Are the Orioles getting left behind in the AL East?

While Toronto, Boston have gone on spending sprees, Duquette stays patient

December 18, 2012|Peter Schmuck

If this is December, then there are a lot of Orioles fans who are wondering the same thing.

Why is it that every year at this time, the other American League East teams do their holiday shopping at Lord &Taylor and the Orioles seem to do most of theirs at the dollar store?

It's a fair question, considering that the Toronto Blue Jays are on a spending spree of such magnitude that it might impact the currency exchange rate between the United States and Canada, and the Boston Red Sox are buying up average players for $13 million apiece per season.

Even the Tampa Bay Rays have pulled off a major deal, trading starting pitcher James Shields to upgrade their soft offensive attack, which is why you're probably getting the gnawing feeling that if the Orioles don't do something significant soon, they may get left behind.

The Orioles went to the Winter Meetings and came back with left-hander T.J. McFarland, who they picked up in the Rule 5 draft, which is the Major League Baseball equivalent of a swap meet. Their other outside acquisitions this winter have all been low-profile guys who could end up on next season's Baltimore-Norfolk taxi squad.

Now, there are all sorts of possible explanations for the way the Orioles have gone about this offseason, from the cynical fan favorite — they're still cheap and indecisive — to the happier conclusion that this is pretty much the way baseball operations guru Dan Duquette did business a year ago and things turned out pretty well.

The acquisition of another young candidate for the major league rotation will make perfect sense if the Orioles end up using one or two of their other young arms to pull off a significant deal for a middle-of-the-order hitter ... or if they were just looking to have a third player on their roster with catchy initials instead of a first name.

The hesitation to throw a big three-year contract at free-agent first baseman Adam LaRoche can be explained away by real budget considerations during an offseason the O's entered with the most arbitration-eligible players in either league. LaRoche also would cost them their first-round pick in next year's draft, which is no small thing for a team bent on building a broad foundation of young talent for the long run.

That's all logical enough, but the Orioles would be foolish to think the world is going to stand still while they wait for the next growth spurt from their newest wave of minor league prospects. If they want to double-down on last year's success and keep the attendance and television ratings on the upswing, it's going to take more than reclamation projects like Trayvon Robinson and Conor Jackson to keep stay near the top of the AL East.

Remember, the Orioles ran up a statistically improbable string of 16 straight extra-inning victories and had the best record in major league history in one-run games. That's a tribute to their toughness, chemistry and terrific manager, but the odds of both those things happening again next season aren't much better than that Powerball ticket you've got stuffed behind the Oriole-themed credit card in your wallet.

Duquette has been saying all along that he is trying to acquire a legitimate power bat and you can't count him out with seven weeks still remaining until the opening of training camps. He did his best work last year — signing Taiwanese pitcher Wei-Yin Chen and acquiring starter Jason Hammel — in January and early February.

The flavor of this month is LaRoche, who is insisting on a big three-year deal and probably will end up back with the Nationals anyway. The Orioles are believed to be interested, but reluctant to give up the 24th overall pick in the draft next June and probably a bit concerned about his age (33) and durability a year after playing just 43 games in 2011.

If Duquette has something good up his sleeve, those are all good reasons to stand down with LaRoche, but he looks like a near-perfect fit at first base and the kind of bat the O's need to protect Adam Jones and Matt Wieters in the lineup.

Do you give up a late first-round pick and a bunch of money for that?

If you don't want to get left behind, you just might.

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at

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