Amid the wildly flowing dollars and multiyear commitments that exist every offseason during free agency, the Orioles aren’t afraid of signing players to a one-year deal.
They’ve done it before and reaped tremendous benefits of a make-good, single-season pact. When Nelson Cruz went unsigned into the early weeks of spring training as teams were scared off by his connection to BioGenesis and him being tied to draft pick compensation, the Orioles swooped in with a team-friendly one-year, $8 million deal.
It might have been the best signing in Dan Duquette’s four years at Orioles executive vice president. Cruz led the majors with 40 home runs, was the club’s Most Valuable Player and played a major role in the Orioles’ first division championship in 17 years.
This offseason, the Orioles made the calculated decision to make a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer to catcher Matt Wieters, realizing that Wieters would benefit from testing the free-agent market again next year after going into 2016 with the prospect of playing his first full season since Tommy John surgery in June 2014.
Players have a lot to prove as they head to free agency. They are highly motivated.
The bounce-back contract might not fit some teams, but it fits the Orioles well. Such deals offer the possibility of a low-risk, high-upside reward. They can get the production without the commitment.
It’s why the Orioles are interested in former Pittsburgh Pirates slugger Pedro Alvarez, a left-handed-hitting infielder who projects well at Camden Yards. Alvarez, who was nontendered by Pittsburgh last month, could sign a one-year deal, hit a bunch of homers in Baltimore and increase his market value as he hits free agency next year.
It’s why the Orioles have a recurring interest in veteran outfielder Will Venable, a free agent who can play all three outfield positions and hit atop the batting order. Venable struggled after being traded to the Texas Rangers at the nonwaiver deadline last season, so there hasn’t been much buzz about him. But his ability to hit right-handed pitching and provide some speed on the bases could make him worth a one-year deal.
It’s why the Orioles would likely jump at a one-year incentive-laden deal with free-agent outfielder Denard Span, who played in just 61 games last year because of injuries. Another left-handed bat with leadoff speed and on-base capabilities, Span is still looking for a multiyear deal, but given recent injury history, it will be interesting to see where that commitment surfaces.
One and done? No problem.
And now, there is talk about the Orioles being interested in another rebound candidate, right-hander Mat Latos. The Orioles are reportedly one of five teams that have inquired about Latos, according to ESPN, which added that the starting pitcher is likely looking for a one-year deal to boost his value next season.
Latos, 28, posted a 60-45 record and 3.34 ERA in his first six seasons in the majors. But he struggled mightily in 2015. He was dealt from the Cincinnati Reds to Miami Marlins last offseason and went 4-7 with a 4.48 ERA in 16 starts before being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the deadline. He was released by the Dodgers in late September and claimed by the Los Angeles Angels for the final days of the season before hitting free agency this offseason.
Before last season, Latos owned a strong track record. He keeps the ball in the ballpark and still has a legitimate four-pitch mix. For the Orioles, it might be worth the risk to see if last season was more of an anomaly than a regression.
And Latos would be a cheaper commitment than some of the remaining free-agent starters on the market such as left-hander Scott Kazmir, right-hander Yovani Gallardo and former Orioles left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, who will all command deals of three to five years.
It makes a lot of sense. The Orioles don't steer away from those one-year deals. They embrace them.