Is this the offseason O's go after big slugger?

September 26, 2010|Peter Schmuck

There doesn't seem to be much debate about the shopping list the Orioles are likely to carry into the free agent and trade markets this winter, but that's only a small part of the offseason equation.

Anyone who has watched this team — either during the frightening first four months of the season or the uplifting last seven weeks — can see the glaring holes in the middle of the batting order that must be filled if the Orioles are ever to rise up and re-assert themselves as a legitimate contender in the American League East.

It's not really a question of what they need. It's a question of who they can get and whether this is the right time to make that big offseason push the fans have been waiting for since Andy MacPhail embarked on his long-term rebuilding program 39 months ago.

MacPhail and new manager Buck Showalter may still have enough patience to look past this winter to a more fertile free agent landscape next year, but let's assume that they'll make a good-faith attempt to upgrade the lineup and try to maintain the momentum that has been building since Showalter arrived in early August.

Who is out there that would make a dynamic difference?

This year's list of free agent boppers includes some interesting possibilities, but nobody who would qualify as a perfect fit. The trade market could feature a couple of superstar sluggers, but the price in talent and the difficulty of negotiating a long-term contract before closing a blockbuster deal make a trade for a Prince Fielder or an Adrian Gonzalez highly unlikely.

Don't misunderstand. There certainly are players available this winter who could help the Orioles extend their strong late-season performance into next year, and you'll be hearing their names a lot over the next few months, but unless the St. Louis Cardinals decide not to pick up their 2011 option on Albert Pujols, there isn't anybody out there who is above some kind of statistical or logistical reproach.

Nationals first baseman Adam Dunn, for instance, has averaged 40 home runs over the past seven seasons and is just 30 years old. That kind of dependable power would have a major impact on an Orioles offense that has sputtered all season, but Dunn is a liability in the field and is on pace this year to strike out almost 200 times.

Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Carlos Pena also has elite power and he's anything but a defensive liability at first base, but he also averages more than one strikeout per game and entered the weekend batting just .201. His average has fallen at least 20 points in each of the past three seasons (including 2010).

The Orioles could take a look at Paul Konerko after a big bounce-back season, but he's 34 and he's a huge crowd favorite in Chicago. Lance Berkman will be available if the Yankees decline his $15 million option — which seems likely — but he has shown marked statistical decline over the past two seasons.

ESPN's Buster Olney just threw Red Sox catcher/first baseman Victor Martinez into the conversation, speculating that he would be a nice fit at first base, designated hitter and as an occasional fill-in for Matt Wieters behind the plate. That makes a lot of sense, but Martinez has made it known that he considers himself a full-time catcher and probably will lean toward a team looking for one.

If the Orioles decide to add some pop at third base, the top free agent will be Adrian Beltre, who can opt out of his Red Sox contract. He is having a terrific season, but he's also the king of the contract drive.

See, there's always something, and the Orioles have a history of looking for reasons not to sign big-money players, but they need to get over that.

Maybe this isn't the winter when Peter Angelos unleashes the full power of his pocketbook on the free agent market. Maybe MacPhail and Showalter are willing to wait one more year to see if the grass is greener on the other side of 2011.

That's very possible, but the Orioles still need to be aggressive enough this winter to beef up the middle of the lineup and make sure the young pitching staff has enough support to continue its current developmental surge.

That's the least they can do.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Fridays and Saturdays and at 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays with Brett Hollander. Also, check out his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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