As the Orioles try to close an agreement with veteran starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo, much discussion has shifted to their desire to add another hitter for the 2016 season.
Free agents Dexter Fowler and Pedro Alvarez as well as Cincinnati Reds right fielder Jay Bruce have been mentioned in multiple reports, but all carry concerns — or at least a hang-up of some sort.
According to MLB Network, the Reds believe the Orioles have the necessary prospects to make a trade for the 28-year-old Bruce, but should they want to do it? Not only is the left-handed hitter owed $12.5 million in the final year of his contract that includes a club option for 2017, but he’s posted a combined .695 on-base plus slugging percentage and minus-0.3 wins above replacement over the last two seasons.
In 2015, Bruce hit .226 with 26 home runs, 87 RBIs, a .294 on-base percentage, and a .729 OPS, unappealing numbers that were a marked improvement from a nightmare 2014 season in which he posted a .654 OPS and hit a career-worst 18 homers.
Those struggles coupled with a switch from the NL to the AL shouldn’t make the Orioles eager for his services, even if Bruce posted an OPS of .800 or better from 2010-2013. If you’re going to surrender what few valued commodities you have in a depleted minor-league system, Bruce isn’t one to target as he doesn’t bring defensive value, either, and is expensive.
A free agent whom the club could sign without forfeiting a draft pick, Alvarez would make sense if the Orioles didn’t already have Mark Trumbo penciled in as their primary designated hitter. The 29-year-old Alvarez hit 27 home runs and posted a .787 OPS in 2015, but he is a poor defensive player at either first base or third base and should only be considered as a DH.
Hypothetically, the Orioles could sign Alvarez and move Trumbo to right field, but the latter is not a good defensive outfielder and most of his offensive value would be wiped away from his shortcomings in the field. On top of that, Alvarez holds a .309 career OBP and would be just another one-dimensional power bat to add to a lineup already sporting plenty of those.
Again, not a good fit if you value defense, which the Orioles certainly have over the last few years.
That brings us to Fowler, who rejected a $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Chicago Cubs and would require the Orioles to give up a draft choice to sign him. It’s a hefty price in addition to whatever you’d have to pay in the contract, but his .363 career OBP would be a godsend for the top of the order and allow Manny Machado to shift into more of a run-producing spot hitting second or third.
Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has annually expressed a desire to improve the club’s ability to get on base — the Orioles have finished 10th or worse in the AL in OBP over the last four seasons — and Fowler would provide that skill ahead of the likes of Machado, Adam Jones, and Chris Davis. Even his career-low .346 OBP in 2015 would have ranked third behind only Machado and Davis on last year’s Orioles.
Turning 30 next month, Fowler has also reached double-digit stolen bases in seven straight seasons. It’s no secret that the Orioles have lacked speed on the bases for several years.
Despite being a below-average defensive player in his career, Fowler has played exclusively in center field and could presumably make the transition to right field at no worse than an satisfactory level. He’s not a superstar, but Fowler brings unique skills to a lineup needing someone at the top to set the table.
Of course, it makes sense for the Orioles to have multiple options for negotiating purposes, but Fowler is the clear choice among these three to give the offense what it sorely needs. Truthfully, he’s the only one who makes sense.