Should the Orioles re-sign Nate McLouth?
The easy answer is “yes, of course.”
However, the real question should be; what role should the Orioles re-sign Nate McLouth for? As free agency approaches, this will be one of the bigger questions surrounding the Orioles besides finding help at second base and adding depth to the pitching staff.
After being released by the Pittsburgh Pirates at the end of May and playing 47 games with the Norfolk Tides, McLouth was finally given the opportunity to play for the Orioles on August 4th. In 55 games, while hitting third and then first after Nick Markakis was lost for the season, McLouth batted .268 with seven homeruns and 12 stolen bases. The stat that I love the most, however, was his .342 on base percentage. Over the course of a full season, only Nick Markakis would have had a higher OBP.
For a team that finished 23rd in all of baseball with a .311 OBP, McLouth’s ability to get on base was much needed. The 12 stolen bases were good enough for second on the team behind Adam Jones’ 16. Again, this was while playing in one-third of the Orioles’ games. I can’t forget to mention that the team defense started to turn around with his arrival in left field and the .308 batting average during the playoffs.
If McLouth was to return to Baltimore and if Brian Roberts proves to be healthy for the first time since 2009, Buck Showalter would have three legitimate options to bat leadoff. Showalter would then be able to drop J.J. Hardy down in the lineup where he is better suited. This will also give Showalter “length” to his lineup, something he constantly preaches about.
Bringing McLouth back is a no-brainer, but he will be looking for a multi-year contract and the guarantee to start. I can’t blame him for that, but these are the reasons why the Orioles may be reluctant to do that:
The return of Nolan Reimold
Reimold’s return should not preclude the Orioles from signing McLouth. Reimold is a huge question mark himself and he will have to earn his way on the 2013 roster, but he was the Orioles best hitter until his season ended in late April.
The Orioles have said publicly that they still think Reimold can be a valuable asset to the team. Unless he becomes the everyday DH, Reimold will be getting the majority of his playing time in left field, which will impact McLouth.
It will be interesting to see how the Orioles handle this situation. If they go after McLouth and try to lock him up, it may mean the end of Reimold in Baltimore. If they feel Reimold can be a contributor, than McLouth may be the odd man out.
McLouth will be 31 years old at the start of the season
McLouth is not going to get old overnight, but for a player that relies on speed, his age could make the Orioles hesitant to give McLouth a multi-year contract. I don’t think this will be the reason the O’s don’t lock him up long-term, but at 31-years-old, McLouth is closer to being out of his prime than in it. After eight seasons, McLouth is not going reinvent himself as a player. He is what he is and that is a good defender with a below average arm that has a career average of .248. There are many players out there that provide what McLouth has done throughout his career.
The question the Orioles are asking themselves now is;
Did McLouth resurrect his career or just have a solid 3 months?
This is the most important question, and we will find out what the Orioles think in a few weeks. The O’s extended Adam Jones earlier this year because they felt the best was yet to come and they did not want him to become too expensive that they couldn’t lock him up long-term. I can’t imagine Dan Duquette having the same mentality when it comes to McLouth. You can make the argument that McLouth was on his way to having a career year. Over 162 games, the projections would have been his best season since he was an All-Star in 2008. That season, McLouth hit .276 with 26 homeruns, 23 stolen bases, 46 doubles and a .356 OBP.
If McLouth stayed on his pace with the O’s he would have shattered his career high in stolen bases and come close in the other categories. Since the 2008 season, McLouth hit 20 homeruns one time, never batted .260 or higher until his stint in Baltimore, and never collected 20 stolen bases. The big kicker is he hasn’t played in more than 130 games since that All-Star season. The hope is McLouth lost his way for 2 ½ seasons and he is back to being the player he was in his mid-20’s.
The Orioles don’t have the luxury at this point to go on hope. I can see McLouth asking for 3 years at around 5 million a year. He will probably settle for two years, but he will want the guarantee to start. The O’s will be comfortable having him compete for a spot and at worst they have a great 4th outfielder. They run the risk, however, of another team thinking he is the player he was at 26 and paying him handsomely.
McLouth’s career was on the brink of being over before Duquette gave him another opportunity and he made the most of it. He gave the team a spark it desperately needed when Markakis was injured and was the only consistent hitter during the playoffs.
Fans look at what he did in his time in Baltimore and forget that the Orioles were his third organization in two seasons. I look at a guy who was motivated to prove one more time that he belonged in the big leagues. I can’t ignore the previous 2 ½ seasons and hand the guy a starting job and sign him for a couple of seasons. I would sign him to a one-year deal though and hope we are in the exact same situation a year from now then lock him up for 2-3 years and wonder how we will be able to unload his contract.