Since the 2022 season came to a close, Baltimore Orioles GM Mike Elias has made clear the club’s intent on being active in the free agent market, doubling down on that mindset in a Tuesday interview with MLB Network’s Jon Morosi.
Elias’s remarks are music to Orioles fans’ ears, as if our General Manager was delivering a spoken word rendition of OutKast’s ATLiens.
Granted, a certain degree of skepticism surrounding these comments from O’s fans is justified. The Orioles have maintained a barebones MLB payroll since Elias and company came to town, their largest financial commitment being the two year, $18 million contract given to starting pitcher Jordan Lyles (who recently opted out of his final year) last winter. The club hasn’t been a major player during this time of year since the 2015 offseason when the club traded for slugger Mark Trumbo and allocated over $236 million to Chris Davis, Darren O’Day, Matt Wieters, Hyun-Soo Kim, and Yovani Gallardo.
The Baltimore Orioles are in a position to make their largest offseason expenditures since the winter of 2015.
Assuming the Orioles are active in free agency, outfield is an area to which the club could allocate resources to upgrade the offense. You can confidently write Cedric Mullins’ name in pen on the Opening Day lineup card, so we’ll be focusing on the corner outfield positions. Anthony Santander’s bat will ensure his place in the lineup, but Big Tony struggled defensively and is more suited to be a primary designated hitter. Austin Hays has a cannon of a throwing arm, but the other defensive metrics weren’t a fan of his overall work and additionally, he struggled mightily offensively (especially in the second half) and may be a better fit as a fourth outfielder/pinch runner.
With Camden Yards metamorphosing last season thanks to the extra acreage in left field and the addition of Walltimore, it would likely behoove the Orioles to pursue left-handed hitters whose profiles better contour to the new dimensions. If Elias chooses to break the bank, Brandon Nimmo – who Spotrac projects will receive a contract north of $100 million – would be the ideal fit, but for the sake of this exercise I’m going to focus on options who may not require such a substantial, long-term financial commitment (based on Spotrac projections) or draft pick compensation. Who could fit the mold for the Baltimore Orioles?
Projected Contract: 4 years, $58 million
EDITORS NOTE: Pederson accepted the Giants one year qualifying offer and will return to San Francisco next season.
The mental imagine of Joc Pederson launching baseballs onto Eutaw Street makes me unthinkably happy. Besides Nimmo and Aaron Judge, Pederson is arguably the best offensive free agent outfielder. The 30 year old joined the San Francisco Giants after getting a ring with the Braves and had by far his best season since 2019.
Pederson set career-best marks in batting average (.274), on-base percentage (.353), and wOBA (.373) while playing half his games in a ballpark with a right field similar to that of Camden Yards. No need to worry about the left field wall, Pederson is a pull hitter’s pull hitter.
And my word, this pull hitter’s StatCast percentile rankings are magnificent. Pederson was in the top 5% of MLB hitters in five different categories including average exit velocity and expected slugging percentage. He barreled the ball nearly six percent more frequently than the average MLB hitter. Simply put: when Joc Pederson makes contact, great things happen.
The main drawback with Pederson is his defense which is as bad as his offense is good. Among 124 qualified outfielders, Pederson’s -11 outs above average ranked 121st, making Anthony Santander and his -4 OAA look like Mookie Betts. Additionally, Pederson features an average arm that produced just two outfield assists last season.
Despite his defensive shortcomings, Joc Pederson is the best fit should the Baltimore Orioles look to upgrade their outfield in free agency.
Signing Pederson would almost guarantee a below average outfielder in the field every night and would make it more difficult for Brandon Hyde to use the DH slot to rest players, but his offensive profile fits incredibly with Camden Yards and is exactly what the Baltimore Orioles need.
Projected Contract: 6 years, $89 million
The former top prospect had his best season as a Padre, overcoming Petco Park to hit 15 home runs and post a career-best 2.5 WAR as the Fathers reached their first NLCS in 24 years.
Profar doesn’t mash the ball like Pederson but makes the most of the contact he does make. While his average exit velocity was in the bottom fifth of MLB hitters, his expected batting average was a respectable .251!
Profar’s plate discipline is exceptional. Of 130 qualified hitters, his 15.8% strikeout rate was 28th lowest. Of the same group, his 11.1% walk rate was 19th highest. His eye would be a benefit to a Baltimore Orioles club whose walk rate was just 7.9% last season.
Profar is a below average defender who won’t make many plays outside of the routine but has an above average throwing arm that contributed 10 outfield assists in 2022; if this sounds familiar, his overall defensive profile shares many similarities with that of Austin Hays.
Spotrac projects a six year contract for Profar in the neighborhood with an average annual value of over $14 million, which could scare off the Orioles considering their other needs and the potential arrival of top prospects like Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad. Though talented, Profar’s offensive volatility makes him an option I would personally avoid, especially if the prospective contract is north of three years as is projected. Handing out a long term deal to a player coming off of a career-best year isn’t exactly the most risk-free proposition.
Peralta is projected to receive a one year contract just north of $8 million, making him the value option of this triumvirate. Don’t let that fool you though, there’s plenty to like about the 35 year old.
The former Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner still has plenty in the tank but has experienced decline commensurate with a player entering their mid 30’s.
There’s still plenty of offensive production though no longer at a level that will have Peralta contending for another Silver Slugger. Peralta fits the mold of left handed, pull-heavy hitter who would ostensibly thrive in Camden Yards. He still hits the ball tremendously hard and actually produced the highest Barrel% of his career in 2022 (8.5%).
Of the three outfielders discussed here, Peralta is far and away the best defender. It’s a reasonable logical step to assume a mid-30’s outfielder can’t hang like they used to, but age has not deteriorated his skill and ability to make plays other outfielders may not – on batted balls that had an out probability between 26-50% (considered 4-star plays by Baseball Savant), Peralta’s 45.5% conversion rate ranked 24th of 92 qualified outfielders. For reference, Jurickson Profar ranked 49th in this category. Joc Pederson? 91st.
Peralta could be a useful option for the Orioles should Pederson or Profar not be available or of interest to the front office. Could a one year deal with a second option year be enough to woo him to Baltimore?