What will the Orioles do?

Five key questions facing the team heading into the winter meetings

December 06, 2009|By Jeff Zrebiec | jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

Armed with an extensive list of needs and ample payroll flexibility, the Orioles' top decision-makers will descend on Indianapolis this week for baseball's annual winter meetings.

They are looking to fill both corner infield spots, shore up the back end of the bullpen and add an accomplished innings-eater to their rotation.

So far, the Orioles have been quiet, their transactions limited to routine roster maintenance and minor league signings. They could change that when executives from all 30 teams and representatives for the top free agents come together this week.

"We made the first contacts, and we'll follow that up with discussions when we reach Indianapolis," Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said. "But we don't have anything remotely close to being done. ... I think we will be less active at these particular meetings than we were a year ago but probably more active by the time this offseason is said and done than we were last year."

Here are five questions facing the club as it prepares for the start of the meetings Monday.

Will the Orioles make a major move this week?

Probably not. While MacPhail is fond of saying that everything could change with one phone call, he acknowledged that he doesn't foresee much activity this week.

When Orioles officials went to the winter meetings last year in Las Vegas, they pinpointed free agent Cesar Izturis as their No. 1 choice to fill their shortstop vacancy. They wanted to dump catcher Ramon Hernandez to clear the way for prospect Matt Wieters and take the first step in trying to lure free-agent first baseman Mark Teixeira back home to Maryland.

They signed Izturis, jettisoned Hernandez to the Cincinnati Reds and extended a $140 million offer to Teixeira, which was rejected by the Mount St. Joseph graduate in favor of a bigger one from the New York Yankees.

This year, there is no one free agent who the Orioles view as a perfect fit. Therefore, the deliberate MacPhail seems content to let what appears will be a slow-moving free-agent market play itself out, believing that the laws of supply and demand are in the Orioles' favor. Team officials believe there are far more available corner infielders and closers than teams that are looking for help at those positions.

So, it appears likely that the Orioles will be more aggressive after the nontender deadline Saturday. At that point, free agents will have fewer options and more anxiety about the type of contract that they'll have to sign.

How will the Orioles add an impact hitter?

MacPhail and manager Dave Trembley have talked for months about the importance of adding a middle-of-the-order hitter. What is unclear is where this hitter is going to come from.

Barring a change in philosophy, the Orioles will not be bidding on free-agent outfielders Matt Holliday and Jason Bay, the two biggest impact hitters on the market. There have been no indications that they are serious players for any of the other veteran outfielder-designated hitter-types, such as Vladimir Guerrero, Hideki Matsui or Jermaine Dye.

Adrian Beltre, one of the better free-agent third basemen available, has a high asking price and a desire to remain on the West Coast, and most of the available free-agent corner infielders are injury-prone and no longer considered consistent power threats.

There has been speculation that first basemen Adrian Gonzalez of the San Diego Padres and Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers are available via trade, but MacPhail has repeatedly said he's reluctant to trade the organization's top prospects for short-term fixes. Gonzalez, who is two seasons shy of free agency, would probably be considered just that, while Cabrera carries off-the-field baggage and an enormous contract ($126 million remaining on his deal).

A couple of the Orioles' potential targets - Pedro Feliz, Hank Blalock and Nick Johnson - are solid players, but they don't project as impact middle-of-the-order hitters in the American League East.

Who are the Orioles' likely trade chips?

The most likely Oriole to be moved is probably designated hitter Luke Scott, who is coming off a season in which he set career highs in homers (25) and RBIs (77). Trading Scott would allow Trembley to get Nolan Reimold, who had Achilles tendon surgery in September, some at-bats in the DH spot and Felix Pie more time in left field.

Pie also could be used as a trade chip, and infielder Ty Wigginton is another Oriole who could be moved to a team looking for a right-handed hitter off the bench.

Starter Jeremy Guthrie, who has been the subject of trade rumors the past two seasons, will not be dealt unless the Orioles are overwhelmed by an offer or find a way to add two veteran starters.

How much will the Orioles value pitching?

If the Orioles are determined to upgrade their rotation and bullpen this offseason, they're going to have to contend with high price tags and considerable risks and ramifications.

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