5:17pm: ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that the Orioles are interested in something in the vicinity of Howie Kendrick’s two-year, $20MM with regard to Fowler (links to Twitter). He also hears that there’s been at least informal dialogue between the two sides recently.
4:29pm: The Orioles are reportedly nearing an agreement with right-hander Yovani Gallardo, and Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that if that deal is ultimately finalized, it might only mark the beginning of Baltimore’s late-season maneuvering (links to Twitter). Signing Gallardo would require forfeiture of the team’s No. 14 overall draft pick, and if Baltimore surrenders that pick, the team would be willing to part with the 29th overall selection (its second overall pick, received as compensation for Wei-Yin Chen signing with the Marlins) to add Fowler to the mix. The Orioles also have interest in a trade for Reds right fielder Jay Bruce and interest in free agent Pedro Alvarez, according to Rosenthal. MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko tweets that he, too, has heard that the Orioles would be willing to part with their second pick for Fowler, though not everyone in the front office is in agreement on that front.
Fowler, 29, is coming off one of the best seasons of his career, having batted .250/.346/.411 with a career-high 17 home runs and 20 stolen bases (the second-highest single-season total of his career). The Orioles have a notable need in the outfield, as mainstay Adam Jones is the only surefire source of production in the current group. Korean slugger Hyun-Soo Kim has the upside to be an everyday left fielder, based on his track record in the KBO, but he’s untested in Major League waters. The right field picture is even murkier, with Nolan Reimold, Ryan Flaherty and Mark Trumbo as 40-man options and non-roster invitees L.J. Hoes, Xavier Avery and Alfredo Marte also in the mix. Trumbo, though, profiles more as a designated hitter and has traditionally been a defensive liability in the outfield.
Trumbo may, in fact, have to play in the outfield were the Orioles to sign Alvarez and give him a regular role, as he’d be limited to DH, leaving Trumbo and Chris Davis as options at first base and in right field. Alvarez could, in theory, be a platoon option at DH, with Trumbo handling right field against right-handed pitchers and slotting in at designated hitter with a lefty on the mound.
Bruce, 29 in April, is coming off his second straight disappointing season after a poor finish to the 2015 campaign dragged down his numbers on the year. Bruce was batting .260/.342/.492 as of Aug. 1, but he limped to a .173/.214/.345 finish across his final 59 games, leaving him with an overall batting line of .226/.294/.434 line. Bruce did mash 26 home runs — the fifth time in the past six seasons that he’s hit 25 or more. He’s owed $12.5MM in 2016 and has a $13MM club option ($1MM buyout) for the 2017 season on his contract as well.
Adding Fowler, in particular, would make some sense for the Orioles, as he’d be a defensive and offensive upgrade over their current options in right field. The fit between the two sides has been addressed in multiple editions of the MLBTR Podcast and once again this week in the MLBTR Mailbag, when I opined that Fowler represents an even more substantial upgrade to the Orioles’ internal options than does Gallardo. The downside, of course, is that the Orioles already possess one of baseball’s weakest farm systems (indeed, Rosenthal notes that Baltimore may not even have enough prospect capital to entice the Reds to part with Bruce). Parting with the top two picks in their 2016 draft would only further deplete the team’s chances of re-stocking the farm and could prove costly as the rest of the roster ages. Then again, the Orioles could potentially recoup draft picks in the event that they make qualifying offers to Gallardo and/or Fowler, should either perform well and be eligible to enter the open market again next winter (either via one-year contract or an opt-out clause, as is reportedly being discussed with Gallardo).