The Elusive Middle Of the Order Bat

Posted Saturday December 15, 2012 at 11:31:42 pm in Real Sports

The Orioles missed out on Josh Hamilton, they missed out on resigning Mark Reynolds, and it appears they will not go after Nick Swisher. So what are the Orioles to do about the elusive middle of the order bat?

The Orioles scored 712 runs in 2012. League average was 721. For all intents and purposes we had a league average offense. People can cite injuries (Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, Nolan Reimold, Mark Reynolds, etc.) all they want, but injuries are a part of the game. Teams need depth in order to sink or swim when it comes to injuries. Or a spectacular pitching staff. When both go under, you have the 2012 Toronto Blue Jays.

The Orioles have not made a single major offseason move. They've mostly been role players or depth signings: Danny Valencia, Nate McClouth, Alexi Casilla, etc. But keep in mind by this time last year Chen and Wada weren't signed, Guthrie wasn't traded for Hammel and Lindstrom, and Nate McClouth wasn't signed. There is still plenty of time in the offseason, but I doubt a flashy signing like a Nick Swisher is going to happen. And to be quite honest: I never expected it.

What I do expect (hope)? That the Orioles pick up a Justin Morneau, Josh Willingham or a Michael Morse. Billy Butler appears to be off the market since the Royals are going after it after rounding out their pitching rotation. The Royals need all the offense they can get after trading top prospect Wil Myers and only scoring 676 runs in 2012 (45 runs under league average). I doubt the Butler trade will happen. Not without a significant piece being traded from the O's: think a Bundy, Tillman+ type. In another words: not gonna happen. Nope.

What I expect will happen in 2012:

  • Nate McClouth and Nolan Reimold will platoon in LF
  • Danny Valencia (career 831 OPS against lefties vs. 626 OPS against righties) and Betemit (career 824 OPS against righties vs. 637 OPS against lefties) will platoon at DH and off the bench
  • Chris Davis will get every opportunity to succeed (or fail) at 1B with some appearances at DH

However, that still doesn't solve our full time DH option unless Dan Duquette is comfortable with Betemit and Valencia manning it full time. He may, but I'm not. What would I like based on what's realistic (and left) out there?

Nick Swisher would be one, but that's not realistic. I still think there's a trade available w/ Minnesota for either a Morneau or a Willingham type. I think we can get a Morneau for a lot less in the trade department due to his salary. However, he's a lefty in a very heavy lefty lineup. And we need to fill out the void left by Mark Reynolds (righty).

So, that leaves Michael Morse or Josh Willingham. Willingham is signed to a very reasonable 3 year/$21 million contract and is signed through 2012. Meaning he's going to require quite a bit for his services. He's a below average fielder with a very plus bat routinely worth between 2.5-4.0 wins per FanGraphs. It's going to require a package centered around a young pitcher to obtain him, unfortunately.

That leaves Michael Morse. He's another poor fielder that doesn't have the consistency of a Josh Willingham. He's also only signed through 2013. What does that mean? It should take little (comparatively) to obtain him from the Nationals.  Assuming they resign Adam LaRoche, of course. The other benefit of Mike Morse? He hits lefties and righties both reasonable well. The downside? Not exactly the most reliable. But he's a solid target.

Personally I'd like to see the Orioles pony up for Nick Swisher. He's versatile (plays  1B and RF), patient (usually good for a 360 OBP) and is a switch hitter with pop (844 OPS average over the last 3 years). He's definitely a show boater, but he's reliable (averaging nearly 150 games over the last 3 years). 

He's also 32. I can see him getting something like a 5/$65-$70 million contract. Will the Orioles pay that? Most likely not. But he's a great option. Although it'd be tough to swallow his personality. 

So, look for the Orioles to get a Mike Morse or Justin Morneau type. And unless Dan Duquette is working behind the scenes, I just can't see a Nick Swisher type. But who knows? Dan Duquette also said (in 2012) that he didn't know who Chen was (can't recall the exact quotes) and look what he did (signed him to a 3 year/$11 million contract with an option for the 4th year). BTW, I also fully expect Dan to bring back Saunders. 

Is a Saunders, Casilla, Valencia, Morse, McClouth, etc. 2012 off-season flashy? No. But neither was 2011's. Duquette's game has been depth, depth...and more depth. I expect more of the same. Now if only that checkbook would open up a bit more for a Swisher type. 

The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer’s view