Orioles head into free agency in a different position from previous years

Team has most major spots filled, but some opportunities for improvement remain

November 02, 2012|By Dan Connolly | The Baltimore Sun

The Orioles head into free agency — which starts in earnest Saturday with free agents permitted to negotiate with all 30 teams for the first time this offseason — in a much different situation than this time last year.

Executive vice president Dan Duquette, who wasn't officially hired until last Nov. 8, is not only in place as club's decision-maker, but he seems to be established as a man with a plan.

Instead of trying to fill holes after another disaster of a season, Duquette and company are charged this offseason with continuing the momentum from a surprising and inspiring 2012, in which the Orioles made the playoffs for the first time in 15 years.

"We have a lot more depth for our team now, but we have more work to do to accomplish our goals," Duquette said. "Every year is tough. Every year is a challenge."

Managing Partner Peter G. Angelos, who has purposely avoided the spotlight in the past few years, made a point of telling his players and the media after Game 5 of the American League Division Series that he'll do what he can to make sure the club returns to the postseason in 2013.

And, for the first time in years, Baltimore looks to be an attractive destination for potential free agents: a playoff club with a young, talented nucleus, a seemingly re-energized fan base and a home park that remains one of baseball's best.

Yet, Duquette — and Andy MacPhail before him — got to this point by not buying big-time free agents, but instead through trades and sensible, under-the radar purchases as well as doling out contract extensions to their own keepers.

Duquette has gone on record as saying his plan to target undervalued assets and build through the farm system is not wavering, an indication that the Orioles' current holes on offense and the pitching staff will not be filled by available superstars such as Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke.

"We're going to continue to build our team; free agency is just one of the ways to do it," Duquette said. "We'll continue to look at all of the different markets and the different ways to add to our ballclub."

Duquette has shown in the past year, however, that he is not exactly predictable. He's also not one to share his blueprints with the media, so speculation will run rampant again this offseason and the Orioles likely won't make many — if any — acquisitions that will grab national headlines. But it's likely they'll be busy tweaking the 40-man roster, attempting to find the next Miguel Gonzalez or Nate McLouth or Lew Ford.

Here's a look at the Orioles' needs and how they could be filled in the following months.


The left side is set. Manny Machado will return as the incumbent at third base, despite his status as shortstop of the future. J.J. Hardy, shortstop of the present, will hold down that post for another year.

Second base was the most obvious spot for an upgrade and, right now, it's also the most crowded position. Robert Andino and Ryan Flaherty ended the season in a platoon. Andino is viewed more as a super-utility player and Flaherty, a rookie in 2012, made strides defensively, but is still learning the position. Little-used Omar Quintanilla also is the 40-man roster.

Brian Roberts hopes to return from hip surgery, but turned 35 in October and has played just 115 games in the past three years. He can't be counted on as a starter at this point. Given the muddled second base situation, the Orioles claimed 28-year-old infielder Alexi Casilla off waivers from the Minnesota Twins on Friday.

Duquette said the speedy Casilla, who batted .241 with 21 steals in 22 attempts last season for the Twins, "should be able to be in that (second base) mix" in 2013. With the Casilla acquisition, Duquette said Friday he didn't expect to actively pursue a second baseman in free agency.

The free agent class at second base is exceptionally weak. The most intriguing player is 32-year-old Jeff Keppinger, who batted .325 with a .367 on-base percentage for the Tampa Bay Rays last year. Far from a star, Keppinger is a solid veteran who plays the game right and can move around the infield if needed.

The Orioles' biggest infield dilemma is at first base, where Mark Reynolds excelled defensively. The club may decide not to tender a contract to the arbitration-eligible Reynolds and allow him to test free agency instead of paying him in the $9 million range in 2013. If they can't re-negotiate a multi-year, lower-annual-salary contract with Reynolds, they could settle on Chris Davis as the everyday first baseman and add another bat that could share time at designated hitter with Wilson Betemit.

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