Machado from the minors sparked the Orioles, helping propel them to the playoffs. McLouth thrived in an everyday role, hitting .268/.342/.435 with seven homers and 18 RBIs in 236 plate appearances with the Orioles in 2012 and was the team's best hitter in the postseason that year.
The Orioles could use an outfield bat who could bat leadoff, right?
But I was told by one club source that the team currently sees more promise in outfielder David Lough, who was sold as a McLouth clone when the Orioles acquired him last season from Kansas City in exchange for Danny Valencia.
Lough hit just .247/.309/.385 with four homers and 16 RBIs in 197 plate appearances. Lough's speed was an incredible asset, but he made some ugly base-running miscues during the season.
He did show some promise in the second half of the season, hitting .351/.387/.544 in the second half of the season, albeit in a small sample size (He made just 15 starts after the all-star break).
Lough, who turned 29 this month, is younger than the 33-year-old McLouth. He's also much cheaper since he's not yet arbitration eligible. McLouth is coming off shoulder surgery and his struggles at the plate really date back to the second half of his 2013 season, when McLouth hit just .205 in his final two months with the Orioles.
So while the Orioles don't see trading for McLouth as an option now, maybe that changes if the O's can't fill their outfield holes and the Nationals are looking to move a piece from their crowded outfield mix down the road.
**A report out of Nicaragua said the Orioles are interested in Nicaraguan center fielder Arnol Rizo, but no deal is imminent with the 23-year-old, according to a club source.
The Orioles do plan on scouting Nicaragua next week and are likely to get a closer look at Rizo.
Only a few players have come out of Nicaragua, the most prominent being 245-game winner and former Orioles right-hander Dennis Martinez. More recently, Nicaraguan shortstop Everth Cabrera became a All-Star with the San Diego Padres in 2013.
Rizo reportedly arrived on the Orioles' radar in November with a strong performance in the inaugural World Baseball Softball Confederation U21 World Cup in Taiwan. He currently plays professionally in Nicaragua, reportedly setting league records in runs (110) and walks (85) last season. If he eventually does sign with the Orioles, he'd likely still need some minor league seasoning, much like Cuban outfielders Henry Urrutia and Dariel Alvarez before him.
The Orioles haven't recently signed a player out of Nicaragua -- the O's signed Martinez out of high school back in 1973 -- but see the country as a growing baseball nation as the organization continues to focus on combing the globe for international talent.