Like many of the teams we’ve discussed so far, the Orioles have some very interesting young pieces, but still need to plug several holes in order to think about climbing the ladder in their division. In an interview last week, President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail said that the team would be looking hard into acquiring a middle-of-the-order hitter, but wouldn’t limit itself to one specific position. With Cesar Izturis and Ty Wigginton entering free agency, the team will have spots to fill at first and short, and could look into adding a corner outfielder to replace the anemic bat of Felix Pie (.313 wOBA last year, .307 career).
There’s really nobody particularly intriguing in the corner outfield market besides Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth, and the Orioles will not have the funds to stick with the bidding for the leaders of this free agent class. The shortstop market is also fairly unattractive, leaving first base as the best place to upgrade their lineup if they decide not to go after someone else in a trade.
My guess would be that they don’t have the funds to pick up an Adam Dunn or Carlos Peña. The top tier free agents will garner enough interest that they will have the option to go to a team at least on the verge of contending, and they’ll probably take it. However, there are still some fairly attractive options they can consider. They’ll probably take a look at Lance Berkman, Adam LaRoche, Derrek Lee, and potentially even consider bringing Aubrey Huff back to Baltimore if he doesn’t re-sign with the World Champion San Francisco Giants (that’s still fun to type, by the way).
For me, the best option of that group is Lee. Last year was a down year for Lee, and at 35, he’s not getting any younger. However, a closer look at his underlying stats suggest he may still have some productive years in him.
First of all, he put up 12.3 WAR in the 3 years before last season, and last season’s 2.0 was his worst total in a decade. His defense is still relatively strong, as he’s been above average according to UZR in each of the last 3 years. He BABIP’d .309 last year, .013 lower than his career .322 and his lowest mark since 2004. That’s despite putting up a 22.5% line drive rate, his best since his 2003 with the Marlins. Lee’s 12.1% home run/flyball ratio is 4.4% below his career 16.5%, suggesting that he can do better than his 19 home runs in 2010.
Lee’s not a sure thing, of course. His strikeout rate climbed to 24.5% last season, his worst since 2002. His .340 wOBA was his lowest mark since ’99. However, Lee is strong with the bat and glove and should come relatively cheap due to his age, his poor 2010, and the multitude of other strong first base options available. For a team like the Orioles, Lee’s the perfect fit… cheap, potentially a strong contributor on both sides of the ball, and able to provide leadership and guidance to a young team as a senior member of the clubhouse. He is Baltimore’s Perfect Pickup.