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Orioles' Hunt For Free-agent Bargains: Hitters

December 2, 2013

Although the Orioles haven't yet made a major splash this offseason -- and perhaps won't be in the mix for big-name free agents -- general manager Dan Duquette has been active nonetheless, scouring the market for potentially useful, low-cost players who could provide some value at the major league level.

One avenue Duquette could pursue for possible bargains is targeting veteran players who are coming off significant injuries. These players certainly come with their share of question marks, and some might not return to their previous form. But many will likely be available at bargain-basement costs, and the risk could pay off handsomely if any of these players are able to recapture their former glory. 

The Orioles, who have struck gold on a handful of reclamation projects lately (left fielder Nate McLouth, anyone?), would be well served to keep their eyes open. Let's look at a handful of players coming off injuries who could be worth a gamble, starting with the hitters.


FRANKLIN GUTIERREZ: A former Mariners center fielder, Gutierrez is one of the most superb defenders in the game when healthy. But Gutierrez has been devastated by a variety of ailments during the past three years, the most recent a strained right hamstring, which he aggravated multiple times in 2013, causing him to miss 121 games. 

Since 2011, Gutierrez has also spent time on the disabled list with a concussion as well as pain in his arm, legs and hips, and he was diagnosed with a genetic disorder that causes inflammation in his joints. He has been on the field for 173 out of a possible 486 games during that span, so it's understandable that the Mariners cut ties with him.

Still, at 30 years old, Gutierrez could have a comeback in him, and he'd be a good fit for the Birds. Gutierrez has a reputation as a defensive wizard; he won a Gold Glove in 2010. In 2009, Gutierrez posted 32 Defensive Runs Saved, according to FanGraphs. For comparison's sake, Orioles third baseman Manny Machado -- who won the 2013 American League Platinum Glove -- posted 35 Defensive Runs Saved in 2013, meaning that Gutierrez was basically the outfield version of Machado in 2009. And although his slew of injuries might have slowed him down a step, he's still an above-average fielder.

Gutierrez isn't a great hitter (a career .697 OPS), but his defense alone would be an upgrade for the Orioles. That's not to say the O's should hand over their open left-field position to him, considering his unreliability at staying on the field, but, if nothing else, he'd be an intriguing fourth outfielder and late-game defensive replacement.

COREY HART: Not to be confused with the singer of "Sunglasses at Night," Hart, 31, is an outfielder and first baseman who has spent his entire nine-year career with the Brewers, earning two All-Star appearances. But he hasn't played a game since 2012, having missed the entire 2013 season because of separate surgeries on both of his knees.

Hart is a prolific slugger, swatting 154 career home runs and carrying a slugging percentage of .491. He has collected 20 or more home runs during five of his last six healthy seasons. It's fair to question whether playing on two surgically repaired knees will sap Hart's power, but he's a potential bargain if he's able to return to his homer-happy form with no ill effects. The righty-swinging Hart, who has an .896 career OPS against lefty pitchers, would particularly help an Orioles team that has struggled against southpaws during recent years.

Hart has primarily played first base and right field in the majors, two positions that are currently spoken for on the Orioles (although Nick Markakis has a tenuous hold on his spot following a 2013 season when he posted career lows in multiple statistical categories). Still, it'd be easy enough to plug Hart into left field and also have him serve as a designated hitter occasionally to rest his knees.

GRADY SIZEMORE: If you think missing a full season, as Hart did, is rough, how about missing two straight seasons? That's what happened to Sizemore, who has been plagued by so many injuries that he hasn't played a game since Sept. 22, 2011. At this point, there's a strong possibility that Sizemore might not appear on a major league field again, but at age 31, he's not giving up yet. And as long as he's looking for work, teams will be interested, based on the high caliber of play Sizemore displayed during the first eight years of his career.

During his prime, Sizemore was one of the game's most impactful players, a multi-talented, three-time All-Star who could hit for power (139 career homers), get on base (.357 career OBP), wreak havoc on the bases (134 steals out of 177 attempts) and play a strong center field (two career Gold Gloves). He was the Mike Trout of a half-decade ago.

Starting in 2009, Sizemore suffered a litany of injuries, which included microfracture surgeries on both knees, two sports hernia surgeries and back surgery, along with several failed rehabilitation attempts. Still, he plans to give it another go in 2014. It wouldn't hurt the Orioles to offer Sizemore a minor league deal and hope to hit the lottery that he comes back healthy, even if the chances are slim.