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Will Nate McLouth Be Orioles' Left Fielder In 2014?

October 3, 2013

I have to admit, if you want to know what's going on with the Orioles, MASN's Roch Kubatko has got you covered pretty well. And don't think he gets a big leg up over the competition because he is fed info faster than anyone. That's simply not the case, as he works his tail off. Nobody hands him anything.

But he has handed out an interesting topic to contemplate: the Orioles' left-field situation and who will man it this coming season.

From every angle I looked at this riddle, I figured the Orioles would have liked to have Nate McLouth back in 2014, so long as it's at their price. 

Orioles 2013: Nate McLouth (batting)
Photo Credit: Mitch Stringer/PressBox

After the Pirates designated McLouth for assignment in May 2012, he signed a minor league with the Orioles, and then got called up from Triple-A Norfolk in August. He had a splendid comeback for the rest of the season, and was paid accordingly for 2013, factoring in that he had struggled in Pittsburgh before finding success in Baltimore.

Many argued that McLouth deserved a multi-year deal heading into the 2013 season. But the men that counted, Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and McLouth, hammered out a one-year, $2 million deal in December 2012.

In 2013, McLouth again provided solid defense in left, while his 30 stolen bases represented close to 28 percent of the team's total for the season (109). McLouth stole 24 by the end of June, and it's unclear what caused him to put on the brakes. Perhaps game situations dictated that slowdown, or maybe there was a fatigue factor. As Kubatko pointed out, McLouth batted .194 in August and .218 in September.

Still, speed wasn't McLouth's only plus factor. His 31 doubles, four triples and 12 home runs added up to a solid extra-base total of 47. His on-base percentage was .329, which is acceptable, although not great for a player who has sometimes been a leadoff hitter. A big negative for McLouth is that for a guy who played in 146 games (not all starts), his batting average against left-handers in 2013 was .209, and his career number is .221.

But, in today's world of baseball economics, McLouth is going to get a decent raise from what he earned in 2013, perhaps as much as a two-year deal worth $10 million to $11 million.

Can the Orioles do better? They can, but can they do better while shopping for a player to sign for one year and $3 million to $3.5 million? I think that is where letting McLouth walk without a certain replacement gets dicey.

There are in-house candidates in Jason Pridie, Chris Dickerson, Henry Urrutia and Nolan Reimold. None of these strike my fancy. Then there is the chance the club tosses out Michael Morse's anemic performance of three singles in 29 at bats for the O's this year and decides to put $4 million to $5 million in that bucket and possibly attempt a platoon with someone such as Urrutia.

I used the word dicey above, and that scenario would be dicey on the defensive side of the game. In 2013, the Orioles set a record for errorless games and the least errors during a season, and McLouth was part of that success.

My prescription for this rests in the signing of three players: the aforementioned McLouth to a two-year, $9 million deal; re-signing second baseman Brian Roberts to a one-year fair, incentive-laden contract ($3.5 million); and Morse to a one year-deal at $4 million to $4.5 million.

That way, when the tough lefties pitch, you can have Morse in left, Roberts at second or DH and McLouth ready for late-inning pinch running or defense. McLouth would start most games when a right-hander was on the mound.

At midseason, I thought Urrutia would have been a serious candidate for this job in 2014. But that was before he failed his smell test in the big leagues. It's not yet time to throw him out with the bathwater, because he has some talents. But to assume that attaching him to vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson this offseason would turn him into a solid offensive producer would be …what's the word I am looking for? Dicey.