Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Who's on first?

Derrek Lee makes a lot of sense for the Orioles in 2011.

As the Orioles are gearing up for baseball's winter meetings, the only major free agent to have been signed thus far is Victor Martinez, who sighed a 4 year, $50 million contract with the Detroit Tigers last week.

Martinez was on the Orioles radar. They offered 4 years, $48 million for the catcher, who has played 1B in the past. But Martinez wants to catch, and playing with fellow Venezuelan Miguel Cabrera was too much for Martinez to pass up.

As the Orioles move on, the major candidates for 1B include Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, Carlos Pena, Adam LaRoche and Derrek Lee.

None of those players would be bad options for the 2011 season, but each player comes with their own issues: money, age, defense, years of contract, declining numbers, etc...

Konerko would perhaps be the biggest name of them all, but he'd likely command a 3 year deal. And for a 35 year old player coming off a career year in which he hit 39 home runs and had a .977 OPS, there is some risk involved. Will Konerko be worth a 3-year deal? Will he decline past 35 years old? If the Orioles could snag Konerko for a 2 year deal, I'd put the right-handed slugger at the top of the list. But players are paid for past performance in free agency, and it's unlikely that Konerko is worth the life of the contract he gets this offseason.

Adam Dunn is another big-name free agent, as evidenced by his gaudy home run totals (he hasn't hit less than 38 home runs since 2003. But he is infamous for his horrific defense and he's refused to move to the DH role for an American League team. He is also likely to command a 3 or 4 year contract for well over $15 million a year. But at 30 years old, Dunn is likely to be well worth the contract.

Carlos Pena was making the most sense out of all of the candidates until he turned in a poor 2010 season where he hit .196. He still hit 28 home runs and got on base at a decent clip compared to his average (.325 OBP), but his numbers have been in a steep decline since he joined the Rays in 2007 and caught lighting in a bottle. Pena's defense at 1B is stellar and coming off a down year he could be had for cheap. But he's struggled to hit LHP in his slump, and the Orioles are desperately in need of players who can hold their own against LHP. So after years of failing to get consistent production from the biggest power position on the field, will the O's commit to another project at 1B? Especially after the epic fail that was Garrett Atkins?

Adam LaRoche may remind people a lot of Aubrey Huff. He bats left-handed and seems to alternate between up an down years. LaRoche, 30, could be nabbed for a cheap 1 or 2 year deal, but it would be viewed as another safe, low-reward move for the Orioles, who are in desperate need of a big splash signing to keep fans interested. But LaRoche is at least consistent in the home run department, averaging 26 home runs over 162 games throughout his career. However, LaRoche could very well end up as Huff did in Baltimore, turning in 2 down years compared to one very good year.

Last on the list is Derrek Lee. You may remember Lee when he was traded to Baltimore from Florida before the 2004 season. But Peter Angelos (yeah, that guy) didn't want to extend Lee and he ended up in Chicago with the Cubs for some very productive years. The GM of the Cubs back then? Andy MacPhail.

Lee had a down 2010 season, hitting only 19 home runs and a .774 OPS while splitting time between the Cubs and Braves. But Lee was hampered by an injured thumb for most of the season which may have lead to his down season.

Lee was not offered arbitration by the Braves last week, meaning that if he signs with another team, that team will not have to give up a second round draft pick. You might remember the fans frustration over the Orioles parting ways with a second rounder to sign Michael Gonzalez last offseason, especially when Gonzalez imploded and then went on the DL at the start of 2010. So Lee will not cost a lot of money, and no draft pick.

That said, Lee has his drawbacks. Injury or not, the mediocre 2010 season cannot be ignored. And Lee, who will be 35 for most of the 2011 season, is no spring-chicken. But he is a right-handed hitter who kills LHP (.907 career OPS) and has a solid glove at 1B.

And then there is the MacPhail connection. I don't have enough time to list all of the former Cubs players the O's have acquired since MacPhail arrived, so that alone should be enough reason to say the Orioles as seriously considering Lee for 1B in 2011. And when you factor in Lee's price and the 1 or 2 years he will command, it's a no-brainer for the O's.

That isn't to say he's the best option -- or a player that fans will go bonkers for if signed -- but he makes a lot of sense for the Orioles in their current position.

I wouldn't be surprised in the least to see the O's sign Derrick Lee, whether it's this afternoon or in 2 months.

And you shouldn't be either.

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