Orioles beat writer Eduardo A. Encina talks about the start of baseball's winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Eduardo A. Encina, Baltimore Sun video)
LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA. — The Orioles arrived at the annual winter meetings focused on surveying a suddenly fast-moving starting pitching market, but another top offseason priority for the team is acquiring a left-handed outfielder/designated hitter to balance a batting order that became exposed for being right-handed heavy.
The free-agent market offers plenty of left-handed power, but not much else, and most of those lefty bats are first basemen, and the Orioles already have a left-handed-hitting first baseman looking to rebound from a rough season in slugger Chris Davis.
Along with getting more left-handed, the Orioles want to become more multidimensional as well, so signing a Davis clone such as Jay Bruce, Logan Morrison or Lucas Duda — a player who can hit home runs but is also prone to deep slumps — makes an already existing problem within the Orioles lineup worse than making it better given the all-or-nothing seasons Davis and Mark Trumbo went through in 2017.
Free-agent outfielders such as left-handed-hitting Jon Jay and switch-hitter Melky Cabrera don’t offer power but can help the Orioles with on-base capabilities that next year’s club and and clubs of the recent past have needed to take better advantage of their power.
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette has said a rebound year from Davis — who hit .218 and struck out 130 times in 360 plate appearances against right-handed pitching — would help, but he’s focused on finding an additional lefty bat.
So this week at the winter meetings — and in the coming weeks — the Orioles will begin to gauge which left-handed bats could become available on the trade market.
“Yeah, well there might be some trade possibilities,” Duquette said last week. “That’s something we’re looking at. It might be a little more challenging for us, but we can look on the trade market, too. We can look at the trade market, not necessarily the free-agent market.”
That trade market is slow to develop, a byproduct of a snail-paced early offseason as some teams put their spending on hold attempting to land either Japanese two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani or reigning National League Most Valuable Player Giancarlo Stanton. Now that those two players have found new homes, Ohtani with the Los Angeles Angels and Stanton with the New York Yankees, more players should come available on the trade market.
The Orioles’ only major league acquisition this offseason has been a trade with the Oakland Athletics for outfielder Jaycob Brugman, a left-handed platoon hitter who had a .364 on-base percentage against right-handed pitching but has just 48 games of major league experience.
“We looked at the kid we picked up from Oakland,” Duquette said. “We picked up Brugman. We could use a little bit more depth from the left side.”
The Orioles have just three left-handed hitters (Davis, Brugman and catcher Chance Sisco) one switch hitter (outfielder Anthony Santander) on the 40-man roster.
Last offseason, the Orioles acquired outfielder Seth Smith in a trade with the Seattle Mariners, a deal that benefited the club in two ways because it gave the team a left-handed-hitting outfielder while shedding most of right-hander Yovani Gallardo’s contract.
Smith had a .343 on-base percentage against right-handed pitching while filling the leadoff spot, but was just 0.3-win player and ended the season benched after a deep late-season hitting slump that was compounded by some defensive lapses.