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With Options Dwindling, Orioles Need To Make A Move

December 11, 2013


In baseball front offices, there's a familiar adage: Don't make a move just for the sake of making a move.

That said, the Orioles might be taking the expression a little too literally.

More than a month into baseball's offseason, the Birds have yet to get off the ground, plodding through a sluggish winter without making any significant improvements to the roster. Day by day, major league players continue to find new homes via free agency and trade, taking more and more options off the board for the Orioles. The O's, thus far, have been slow to react, and -- to torture a musical-chairs metaphor -- could find themselves without a seat when the music stops.

At this point, many O's fans would just like to see signs of life from their team. The Orioles' biggest moves to this point have been subtractions, as they traded closer Jim Johnson and opted not to re-sign free agents Nate McLouth and Scott Feldman. The departures have left the Birds with a number of holes to fill -- left field, second base, the starting rotation and the bullpen -- and no solutions as yet. Although general manager Dan Duquette has made a few minor acquisitions to build depth -- bringing in several low-cost relievers as well as outfielder Francisco Peguero -- the Orioles haven't acquired anyone who's likely to make a large impact.

Even at baseball's winter meetings -- normally a hotbed of front-office activity -- the O's have remained quiet. Despite rumors Dec. 10 that the O's were close to signing free-agent closer Grant Balfour, the team hasn't struck a deal with him, or anyone else. It's possible that the Orioles will leave the meetings with nothing to show for it but a selection in the Rule 5 draft, which will take place the morning of Dec. 12, before the winter meetings conclude. The Birds' only announcement during the meetings has been the Dec. 10 signing of reliever Ryan Webb, with whom they had agreed to terms several days earlier.

Granted, the Orioles can't always spend money quite as freely as big-budget, deep-pocketed teams. They certainly weren't in a position, for example, to match the Seattle Mariners' 10-year, $250 million bid for star second baseman Robinson Cano. Nor were they likely to shell out $153 million on a seven-year deal for center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, as the Yankees did. That's understandable.

But the Orioles haven't only passed on the top-tier free agents; they've stayed away from mid-tier and complementary players, too. The O's haven't signed any players ranked among's top 50 free agents. Meanwhile, the Marlins (Jarrod Saltalamacchia), Twins (Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes), Athletics (Scott Kazmir) and Astros (Feldman) -- not exactly teams known as big spenders -- have all signed players from that list to multi-year contracts.

The longer the Orioles have waited, the more opportunities have gone by the wayside. On Dec. 11, the Mariners acquired outfielders Corey Hart (as a free agent) and Logan Morrison (as part of a trade with the Marlins). Either one of the players would've been a nice fit for the Orioles at a relatively inexpensive price. I gave a hearty recommendation to Hart in a previous article; he's an experienced power hitter who could be a strong bounce-back candidate coming off knee injuries in 2013. Morrison, who has also suffered his share of injuries, is 26 years old and could still fulfill his potential as a quality lefty-swinging outfielder or designated hitter.

Likewise, the starting pitching market is dwindling fast, as Stan "The Fan" Charles has pointed out. Veteran Bartolo Colon agreed to terms with the Mets, eliminating another possibility.

Certainly, Hart, Morrison and Colon have some question marks; Hart and Morrison are coming back from injuries, while Colon is 40 years old. But if the Orioles are sitting back waiting for the perfect player, they're not going to find one. Every player in the majors carries some risks. The Orioles need to take action, instead of letting one player after another slip past them. Their ultra-conservative approach could cost them severely if they've still got major holes all over the field come Opening Day.

This offseason is supposed to be the Orioles' chance to make a splash. MLB, as part of recent TV deals with ESPN, Fox and TBS, is distributing an extra $25 million to every team beginning in 2014. The Orioles should be using that money to upgrade the team on the field. Instead, so far, they're acting as if they're more financially constrained than ever. It's a bit hard to understand why the Orioles -- who are earning healthy profits from MASN revenue, in addition to the MLB boon -- can't seem to find any players to give their money to.

Let's be clear: The offseason isn't finished yet. There's still plenty of time for the Orioles to address their needs before the 2014 regular season begins March 31. But with each day that passes, the O's find themselves with fewer chances to do so.