Free agency previews: This month, Paul Mancano is profiling free agents who might be of interest to the Orioles at each position group.
The Orioles’ crop of infielders – between big league regulars and toolsy prospects – is the envy of baseball.
In Baltimore, Gunnar Henderson is in line to win the American League Rookie of the Year award. Ryan Mountcastle hit .326 after returning from the injured list in July. Ramón Urías and Jorge Mateo are valuable, versatile pieces. Jordan Westburg debuted in 2023 and acquitted himself well at multiple positions.
At Norfolk, Joey Ortiz, Coby Mayo and Connor Norby dominated competition en route to the team’s Triple-A national championship. And the elephant in the room is No. 1 prospect Jackson Holliday, who could leapfrog all three to claim an Opening Day roster spot.
But Orioles general manager and Executive Vice President Mike Elias has signed at least one big league infielder to a major league contract each of the last three offseasons: José Iglesias in 2020, Freddy Galvis and Maikel Franco in 2021 and Adam Frazier in 2022. Clearly, he values a veteran presence up the middle.
Should Elias choose to add a free agent infielder to the mix this winter, his options will be limited. The market lacks the star power – particularly at shortstop – that we’ve seen in previous offseasons.
Here are five free agent infielders whose agents may receive a phone call from Elias in the coming months.
There was a time when Chapman was one of the best two-way players in the sport. The former first-round pick hit a combined .263 with 60 home runs and won a pair of Platinum Gloves with Oakland in 2018 and 2019. Then 2020 came, and his numbers began to decline.
The Blue Jays dealt four prospects to the Athletics two offseasons ago to acquire the one-time All-Star, hoping they’d found a franchise cornerstone. But Chapman was so-so in two seasons in Toronto, hitting .234 with a .756 on-base-plus-slugging. The right-handed-hitting third baseman won another Gold Glove in 2022, but his defensive metrics haven’t been elite since his days with the A’s.
Chapman, who will turn 31 in April, would be an upgrade over Urías at third base, but his presence would confine Henderson to shortstop while blocking Ortiz, Mayo and perhaps Holliday. Unless Chapman is searching for a short-term deal, he won’t be high on the Orioles’ list.
Hernández overlapped with Elias in Houston, where he debuted in 2014. In his 10 big league seasons since, Hernández’s numbers have fluctuated wildly from year to year. The 32-year-old has registered two seasons with an OPS over .800 and three with an OPS under .650.
What he lacks in consistency, he makes up for in versatility, having played every position on the diamond with the exception of catcher – yes, he even recorded an out on the mound in 2018.
Perhaps Elias sees value in a right-handed hitter who can play anywhere. A vibe king, Hernández would be an ideal addition to Baltimore’s fun-loving clubhouse.
If the Orioles are hoping to find a right-handed-hitting version of Frazier, Merrifield is their guy. With a .284 career average and the ability to play second base and a corner outfield spot, Merrifield does many of the same things as Frazier, just at a slightly higher level.
The three-time All-Star has hit just 90 home runs in eight big league seasons, but he boasts above-average speed, swiping 26 bags with Toronto in 2023. Merrifield rarely strikes out, but Statcast had him in the third percentile or lower in average exit velocity, barrel percentage and hard-hit percentage this season.
The Blue Jays and Merrifield declined the veteran’s $18 million mutual option for 2024 shortly after the World Series ended. Merrifield can add value to a team, but the Orioles would likely prefer to split Frazier’s playing time among their group of youngsters.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more consistent hitter over the last decade than Turner. The two-time All-Star has averaged 18 home runs and an .857 OPS since 2014. It’s just a shame none of that production came in Baltimore, where Turner began his big league career in 2009.
After hitting .276 with 23 homers in his first season with the Red Sox, Turner was wise not to pick up his $13.4 million player option for 2024. The 38-year-old served as Boston’s designated hitter for 98 games this season, but he still has the ability to play the hot corner.
With a whopping 86 career postseason games, Turner would bring an experienced right-handed bat to the middle of the Orioles’ lineup. Assuming he would be willing to sign another one- or two-year deal, he would be worth a look.
No, Urshela is “not Josh Donaldson,” but that’s a compliment. The Yankees undervalued the third baseman when they traded him to the Twins two offseasons ago. Urshela put up 3.1 wins above replacement (according to Baseball-Reference) with Minnesota in 2022 but struggled with the Angels to start 2023. Then his season came to an abrupt end in June when he suffered a broken pelvis on an awkward fall running to first base.
Across eight seasons and five organizations, Urshela has played 87% of his games at third base. If the Orioles end up dealing Urías for a pitcher this winter, Urshela could fill a similar role, so long as he’s willing to settle for a short-term contract.