Free agency has finally arrived and the Baltimore Orioles are constantly being mentioned as a team to watch this winter with Mike Elias ostensibly looking to supplement various facets of the Major League roster, be it the outfield or the starting rotation. Plenty of coverage here at Birds Watcher will be devoted to the biggest names available in the market, but there are plenty of unsung free agents who could help the Orioles at a fraction of the cost.
Under The Radar Free Agents the Baltimore Orioles Should Consider
C Omar Narvaez
The Orioles have been playing waiver roulette with catchers since their season ended with a few would-be backup catcher candidates opting for free agency instead of a demotion to AAA Norfolk, leaving the role open for all takers.
Narvaez has been an above average offensive catcher for a majority of his career but has sandwiched a 2021 in which he had a .744 OPS between 2020 and 2022 seasons wherein his OPS was below .600. Two IL stints last season, one for a quadriceps strain and the other for a positive COVID test, could possibly explain his offensive struggles last year. The latter could certainly justify a decline, as we’ve seen athletes in all sports struggle to return to form after a bout with the virus.
The main reasons for adding Narvaez are simple: he’s a good defensive catcher and is excellent at helping pitchers get borderline strike calls, aka framing. According to The Fielding Bible’s Defensive Runs Saved calculation (which takes into account a catcher’s throwing, ERA when starting, and framing itself), Narvaez’s 2 DRS was higher than all but 23 MLB catchers who played in a game last season.
Framing is the main attraction of Omar Narvaez’s defense. Of pitches thrown to Narvaez in the Shadow Zone, which is the area immediately bordering the strike zone, nearly half (49.8%) were called strikes. Just six qualified catchers had a higher Strike Rate – Adley Rutschman was surprisingly not one of them, though his Strike Rate was a mere two tenths of a percent lower (49.6%) than Narvaez. The 30 year old finished 2022 within the 89th percentile of catchers in Catcher Framing Runs, a stat that calculates how many runs a catcher saves (or costs) their team based upon pitches called in the Shadow Zone and adjusted for ballpark factors. Narvaez would represent an exponential defensive upgrade from last season’s backup Robinson Chirinos and has the potential to be worth much more than the three year, $9.4 million contract that Spotrac projects he will receive.
2B/UTIL Josh Harrison
While not the player of five years ago, the two time MLB All Star has developed into a valuable elder statesman (no offense, I’m old too) whose impact in the clubhouse is as meaningful as his achievements on the field, similar to the effect Rougned Odor had on the Baltimore Orioles clubhouse. The Orioles could use Harrison in a reserve/utiility role similar to Tyler Nevin (when he was up) or the way Odor himself was used after Gunnar Henderson was called up in August.
Josh Harrison will not amaze with the bat like he did in his Pittsburgh days. In 425 plate appearances with the White Sox, he posted a .687 OPS. His batted ball profile is indicative of a below average hitter and doesn’t suggest any bad luck was at play that hampered Harrison’s production. Teddy KGB would describe Josh Harrison’s approach at the plate as “very aggressive”. Taken pitches are his sworn enemy, though he rarely strikes out. You’re more likely to get a win on the SNKRS App than you are to see Harrison take a walk, but he rarely swings and misses.
Josh Harrison could fill a pivotal bench role for the Baltimore Orioles.
At this stage in his career Harrison is “limited” to second and third base defensively but make no mistake, he excels in those roles. Harrison accumulated 3 Outs Above Average, ranking 15th among qualified second basemen. He also chipped in an additional OAA at third base but didn’t play enough there to qualify for the leaderboard. For reference, Odor’s -5 OAA as a second baseman ranked 35th. Harrsion on a one year deal for a projected $3.5 million could supplant Odor as Director of Clubhouse Vibes and flash a little glove while doing so.
RP Will Smith
Will Smith didn’t have stats that jump off the page and slap you in the face, but the 33 year old southpaw could be of use to a Baltimore Orioles team that currently has just one left handed reliver (Cionel Perez) that could be considered a lock to make the 2022 team provided prospect DL Hall begins in the rotation. Even if Hall moves to the bullpen, Smith could be a great get.
Smith signed with the Braves in November of 2019 as one of baseball’s prominent lefty relivers and though his star has fallen since then, he could still prove to be a useful bullpen option. Though Smith’s ERA pushed 4.00 in 2022, there’s reason for optimism. Smith still boasts a wipeout slider that generated a swing and miss nearly half the time he threw it, helping place his Chase Rate within the 97th percentile of qualified pitchers. His xBA, xSLG, and xWOBA were all below league average in a case where being below average is actually a good thing. He posted an above average strikeout rate despite a fastball velo hovering around 92 MPH.
Smith avoids contact well but struggles mightily when hitters manage to get bat to ball, which combined with his propensity to walk people can create a snowball effect that has his manager coming out to get him. Smith’saverage exit velocity and HardHit% rested in the 39th and 21st percentiles of qualified pitchers, respectively. Home runs have always been a bit of a bugaboo for him whether he was pitching in the sandbox in Houston or in the cavernous confines of Oracle Park in San Francisco. Smith allowed 9 longballs in 59 innings of work last year, two homers shy of the career high 11 he allowed the season before, which topped his previous career high of 10 the season before that.
However, Smith could stand to thrive while pitching his home games in Camden Yards if used properly. Left handed batters managed just a .637 OPS against him last year which is nearly identical to his career average of .640. With the right matchups and all that extra space in left field, could some of the balls that caused Smith trouble in past seasons fall safely into an Orioles outfielder’s glove? It’s certainly possible and if the O’s could get him to sign a one year contract in the neighborhood of $2-4 million, it could end up being a bargain.