Primer: Baltimore Orioles At The Winter Meetings

Dan Duquette, Orioles GM, and Buck Showalter, Orioles manager

Dan Duquette spoke with the media yesterday regarding his goals and intentions for the Winter Meetings which begin this morning.  Duquette stated obvious needs and otherwise gave no legitimate details into his thinking moving forward.  That is to be expected from the man who publicly endorsed Jim Johnson at the end of last season, claiming that he would no doubt be tendered and stick as the Orioles’ closer in 2014, only to flip him for Jemile Weeks less than a week ago. The decision to trade Johnson was a rough message to fans, only to be outdone by a week of Hot Stove action in baseball which saw hundreds of millions of dollars flying in all directions.  Of all that money, the Orioles were only involved with $5 million of it.  $4.5 to reliever Ryan Webb (extremely similar to Johnson, a trend unnoticed by many who simply look for flashy names) and a guaranteed minimum salary to outfielder Francisco PegueroRobinson Cano alone got $240 million dedicated to his craft.  Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson, and Carlos Beltran, among others, were divvied out eight digit sums. The Orioles stood pat, watching Scott Feldman take $30 million over three years with the Houston Astros and more notably Nate McLouth claim a two year, $10.75 million pact with the Washington Nationals.  Combine all of this with the late Friday afternoon announcement that ticket prices would be on the rise at Camden Yards in 2014 and the Orioles front office has provoked their fan base to flare up and become ill-tempered with the persistent hibernation of such a storied franchise. How much money the Orioles have to spend remains to be seen.  The payroll at the beginning of 2013 was a tick over $92 million, and bumped over $100 million after trades for the veteran Feldman and right hander Francisco Rodriguez.  With new national TV revenue, Feldman, McLouth, and Rodriguez off the books, and a consistent sense that the team tends to come in under budget, we may never know what resources may be available. We do know a few things, however: Adam Jones earns an additional $4.5 million this year per his extension details and guys like Matt Wieters and Chris Davis will receive significant raises through the arbitration process. Ardent for the cause, Orioles fans can look forward to possible signings or trades in the following positions, sorted into two main categories: dream and reality (projected contracts in parentheses from MLB Trade Rumors, all numbers in millions).

Starting Pitcher

Duquette is standing pat and refuses to deviate from his mindset that prevents the Orioles from signing big name pitchers in hopes of the farm system coming through with homegrown product. Dream:

  • Ubaldo Jimenez (4 years/$52) or Bronson Arroyo (2 years/$24) – Both would require draft pick compensation and multi-year deals. While Arroyo is much more stable and just about as healthy as starting pitchers come, he is getting up there in age and provides little to no upside past his expected solid numbers.  Jimenez is a riskier pick, as his abilities are on the other end of the spectrum in terms of consistency.  At the same time, he definitely has a higher ceiling and would undoubtedly start Opening Day in Baltimore.

Reality:

Sleepers:

 

Closer

After trading Johnson off to Oakland, perhaps the O’s switch places with the A’s and nab their former closer.  Otherwise, a move or two for the bullpen seem in order, especially considering not a single arm on the 40 man roster has vast closing experience and the splits don’t add up to push Tommy Hunter into that role at this point. Dream:

  • Grant Balfour (2 years/$18) – Shutting the door for the Athletics in meaningful games leading to back to back playoff berths the past two seasons, Balfour maintains a career 9.67 strikeouts per nine innings and can slot in right where Johnson left off.  The money here may not be worth it compared to other needs, but this is the dream section, and the dream is for the checkbook to open at all costs.

Reality:

  • John Axford – Not necessarily a terrible reality.  Non-tendered by the Cardinals, Axford is under team control through 2016 if signed and has three years of quality closing experience under his belt.  As a former student under current Orioles’ Director of Pitching Development Rick Peterson, this seems to be a nice fit.  His humorous side would certainly mesh well with an Orioles bullpen known for being quite laid back and goofy at times.

Sleepers:

 

Left Field

We say goodbye to the speed credentials and mediocre bat of Nate McLouth as this may be the most important position for Duquette to focus on in the coming days.  Nolan Reimold is no sure bet, and Steve Pearce is certainly not an everyday defender if you’re looking for a quality glove. Dream:

  • Shin-Soo Choo (5 years/$100) – With a .423 on base percentage in his age 30 season, Choo is a perfect fit for the Orioles on various fronts.  Though his defense has been criticized in the past, it is generally based on his lack of range in center field. In Baltimore, Choo would slot into left field for 2014, putting that issue to rest.  Looking forward, Nick Markakis becomes a free agent following this season, making a long term outfield acquisition a wise decision on Duquette’s part in order to not face an even deeper hole next offseason.  Duquette preaches his concern for on base abilities, and Choo certainly brings that skill to the table at a high degree.  He’ll sneak some power in there, too.

Reality:

  • With the tendering of Nolan Reimold and agreement to a contract just over a million dollars, combined with the effort to sign Peguero, a top 100 prospect, Duquette seems dedicated to a mix and match committee to be determined during Spring Training.  At the same time, he is also looking for a DH, multiple of which that could play a less than desirable left field part time.  Unfortunately, this is where the team seems stuck in its ways.

Sleepers:

 

Designated Hitter

The plan was to leave this spot for last, considering it doesn’t fulfill a positional need, but it relates greatly to the previous section regarding left field. Dream:

  • Nelson Cruz – After a 50 game PED suspension in 2013, Cruz came back for the Rangers’ one game tiebreaker, eventually lost to Tampa Bay.  It is tough to project what kind of contract he will find this offseason, though his demands supposedly sit around 4 years, $75 million.  At that mark, any team would be expecting an every day above average left fielder.  We must be straightforward here in assessing Cruz: his lack of defensive ability erases any offensive contributions that he could give to any team at this point in his career when it comes to overall run production and saving.  Cruz is a power threat, and although he wouldn’t fulfill the left handed bat the team is on the hunt for, can still provide 50 extra base hits entering his age 33 season.  The danger here is that Cruz could be signed and then lined up in left field, a huge cause for concern.

Reality:

  • Perhaps Raul Ibanez brings his left handed prowess to Baltimore.  From that same side of the plate, Luke Scott and Travis Hafner are both also available.  There is no telling what the intentions are yet for the DH spot in 2014, but fortunately it can be among the last to fill in.

Sleepers:

 

Second Base

No more Brian RobertsJonathan Schoop isn’t ready.  Ryan Flaherty, Jemile Weeks, and Cord Phelps are expected to compete for starting time here. That seems like a recipe for below replacement level disaster. Dream:

  • Omar Infante (3 years/$25 million) – A solid bat with an above average glove, Infante fits right into the top of the Orioles lineup which missed Nick Markakis’ on base abilities in 2013.  Given the injury to Manny Machado, Infante can also step in at third base as well as shortstop and the outfield when need be.

Reality:

  • Mark Ellis – He’ll hit a little and play a little defense. Nothing to get worked up about, but a nice fill-in if the belief is truly that Schoop is the second baseman of the future for this franchise.

Sleepers:

Given the signings and deals already in place from this past week, most of the prices listed here and elsewhere in predictions are most likely not up to par with the high values these names will most likely be handed.  For example, after signing Beltran and Ellsbury, the Yankees are certainly out of the market for another outfielder, making the Rangers, Tigers, and Red Sox strong players to throw money to Choo and Cruz.  Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco received much more than expected from the Minnesota Twins, along with Feldman from the Astros, bumping up the pitching market to a level unforeseen before. The goal is to field more than a good 85 win team, an objective Duquette is reaching for all too strongly.  To push for another playoff run before Davis, Wieters, and Hardy run off the books, the Orioles must solidify their rotation beyond Chris Tillman up top, fix the inconsistency problems in the bullpen, and most importantly fill in the gaps where needed with above average talent.  If Duquette settles this winter, the window of opportunity is assuredly closing around him for an organization with a treacherous farm system and no set plan for the future.

Avi Miller is a graduating senior at Stevenson University aspiring to one day cover the MLB beat. A member of CoSIDA, Avi currently works in sports information at the NCAA Division III level and has previously held positions with the Baltimore Jewish Times and Fox Sports Radio.