When discussing potential first-base options for the Orioles yesterday, I neglected to mention my real preference: Mark Reynolds. That could be accomplished by signing third-baseman Adrian Beltre, and then shifting Reynolds to first. Beltre's list of suitors has gotten relatively short, and the latest word is that the Angels have pulled their five year $70 M offer, which appears to have already been the highest out there.
First a quick look at the implications for Reynolds:
At third, he's a 2-2.5 WAR player for 2011. The difference in position adjustment from third to first is +2.5 runs to -12.5 over a full season. That means that in order to stay at 2-2.5 WAR, Reynolds needs to go from being a -6 run defender at third (his career UZR there) to a +9 defender at first. That seems like a real stretch to me, and so Reynolds' projection would fall to 1.5-2 wins. Would I want the O's to sign a first-baseman of that quality to a two year, $13 M contract? Not really. But it wouldn't be worse than giving Adam LaRoche three years at $7-8 M per, and there would still be a little bit of excess value in there for the Birds. It would make the trade for David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio look much worse - likely a loss for the team - but what's done is done. Trading Reynolds to a team in need of a third-baseman during the season or next off-season is an option as well.
On to Beltre:
The guy had a fantastic year in 2010. Getting out of Safeco seemed to agree with him - he hit .321/.365/.553 - and combined with his usual excellent defense he posted a 7.1 fWAR season. Obviously a good deal of regression is expected, but Beltre's glove (+15 career UZR/150) keeps him above average overall even if his bat slips quite a bit. If he hits .270/.325/.465 with +10 defense, then he'd be about a 3.5 win player in 600 plate appearances (and I think that's being conservative; his three-year weighted fWAR is 4.8, and while that includes his outstanding 2010, it also includes his injury* marred 2009). I wouldn't be surprised if Beltre's defense kept him above average longer than one would expect due to age related decline as well, but even if it's the "usual" 0.5 wins per year, a four year, $60 M contract would be perfectly fair. That's a higher average annual value than the Angels were offering, and it would allow Beltre to get another longer-term deal at age 35 as a still average to potentially above average player. I'm not sure how likely Beltre would be to accept such a deal, but even going up to $70 M for four years (same money as LA offered) wouldn't be completely crazy. The team would pretty much break even if Beltre starts out as a 4 win player or if he starts at 3.5 wins and ages only half as quickly (though that's not accounting for the second round draft-pick the team would have to give up).
* Not only would it be a pleasure to watch Beltre's glove-work at third from a baseball perspective, it would also be exciting - like a high-wire performer working without a net.
Signing Beltre improves the 2011 club over and above any other free agent option left on the market - notably the first-basemen - and it also sets the team up better for 2012-2013. In my mind, it's pretty doubtful that Josh Bell will be an above average major leaguer in the next few years (if ever). And there aren't any good third-basemen on the market for 2012. Beltre would very possibly be the team's best player in (at least) 2011, and he and JJ Hardy would give the Orioles perhaps the best defensive left side of the infield in baseball. Now, I think the odds of Andy MacPhail actually seriously going after Beltre are very long - perhaps even longer than the odds of Beltre coming to Baltimore even if the O's were to make a run at him. That doesn't mean that it isn't a good idea though.