Key Priorities For Orioles At MLB Winter Meetings

Posted on November 27, 2012

Stan "The Fan" Charles and Matt Palmer share their predictions and priorities for the Orioles at next week's MLB Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn.

By Stan "The Fan" Charles

So, where does Orioles general manager Dan Duquette start, and where does he end up by the time he and his staff return home from Nashville, Tenn., Dec. 6? Well, he starts where he always does, with the positions he thinks need to be upgraded for the 2013 Orioles to be better than the 2012 edition.

This offseason, those key positions figure to be left field, first base and starting pitching.

Starting Pitching

Last season, the Orioles' starting staff that entered the season and closed the season bore only a faint resemblance to one another. Starters Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen were two-fifths of the constants in the rotation (except for when Hammel was on the disabled list).

The hope was that 26-year-old Jake Arrieta (the Opening Day starter) and 25-year-old Brian Matusz would be able to relax and settle in, but they both spent time with Triple-A Norfolk. Matusz resurfaced as a new lefty bullpen option for manager Buck Showalter during the last six weeks of the season. Arrieta never established himself in any definitive role, but did come into a couple of key games and produced outs.

It was also the hope, after Japanese lefty Tsuyoshi Wada was lost for the season, that starter Tommy Hunter would live up to expectations and become a solid back-end-of-the-rotation type. He didn't, and fell into a bullpen role, for which he seems much better suited.

Another arm came almost out of nowhere when Steve Johnson emerged during the latter half of the season. Johnson has great value moving forward, and should have greater confidence. Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez also put in some strong starting performances. For a time, it looked as if Zach Britton would be able to help, but his inconsistencies led the team to pick up not one, but two experienced starters in Joe Saunders and Randy Wolf.

It would seem that both Matusz and Hunter, if they remain with the Orioles, will be ticketed for the bullpen. Spring training is a great time for players to play their way into significant roles -- and that is quite possible for Arrieta, Britton and Wada -- but Duquette's Orioles won't simply cross their fingers and hope for the best.

Translation:

Although former Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie's three-year contract with Kansas City may have made the price for current Baltimore left-hander Joe Saunders a bit steep, Duquette will quickly assess what he can do in Nashville via a trade for an experienced and controllable pitcher, someone such as Rick Porcello.

Joe Saunders

He'll also attempt to get Saunders to bite and re-sign for a year less and a few dollars less than Guthrie. Failing to do either of these things would accelerate the timetable with pitchers Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, Baltimore's 2011 and 2012 first-round draft picks, respectively. If Saunders and a second veteran pitcher don't get on board, Arrieta and Britton would also have to step it up. Two others, Johnson and Wada, should add depth and give Showalter a myriad of options once the season gets under way.

Left Field

Duquette tried hard to preemptively sign left fielder/designated hitter Johnny Gomes, but he didn't want to offer a second year. Gomes eventually got that second year in Boston, so he signed with the Red Sox. Although Wilson Betemit may have a useful role for the Orioles in 2013, it became clear as 2012 unfolded that a two-year deal for a flawed defensive player, who is a right-handed hitting option, was neither necessary nor smart. But remember this -- a year ago, when Duquette offered that extra year, Baltimore was not the desired destination point it is now.

Translation: 

Both the Orioles and Nate McLouth want to reunite. But it all depends on dollars and the player's ego as this musical chairs game plays out the next couple of weeks.

Nate McLouth

If McLouth returns, look for a strong platoon situation with him and Nolan Reimold manning left field. If McLouth ends up elsewhere, Chris Davis showed he could play a decent right field. Could he do something similar in left in 2013? Other options are Trayvon Robinson, recently acquired from the Mariners, and Xavier Avery, who spent the bulk of 2012 in Norfolk, but played 32 games for the Orioles. Another minor-league option, L.J. Hoes, is probably a full year away from being a factor with the big league club.

First Base 

Mark Reynolds had a club option that would have paid him $11 million in 2013, and a buyout of $500,000. The Orioles opted to put up the buyout and take their chances in the free-agent or trade market. Remember, the O's can still offer up arbitration for the Sheriff and ink him to a one-year deal for around $9 million.

Translation:

This is a bit of a different scenario than with McLouth. Here, Reynolds would really like to come back, but this club is looking for an upgrade.

Mark Reynolds

I am sure Duquette will see whether he can put together a deal for the Royals' Billy Butler (he probably won't have the type of talent to offer that Seattle or Tampa will have). The O's could also be a surprise late entry into the Mike Napoli sweepstakes, but it'll probably take four years at close to $50 million to get a deal done. That's far from the crazy dollars it could take to get Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton. But, at the end of the day, Duquette may opt to do a one- or two-year deal with Reynolds.


By Matt Palmer

Dan Duquette didn't use the winter meetings in 2011 to make a gigantic splash, and anyone expecting him to act differently now that the O's are a playoff team is in for a disappointment.

Dan Duquette

Duquette was out of Major League Baseball for a decade, and the lessons he learned appear to be about spending judiciously and trusting your scouts.

Still, the Orioles are not a finished product and desperately need to answer a question that's been hanging over the organization for years: Who is going to play first base?

The Birds decided not to pick up the $11 million 2013 option for Mark Reynolds. Reynolds could be offered salary arbitration or re-signed by the end of this month. If it doesn't work out, the Birds will turn their attention to the first week of December and the winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn.

Reynolds is too expensive as is, but he became quite valuable at first base during the club's playoff run in 2012. Error-prone Chris Davis was pushed aside last season at first in order to make it work with Reynolds. Davis is a young power hitter with more long-term potential, even if he doesn't currently have a natural position. Davis will play anywhere, but he needs stability and a regular position.

He's too young to make into a full-time designated hitter, and with every other position filled and Reynolds gone, first base now feels like a natural fit for him.

The Orioles will need to make a trade at the winter meetings for a first baseman or a designated hitter if they are not committed to Davis at first. In order for the Orioles to rise further in the American League, they need stability at both positions. It's not an either/or situation.

The Orioles can also part with one of their not-as-young-as they-once-were arms. Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta have reached the point where it's either about performing or not. Patience on both has worn thin. Discussion of potential is over. Matusz became a valued situational reliever late in 2012 after failing as a starter during the last two years. He might not ever start a game again for the Orioles, making him an expensive reliever given his former first-round status.

Arrieta is a likely candidate to leave Baltimore if someone makes the right trade offer in Nashville. In fact, parting with Arrieta in order for him to get a clean slate elsewhere is optimal. Arrieta disappointed in 2012 after starting Opening Day. The Birds desperately tried to make him a reliever, but he wasn't on the postseason roster. Arrieta is an eager learner. While the Yankees were in town for a postseason showdown, Arrieta spent time in the bullpen with former Los Angeles Dodgers star Oral Hershiser.

The Orioles don't need to pull the trigger on Zach Britton, too, but manager Buck Showalter appeared to sour on the young pitcher as 2012 wound down. Once a cornerstone with a secure future, Britton now has to fight for his major league life. Nothing will be guaranteed for him in Baltimore.

The Orioles could benefit from listening for any offers for Britton.

All of this young pitching on the market won't necessarily net what the Birds truly need -- an ace.

The postseason proved how valuable someone such as CC Sabathia is during the postseason. Sabathia was the difference-maker for the Yankees during the American League Division Series. The Orioles do not have an ace in-house. Dylan Bundy, their 2011 first-round draft pick, is too young to grab that mantle now, and none of the Birds in last year's rotation are worthy. Aces aren't easy to come by, but if one from another team is on the table at the winter meetings, Duquette better grab him.

Posted Nov. 27, 2012

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