Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette and manager… (Mitchell Layton / Getty…)
In a couple days, that big ball will drop in Times Square and usher in 2014. In a few weeks, the Orioles will open spring training and we'll start to find out whether they dropped the ball this winter.
It's too early to say, of course. Dan Duquette has done some of his best work in the final days before the club returns to Florida, so it's only fair to wait and see what he might pull out of his hat over the next month or so. They say good things come to those who wait, right?
He might already have caught a little lightning with the acquisition of outfielder David Lough, whose skill set intrigues manager Buck Showalter. Reliever Ryan Webb looks like he'll be a real nice setup man. And maybe one or two other guys will get off that bus full of unheralded offseason pickups and make a contribution to what everyone around here hopes will be the Orioles' third straight winning season.
There's your glass half full, so you might want to sip it slowly, because the negative view — at this point — holds a little more water.
The Orioles enter the new year with more holes to fill than they had when the 2013 season ended and they were a handful of games short of the second American League wild-card slot. There is some time left, but there also are dramatically fewer possibilities than there were when the free-agent and trade markets opened in earnest in November.
Nobody seriously expected to find Robinson Cano or Jacoby Ellsbury under the tree this week, but the trade of Jim Johnson and the collapse of the Grant Balfour deal have created a very uncertain horizon at a time when the Orioles' well-heeled division rivals have combined to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on free agents and appear to be far from finished.
Since there's no way to adequately counter that on an economic level, especially at this late date, the best way for the Orioles to reassure their fan base would be to take some of their "reallocated" resources and lock up at least one of the key players who is creeping closer to free agency.
The front office and ownership have made it clear that the franchise has to conserve payroll, presumably because the Orioles expect to give some big raises to their arbitration-eligible stars and want to position themselves to hold onto some of those players long term. Now would be a good time to prove that and disabuse their customers of the notion that the window of opportunity is already starting to close on the nucleus of the team.
Who really wants to consider the possibility that the Orioles will either trade away Matt Wieters and Chris Davis or lose them to free agency over the next two years? Who really wants to look into the future and see Adam Jones playing the good-soldier role that Nick Markakis had to play through all those lousy seasons?
The only thing keeping that angst from bubbling up right now is all the angst that has bubbled up around the Ravens as they fight an uphill battle to return to the playoffs.
Trouble is, it's not just about the Orioles possibly letting that window close. They also have to consider that the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are trying to slam it shut. Those teams have been making noises for the past year or two about restoring some payroll sanity, but they have remained in the mix for every top-quality free agent while systematically reallocating their resources to maintain their long-standing dominance over the American League East.
If the Orioles aren't willing to play that game — and they clearly are not — they have to find a way to keep the talent they draft and develop. Obviously, it takes two to tango and superagent Scott Boras, who represents both Wieters and Davis, is going to be their main dance partner for the next few years. But the worst thing they can do is wait until the auction starts.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog, and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" on Friday mornings at 9 on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.