The Baltimore Orioles have a difficult task ahead of them the next few years with three juggernauts ahead of them in the American League East. However, since Andy MacPhail took over baseball operations in 2007, the Orioles have positioned themselves for a bright future. Part of this is manifested in their crowded, young, and skilled outfield.
The two best players in the outfield are right fielder Nick Markakis (26 in 2010) and center fielder Adam Jones (24). Combining ZiPS, CHONE, and my own projections for offense and Jeff Zimmerman‘s UZR projections and CHONE’s TotalZone for defense, Markakis projects as a +21/150 hitter in 2010, and +2 defender in right field for about 3.6 WAR.Jones’ projections vary more widely, but he comes in at about +9/150 hitting, +1 fielding (both Jones and Markakis had surprising down years defensively in 2009) for about 3.2 WAR. Those are the obvious guys. For the remaining outfield spot, the Orioles have three candidates: Nolan Reimold, Felix Pie, and Luke Scott.
The 26 year-old Reimold will probably begin 2010 in left field, assuming he recovers well from ankle surgery. Reimold came on strong in 2009, projecting at about +12/150 offensively. His defense was less impressive, and he projects as a about a -6/150 defender in left field. Overall, that’s about about a league-average player. Still, there’s a lot of uncertainty in his defensive projection, and he is young.
While Reimold is the popular choice to start in left field, it’s not obviously the correct choice. While Felix Pie projects as the worst hitter in the group a -4/150, he’s also as good or better than Jones as a center fielder (+2), which would translate to about +12 in left field. So he projects as about a league average (2.0 WAR) player, and is the second-youngest player in the group (only to Jones). While he probably won’t ever be the superstar people though he would be become before the Cubs started jerking him around (as is their tradition), he’s young, good, and has little enough service time that it’s understandable why other teams are interested in obtaining him, and also why the Orioles have so far refused to sell him for a bag of magic beans.
Scott is the odd man out in this situation, but it’s hardly due to a lack of talent. As a hitter, he projects at +11/150. Despite being primarily a designated hitter in 2009, his past performance in the field suggests that is a waste of his talents, as he projects as +2 in left field — clearly better than Reimold. Overall, that makes Scott about a 2.5 WAR player.
The Orioles are in an enviable position of not only having excess talent in the outfield, but not necessarily having to trade any of them. Scott is an underrated player, but given his age (32), arbitration status, and the Orioles overall situation, he should be the first to go. But it’s not as if his arbitration award will be onerous relative to his value. If he’s willing to move to first base (despite his defensive ability), that would fill a hole for the Orioles. But he might have the most value in trade to a team that needs a left fielder, where his skills are best utilized as a 2-2.5 WAR outfielder rather than a 1-1.5 WAR DH.
Pie is the wildcard, as he’s barely older than Jones, and perhaps the most defensively skilled player of the group. Baltimore has understandably committed to Jones in center given his superior bat (although Pie has better plate discipline). While Reimold is the popular choice to start in left, Pie’s far superior defensive skills make him more than just a fourth outfielder. For the future, the Orioles might be best off trading Pie and/or Scott for prospects and/or filling another area of need in the majors. On the other hand, especially in Pie’s case, he’s young, cheap, and skilled enough that they don’t have to trade him, and can certainly find something for him to do around the office. Not many teams find themselves in such a comfortable situation.