O's willing to spend money, but who's willing to take it?

November 27, 2010|By Peter Schmuck

When Andy MacPhail said last week that he was "disappointed" the Orioles were not able to sign free agent Victor Martinez, you had to take him at his word.

There are still a few cynical fans out there who don't believe the O's really are willing to spend big money to buy quality players, but the club reportedly outbid the Boston Red Sox and were pretty much side-by-side with the Detroit Tigers, who — here we go again — gave him a much better chance of playing in the postseason.

They also gave him $2 million more, but you can be fairly sure the Orioles would have improved on their offer if there was a chance that it would do any good.

The issue isn't how much money the Orioles are willing to give somebody. It's whether somebody suitable is willing to take it.

Martinez would have been a solid fit for the Orioles and he clearly was at the top of their free agent wish list, which is why the club offered him a four-year deal worth $48 million. When he chose to go elsewhere, it didn't take long for the message boards and the talk show types to trot out Syd Thrift's famous line from a decade ago.

"It's like I'm offering Confederate money."

The Orioles may have turned a corner during the final two months of the 2010 season. They hired a big-name manager and showed the rest of the American League East that they just might become a problem over the next year or two. But the rest of the baseball world — and that includes this year's free agent class — still views this as a franchise that has not had a winning season since the Clinton administration.

That might change if the Orioles can fill the power and run-production gap at the heart of their batting order, and Martinez would certainly have helped. He isn't the prototypical cleanup hitter, but he is a consistently productive switch-hitter who hit .400 from the left side of the plate last year.

Now, the club has to turn to a list of less attractive possibilities to fill that void, almost all of which have some drawback — either from a signability or risk/reward standpoint.

Adam Dunn would provide the big flies — he's been good for an average 40 a year for the past seven seasons — but he struck out nearly 200 times this year, he's a defensive liability at first base and he has indicated that he wants to stay in the National League.

Slugging first baseman Carlos Pena is one of the big reasons the Tampa Bay Rays have been able to compete in the American League East, and he's averaged 36 home runs the past four seasons. He's also a Gold Glove first baseman, which would make him a perfect fit if somebody could figure out why his batting average has declined by at least 20 points each of the past three seasons and bottomed out at .196 in 2010

He's signable, but how much can the Orioles reasonably commit to a guy with that kind of trend line who also is a lock to strike out 150 times per year?

Paul Konerko is a far more consistent hitter, but he'll turn 35 before the start of the 2011 season and all indicators point to him remaining with the Chicago White Sox, who offered him salary arbitration and clearly want him back.

The next-best option might be Adam LaRoche, who is coming off a career run-production year (25 HRs, 100 RBIs) with the Arizona Diamondbacks, who offered him arbitration on Wednesday. The Orioles also could take a chance on Derrek Lee or Lance Berkman, but both appear to be in decline, which could set the O's up for another Garrett Atkins-type situation.

The Orioles almost have to sign somebody to shore up the lineup, but the situation is complicated by the potential availability of both Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder either in trade or as free agents a year from now.

Do they lock a lesser option into a multi-year deal or try to upgrade the offense elsewhere and wait for the chance to acquire a superstar somewhere down the road.

It's a complicated question that MacPhail was ready to answer with his offer to Martinez. It's an even tougher call now.

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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