Free agency previews: This month, Paul Mancano will profile free agents who might be of interest to the Orioles at each position group.
The Orioles have to be pleased with what they got out of their designated hitters in 2023. With Anthony Santander, Adley Rutschman and Ryan Mountcastle receiving the bulk of the starts, O’s designated hitters combined for a .276 batting average, 33 home runs and an .829 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, the most productive spot in their lineup.
Still, Baltimore hitters finished 17th in baseball in homers and 14th in OPS and could benefit from another middle-of-the-order bat, especially if they deal Santander or another outfielder for pitching.
If the Orioles are searching for a designated hitter in free agency, they may have difficulty combing a market that is thin at the position — with one gargantuan exception. Here are three who could catch general manager Mike Elias’ eye.
Martinez was once The One Who Got Away from Elias’ Astros, who released the struggling outfielder right before his breakout 2014 season with the Tigers. Martinez went on to receive six All-Star nods, earn three Silver Slugger Awards and win a World Series with the Red Sox in 2018.
The Dodgers got 33 homers and an .893 OPS out of Martinez after inking him to a one-year, $10 million deal a year ago. The 36-year-old has played the field only sparingly since 2018, but his right-handed power might be a welcome addition to an Orioles’ lineup that boasts several young lefties.
Would Martinez take another one-year deal? And would the O’s be willing to clog the DH spot with a veteran while Ryan O’Hearn, Heston Kjerstad and others jockey for playing time?
Ohtani’s name will be on every national reporter’s lips until the day he signs the record-breaking contract he is expected to receive. There is nothing the two-way superstar cannot do, except pitch in 2024 on account of a September surgery on his right elbow. But Ohtani should be free of restrictions as a hitter when the season opens in March.
The statistics are mind-boggling: a .304 average, 44 home runs and 20 stolen bases, plus a 3.14 ERA as a pitcher in 2023, all despite missing the last four weeks of the season. All the usual suspects — the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox and Giants — will likely bid for his services. Just how much will they be willing to offer? $500 million? $600 million?
As a left-handed-hitting, right-handed-pitching, 10-wins-above-replacement player, Ohtani would fill numerous holes for the Orioles over the course of his contract. But, given Elias’ reluctance toward multiyear, big-money contracts, it would likely take a miracle for Ohtani to land in Baltimore.
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde has familiarity with Soler, who was a 24-year-old left fielder on the 2016 World Series champion Cubs, for whom Hyde served as first base coach. In the seven seasons since, Soler has been traded twice, won another title with the Braves (he was World Series MVP) and signed a lucrative deal with the Marlins.
A first-time All-Star in 2023, Soler hit .250 with 36 home runs, producing his best statistical season since his 48-homer campaign with Kansas City in 2019. The 31-year-old also has the ability to play the outfield, appearing in 32 games in right field this season.
Soler will reportedly opt out of the final year of his deal with Miami. There will likely be more aggressive suitors for Soler than the Orioles, but perhaps Elias can reel in the former Fish if the market dries up.