The Orioles remain interested in re-signing outfielder Nate McLouth and have talked with his representation since the free-agent period began, according to multiple industry sources.
But this time around things appear to be more complicated than last winter, when McLouth signed a one-year, $2 million deal in December.
Part of that is McLouth's doing. The 32-year-old left fielder proved his two solid months in 2012 weren't a fluke by hitting .258 with 12 homers and 30 steals in 146 games in 2013.
The Orioles have said they would like to bring McLouth back, but if the recent market trend is any indication that will require a multi-year contract -- something the club was hoping to avoid. It doesn't appear that the Orioles have made an official offer to McLouth.
In the past two weeks, however, the Tampa Bay Rays re-signed 33-year-old outfielder David DeJesus to a two-year, $10.5 million deal and the Philadelphia Phillies signed 36-year-old outfielder Marlon Byrd for two years and $16 million. Byrd parlayed his best season in years into the lucrative contract and DeJesus impressed the Rays after coming over in an August trade – but his season statistics were below McLouth's.
With those deals in mind, one industry source said McLouth almost assuredly will get a multi-year contract, and that there likely will be more than one team willing to go two years for his fairly unique skill set -- among active players with 100 or more career steals, McLouth's 84.9 percent success rate is fourth.
So the Orioles are faced with a tough decision involving the popular McLouth. He fits in well both in the Orioles' clubhouse and with the team's hustling, defense-minded style. He is one of the team's few players last season that could steal a base, bunt and bat leadoff when necessary.
But he struggled in the second half last season. His slash line dropped from a .275 average, .347 on-base percentage and .399 slugging percentage in the first half to .233/.304/.400 in the second half. He also virtually stopped attempting to steal bases – swiping 24 of 28 in the season's first three months and then going 6-for-9 in the final three months.
McLouth also is viewed as a platoon player, hitting primarily against right-handers. He batted .270 with a .342 on-base percentage against righties last year compared to .209 and .283 marks against lefties.
That said, manager Buck Showalter loved having McLouth and his smart-but-aggressive style around. And it's a bit of stretch to think 26-year-old Cuban defector Henry Urrutia is ready to be the primary starter in left field next season.
Urrutia, also a left-handed batter, was named to the All-Arizona Fall League team on Friday after hitting .377 with three homers for the Surprise Saguaros. He has talent, but is still learning the big league game, particularly defensively. Plus, he drew no walks and had just one extra-base hit in 58 at-bats for the Orioles this year. With the premium the Orioles put on defense and their obvious lack of OBP guys in the lineup, Urrutia is probably a half season or more away from contributing on an everyday basis.
Which is why the Orioles would love to have McLouth for one more year. But it looks like they may not get that luxury. It'll need to be two years or, he'll be elsewhere.
One piece of good news for McLouth's Baltimore-based fans, however: one of his primary suitors last year is likely out of the competition this year. With the Rays' re-signing of DeJesus, McLouth doesn't seem to fit in Tampa Bay.