The surprise expressed by some over L.J. Hoes being designated for assignment on Tuesday says all you need to know about the current state of the Orioles outfield.
Dan Duquette still has work to do with spring training only a few weeks away.
Any notion that Hoes — a former third-round pick who has yet to establish himself as a bona fide major leaguer — was even a sleeper candidate to start in right field reflects how little quality depth the Orioles have at the corner outfield spots. The acquisition of Efren Navarro from the Los Angeles Angels doesn’t change that reality, either.
The Orioles cannot afford a repeat of last year at the positions flanking five-time All-Star center fielder Adam Jones. In 2015, Baltimore left fielders combined to hit .210 with a .640 on-base plus slugging percentage and were worth minus-0.7 wins above replacement. Right field was better at 2.0 wins above replacement, but nearly half of that value stemmed from the 29 starts Chris Davis made at the position.
If the season were to begin today, Korean newcomer Hyun Soo Kim would likely be the starting left fielder with Nolan Reimold trotting out to right field. That combination doesn’t inspire confidence in an otherwise-strong lineup.
To be fair, the Orioles have spent gobs of money this offseason re-signing Davis and Darren O’Day to long-term deals, inking Matt Wieters to a $15.8 million qualifying offer, and acquiring slugger Mark Trumbo and his $9.15 million salary for 2016. The Kim signing at $7 million over two years could pay major dividends, but you’d prefer a relative unknown who was playing in the Korean Baseball Organization a year ago to be slated as the No. 4 outfielder to start a season for a contending club.
The 32-year-old Reimold managed to stay healthy last year, but a .247 average with a .738 OPS in 195 plate appearances doesn’t scream starting right fielder. The club’s other options don’t carry great appeal, either.
Rule 5 selection Joey Rickard, 24, hit a combined .321 at three levels in the Tampa Bay system last season, but why did the Rays — a club always needing cheap talent — leave him off their 40-man roster? At the very least, he’ll be a name of interest to watch during spring training.
Cuban outfielder Dariel Alvarez was promoted to the big leagues in late August, but he’s 27 and received a meager 31 plate appearances with the Orioles, making you wonder whether manager Buck Showalter has much confidence in him. He has an exceptional throwing arm, but a .305 on-base percentage at Triple-A Norfolk in 2015 isn’t what you’re looking for.
Henry Urrutia provided one of the feel-good moments of the 2015 season with his walk-off home run against the New York Mets in August, but the 28-year-old struggles to pull the ball and isn’t a graceful fielder despite some improvement over the last couple years. He was optioned back to the minors just before September call-ups and wasn’t summoned to Baltimore again.
The Orioles could always turn to Trumbo at a corner outfield spot, but the fielding metrics suggest first base as his only suitable position without compromising the overall defense. Showalter has already indicated that he’ll serve as Baltimore’s primary designated hitter with Davis back in the fold.
And there’s always Jimmy Paredes, who played right field regularly in winter ball this offseason in hopes of finding a defensive position he can handle. But the bigger problem could be Paredes’ .517 OPS in the second half of 2015 after he posted an .807 mark before the All-Star break.
This group sounds a lot like last year’s flawed collection that included Alejandro De Aza, Travis Snider, Delmon Young, Steve Pearce, and David Lough. If we’re being honest, it looks even worse on paper than that group did at this point last year.
Wednesday’s report indicating that the Orioles still had a five-year offer on the table for Yoenis Cespedes even after re-signing Davis to a $161 million contract creates hope that Duquette will still make an impact addition to the outfield. A couple attractive options still remain on the free-agent market.
His signing would require the Orioles to surrender their first-round pick in this year’s draft, but Dexter Fowler holds a sparkling .363 on-base percentage in his career. His speed would also be a nice addition, and he could probably make a positive transition to a corner outfield spot after less-than-impressive defensive metrics in center over the last few seasons.
Austin Jackson is coming off consecutive years with an OPS below .700, but he’s only 29, is still a solid defender, and performed fairly well before being traded in the midst of each of the last two seasons. Perhaps some stability would help get his career back on track, and he wouldn’t command a draft pick or — one would assume — a lucrative commitment to sign him.
There’s always the possibility of a trade, but the Orioles’ shortage of quality prospects has been discussed ad nauseam. We’ll believe it when we see it.
Other platoon types such as Will Venable, David Murphy, and Matt Joyce remain unsigned as well.
In a perfect world, fans would probably like to see the Orioles add two quality outfielders to the current mix, but the rest of the lineup is strong enough to carry a question mark at one of those corner positions as long as that individual plays good defense, which was another issue at those spots.
There’s still time, but the Orioles need to do whatever it takes to fight off that feeling of déjà vu in the outfield that plagued them throughout the 2015 season.