DALLAS — The Hilton Anatole hotel is a place so massive that you wouldn't be able to hear it if a 747 landed in the parking lot, but when the Orioles announced their one deal at this week's winter meetings, I could swear I heard a collective groan from the team's beleaguered fan base.
Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette tried to cast the trade for journeyman pitcher Dana Eveland as a decent opportunity to add depth to the Orioles' pitching staff, which is fine. The two minor league players who were sent to the Los Angeles Dodgers probably won't be sorely missed. But Duquette is taking small steps to improve his roster at a time when his team's fans are taking antidepressants to get through what is shaping up to be an uncompelling offseason.
That doesn't mean that what was accomplished in Dallas doesn't matter. The Rule 5 draft produced a decent-enough minor league infielder (Ryan Flaherty), and Eveland gave some indication last year that he turned a corner at his sixth major league stop. It's just that the Orioles have done so little to excite their fans that anything short of a major free-agent acquisition is going to be met with well-deserved cynicism.
We can only hope that Duquette doesn't take it personally. He hasn't been here for the past 14 losing seasons and he certainly can't be expected to turn the team around in a month, so he shouldn't have a thin skin. He just needs to realize that the Orioles have spent a lot of time half-stepping, so these first baby steps are not going to be met with anything but more resignation.
To his credit, he didn't try to snow anybody, choosing instead to cast the week as simply a net plus for the organization.
"Yeah, I think we added to our team," he said. "It's all added. We're building. I don't think we're giving up significant talent to add to what we're building at the major league level, and we still have some opportunities to add some players from the free-agent market.
Of course, the downside to doing this kind of thing during the winter meetings is that there are other teams going absolutely spend-crazy, and they aren't just the ones in baseball's mega-media markets.
Orioles fans stood by while the medium-market Florida Marlins spent $191 million on free agents Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell over the past few days. The moves Duquette and the Orioles' front office made Thursday were cast in the giant shadow of the $250 million contract the Los Angeles Angels gave to superstar Albert Pujols and the $77.5 million deal they subsequently announced with former Texas Rangers pitcher C.J. Wilson.
Nobody in Baltimore expected the Orioles to make any kind of play for Pujols, but it has to gall Orioles fans to know that the Angels could spend a quarter of a million bucks and still be a player for one of the best pitchers on the market.
To be fair, nobody has been lied to. Duquette said from the start that the Orioles would wait for the "big sharks to eat" before wading into the free-agent market. He obviously believes he can build a .500 team on a modest budget and that a steady, incremental approach is the best way to get there and beyond, but he's not the first guy to champion that approach.
There's still time for Duquette to make some kind of splash. There's no financial reason the Orioles can't jump in on one of the decent free-agent pitchers who might sign a two-year or three-year deal, but there has been no indication that they have any intention of doing that.
Duquette said Wednesday that fans are interested only in seeing a good product on the field, but there's more to it than that at this point. They want the Orioles to show them some money, and it's going to be hard for them to warm up to Duquette's new plan if they have to suffer through another cold, uneventful winter.
Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and wbal.com.
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