The Orioles have reportedly come to terms with outfielder Jay Payton, most recently of the Oakland Athletics. The 34-year old Payton saw significant action in all three outfield spots last season but will see most of his time in left field for the Orioles. The two year agreement is for a reported total of approximately $9.75 million.
The right-handed Payton not only fills a gaping hole in left field, he will become the only starting Orioles outfielder that does not hit left-handed. His 2006 batting line of .296/.325/.418 falls well short of the American League left field averages of .280/.347/.449. However, the Orioles are hopeful that his career batting line against southpaws of .288/.346/.460 will help a lineup that has struggled against left-handers.
Although Payton may not be the offensive boon that the Orioles need to carry them into contention, he is a rangy and versatile defender. In 2006 alone, he had a 109 Rate2 in left field, which is consistent with previous seasons. He also has a career 102 Rate2 in centerfield, although his 2006 Rate2 of 88 is well below average. That comes in a sample of 46 games, however, so Payton should have no problem subbing for Corey Patterson against tough left-handers. When Payton, Patterson, and Nick Markakis all start, the Orioles will boast one of the best defensive outfields in baseball.
Though this falls short of the marquee signing that many Orioles fans were expecting, Payton is not without his uses. For one, he certainly improves upon the mind-boggling Brandon Fahey experiment in left field. His defensive versatility and right-handedness also allow Sam Perlozzo quite a bit of leeway in how Payton fits into the lineup. Unfortunately, Payton has a history of seeing himself as more than the fourth outfielder his offensive contributions indicate he is. He all but forced a trade to the Athletics, coincidentally for the recently acquired Chad Bradford, in 2005 when he was forced to play platoon caddy to Trot Nixon. Payton has also turned off fans from coast-to-coast with a perceived lack of hustle.
In a limited role, Payton is a worthwhile addition to any roster. The new challenge for the Orioles will be to acquire an outfielder good enough to force Payton into a limited role.
Michael Hollman is the Senior Writer for Inside The Warehouse and can be reached via email at Publisher@InsideTheWarehouse.com