I received plenty of feedback on Twitter — and, you can imagine, most of it wasn’t positive — regarding my story that the Orioles did not make official offers to either outfielder Nate McLouth or right-hander Scott Feldman before both agreed to deals with other teams.
(McLouth has agreed with the Washington Nationals to a two-year deal guaranteed to pay him at least $10.75 million. It also includes a $6.5 million option for 2016. Feldman signed a three-year, $30 million deal with the Houston Astros.)
I've been asked whether I thought it was surprising that the Orioles didn't take at least a shot at McLouth and Feldman. The answer is: yes and no. First of all, the same thing happened with Mark Reynolds last year. The precedent was set;if the Orioles under executive vice president Dan Duquette decide to go in a different direction, they don't make token offers. There's something to be said for that.
I did, however, think they would make a run at Feldman early, before their exclusive negotiating period ended. The handwriting on the warehouse wall said the Orioles didn’t want to give the 30-year-old right-hander a three-year deal, but that he probably would be able to get that somewhere. The way to circumvent that was to give him an enticing, two-year deal as soon as they could — before the market set itself.
The Orioles didn't do that, and as soon as some of the free-agent pitching dominoes began to fall, it became a certainty that Feldman was going to get three years and be paid handsomely. So, at that point, no, it didn't surprise me that the Orioles didn't put something on the table.
As for McLouth, I got the sense early on that if the 32-year-old left fielder was looking for a two-year deal in the $10 million range, the Orioles were out. And that market was set quickly with outfielders such as Marlon Byrd, David DeJesus and David Murphy getting multiyear, eight-figure contracts.
I don't know whether the market drove McLouth's value beyond what the Orioles could pay, but it certainly passed what they wanted to pay. McLouth busted his butt for parts of two seasons for the Orioles and deserved to be considered for a multiyear deal. But it also would have been an insult to make a halfhearted offer. It's not that the Orioles didn't want Feldman or McLouth; it's that they didn't want to pay the asking price for them.
I'm OK with not attempting to re-sign Feldman or McLouth; they're not irreplaceable. But, as is the case with the Jim Johnson trade, the Orioles better have a plan in place that fills the holes created by those departures. The Orioles need another starter to help further stabilize the rotation. They need to find someone who can lock down games in the ninth inning. And they need a left fielder, preferably one who can get on base.
They should fill at least one of those spots with a legitimate free agent. It doesn't have to be a bank-breaker like Shin-Soo Choo (though that's how I would spend someone else's money), but it had better be someone who is an obvious upgrade. Bronson Arroyo or A.J. Burnett would be sufficient for me in the rotation, and Kendrys Morales would be a welcome addition at designated hitter.
Sure, Duquette can fill in some of the blanks with his bargain-basement guys. He has proved in the past, with players like Miguel Gonzalez and McLouth, that he can find some diamonds in the rough. But there has to be at least one guy who can be, without question, a significant contributor to a contender. And two of those would be great.
One last thing: Duquette is particularly excited about one of his recent finds: 25-year-old outfielder Francisco Peguero, who had been one of the San Francisco Giants' top prospects. He struggled some in limited major league action and dealt with a concussion last season, but he's a career .300 hitter in the minors and has the potential to be an above-average defensive outfielder. He can play center field, but has the arm to play in the corners. And he has shown speed and some pop in the minors.
"He's a multitalented outfielder. … I've never had a .300 hitter that's 25 years old, that's hit that way all the way up," Duquette said of Peguero, who had his physical Friday. "I'm interested to see how he does. … He'll be a candidate for our outfield. He's a good defender in center and has played right and left. … He had one of the best defensive arms in the Giants organization."
When I mentioned on Twitter Friday night that the current left field options for the Orioles included Peguero, Henry Urrutia, Steve Pearce and Nolan Reimold, the tweet was met with pure fury from some Orioles fans.
To be fair, Duquette said he is still looking for players to fill left field and designated hitter. And, despite the frenzied player movement throughout baseball this week, the winter meetings haven't even started yet, and spring training is two months away.
There is still plenty of time to improve. But, yes, there has to be some tangible examples of that improvement for it not to look like this team is taking a step — or several steps — backward.