Among the many items still to be fulfilled on the Orioles’ wish list as spring training approaches is an additional left-handed bat to complement a righty-heavy lineup void of any left-handed-hitting starter other than first baseman Chris Davis.
And the Orioles recently discussed the possibility of pursuing several familiar names to fill that void, players the team believes could be had on low-risk minor-league deals.
The Orioles last week discussed the possibility of signing four players who are either former Orioles or have been connected to the Orioles in the past as possible left-handed options: designated hitter Pedro Alvarez, outfielder Michael Bourn, outfielder Colby Rasmus and outfielder Michael Saunders, according to a club source.
Minor league deals with any of those four players would likely include a series of opt-out clauses – both Bourn and Alvarez had opt-outs in their minor league deals signed last season – but could give the team some flexibility in composing an outfield that is complicated by the fact that switch hitter Anthony Santander must be on the active roster for the season’s first six weeks to fulfill his Rule 5 requirements.
If the Orioles are truly interested in improving their outfield defense, Rasmus and Bourn would be the best options. There’s been little buzz about Rasmus’ future since he abruptly left the Rays on a leave of absence in July by going on the restricted list. Rasmus, 31, was on the disabled list with lingering issues from a surgically repaired hip, but hit nine homers and posted a .896 OPS in 23 games with Tampa Bay before injuries slowed him.
The Orioles have long been connected to Rasmus, with Orioles manager Buck Showalter even making a visit to Rasmus’ hometown in Alabama before the 2015 season. Rasmus eventually signed with the Astros that offseason, but if he is now interested in a comeback, Baltimore is a place he knows he’d been wanted.
We’ve seen what Bourn can do when healthy. He provided a spark for the Orioles as a late trade acquisition in 2016, and was in the spring training mix last spring before he suffered a freak injury early in camp, fracturing a bone in his thumb while attempting to catch a football during a sanctioned workout drill.
While Bourn, 35, was rehabbing the injury, he exercised his opt-out clause and eventually re-signed with the club in early April and then opted out again after 11 games at Triple-A Norfolk. He went to the Angels on a minor league deal but spent just more than a month at the Triple-A level there, hitting .260/.317/.365 in 23 games before he was released.
Saunders, 31, couldn’t rebound from a horrible opening to the season with the Phillies, hitting .205/.257/.360 in 61 games before he was released in June. He latched on with the Blue Jays on a minor league deal and posted a .725 OPS in 35 games in Triple-A before earning a September callup to Toronto, where he was just 3-for-18 in 12 games down the stretch.
Alvarez has been in the Orioles organization the past two years, and hit 22 homers and posted an .826 OPS in 109 games with the Orioles in 2016. Last season he spent most of the year at Triple-A Norfolk – an experiment of playing the outfield ended about two months in – hitting 26 homers in 138 games while playing his home games at pitcher-friendly Harbor Park.
Alvarez was recalled in September and was one of the few Orioles hitters who produced in the final month of the season, posting a .313/.353/.438 in 14 games. But like last year, there isn’t much space for Alvarez unless the team can trust him to play somewhere in the field – he made 52 starts at first base last season – with Mark Trumbo currently clogging the everyday designated hitter role.
Again, none of these potential targets are necessarily high impact, but address the Orioles’ desperate need for a left-handed bat. There are more high-profile left-handed-hitting free agents still out there – Logan Morrison, Carlos Gonzalez, Lucas Duda, Jarrod Dyson and Jon Jay among them – but those players would require more financial commitment than this group of possible minor-league signings.