So Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings are soon upon us, and for those who thing that isn’t a big deal for Orioles fans they would be wise to remember that it was a the Winter Meetings last year that brought Kevin Millwood to Baltimore, a move that seemed monumental at the time but became an obstacle come September as Orioles fans wanted to see more of the young guns than the aging pea-shooter whose game deteriorated tremendously in June and throughout the rest of the season. This year Andy MacPhail has made his wish-list as clear as ny GM will: at least one big bat, preferably at a corner infield spot, a veteran starting pitcher (my least favorite pitching term: the “innings eater”), and possibly some help in the bullpen. For as much good talent as the Orioles have, their weaknesses are glaring. This is not a matter of upgrading at first and third, it is a matter of getting someone, anyone at those positions who isn’t a liability. So… where will they find them?
Well the first name you hear bandied about is Adrian Beltre, and I will eat all the crow in the world if he signs here but I would be shocked to see it happen. Beltre wants to play for a contender, would prefer to play on the West Coast, and has had just one truly great year since 2004, that one coming this year in Boston. I don’t trust him to play well after he gets his next big contract, and I don’t think he would have any interest downgrading in the AL East. He may come if the O’s overpay drastically, but with the Red Sox and A’s looking for his services, I doubt Baltimore will outbid them. Oakland’s hitting woes are even worse than Baltimore’s, and Beltre would likely rather play out there. This will not happen.
However, people keep throwing that name out because there isn’t really anyone behind him. Dan Uggla? That sounds great but the man has said he would rather sit out a season than play at third base (despite being a terrible defensive second baseman). Jorge Cantu is actually not bad offensively, and I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for struggling after being traded to Texas. However, he is a pretty poor defensive player. Miguel Tejada? I had to say it because he’s there, but there is no way the Orioles give up a 1st round pick by signing him as a Type A free agent just so he can make his third stint with the team. Once Joe Crede’s name is being bounced around, you know the class is thin. I’m sorry kids, but expect a Garrett Atkins type signing here. By that I mean a 1 year contract on a veteran who had a subpar season last year but the O’s will hope that he turns it around. I don’t say that because Baltimore is cheap, but because outside of Beltre, they are all 1-year contract kind of players.
Of course, Baltimore could always resign Wiggington to play third full-time, leaving just one spot to fill… first base.
At the other corner, the O’s could try to go with Brandon Snyder and hope things turn around for him, but I doubt it. While there is no dynamite first baseman on the market, I would argue the overall crop isn’t quite as thin as at third base. We will assume for a moment that the Orioles don’t work out a trade for Prince Fielder or Adrian Gonzalez, which I think is a pretty safe assumption. Paul Konerko will clearly be the top priority for the Orioles. He has been relatively consistent as a below average hitter with great power, but his incredible year in 2010 (.313 avg., 39 home runs, .393 on base percentage) won’t be duplicated in the AL East. I expect him to resign with the White Sox, where he has spent the vast majority of his career, but he could be open to suitors. Please don’t try to sell me on Adam Dunn or Carlos Pena. They could work on a team that has a lot of table-setters and can afford one or two low on base percentage guys in the lineup, but for an Orioles team that struggles to work the count and get men on base consistently, they would be a liability for this lineup.
I doubt the O’s will try to go after Victor Martinez, who has been adamant about wanting to play catcher but may not have the option depending on where the money is coming from. He is clearly on the of the best offensive talents on the market, but I just don’t see him agreeing to play first base full-time for Baltimore, even if he catches on Matt Wieters’ off-days. On a contender, maybe he would. Not in Baltimore. I think a sensible option could be Derrick Lee, who I think has a bounce-back season in him and would play great defense regardless. On a team that has struggled at time defensively, he would be a boon to this team. Remember, after leaving Chicago for Atlanta, Lee hit .287 in 39 games. His power numbers are way down, so he wouldn’t likely have the same pop in the lineup. I see him as a solid fallback option should Baltimore whiff on Konerko, Dunn, or Martinez.
Andy MacPhail has made it clear that getting a big bat is his top priority this offseason. Fans who question his will to get it done may also have to question whether that bat is even there this year.