As the holidays approach, the shape of the 2018 Baltimore Orioles is far harder to predict than it was just two weeks ago.
Entering the MLB Winter Meetings, the Orioles seem poised to keep third baseman Manny Machado for his final season -- before he becomes eligible for free agency -- and closer Zach Britton, who was close to being traded last July.
The Orioles aren't pleased with the offers they've received from any number of teams for Machado, and as executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette admitted at the Winter Meetings, he hasn't engaged in serious contract talks with the third baseman's agent for a few years.
Orioles fans had likely prepared themselves for Machado's departure and hoped that he'd fetch an arm or two to bolster the starting staff that currently begins and ends with right-handers Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. But there's been little action on the free-agent pitching market.
Duquette indicated that the Orioles wouldn't offer a top-tier pitcher a contract of four or five years, which is what right-handers Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn, two pitchers the team reportedly coveted, are seeking.
Cobb, Lynn and a number of other free-agent pitchers are still unsigned, which is unusual for this late in the free-agent season, but the Orioles hoped to get younger, cheaper, controllable pitchers in exchange for Machado, which they still might.
Fans hoped that once Machado was dealt, the direction of the club for 2018 and beyond would become clearer.
News of Britton's injury only added to the team's uncertainty. Because Britton had missed so much time this past season with forearm and knee injuries, his value on the trade market had fallen, and while he could have been traded over the winter, he certainly won't now.
Had the injury occurred a month ago, Britton could have been non-tendered, and the Orioles would have been free from any obligation.
Now, he could get a $12 million contract and not be able to pitch for the team in the first half of the season. Britton's estimated recovery time is six months.
Britton's injury is an easier one for the Orioles to deal with than Machado's situation. The Orioles have a deep bullpen, and right-handers Brad Brach, Mychal Givens and Darren O'Day can help fill Britton's role.
Without Britton, they could use another left-hander besides Richard Bleier and Donnie Hart, who had a challenging 2017.
Britton's absence could allow veteran left-hander Josh Edgin, recently signed to a minor league contract, to make the club. It could also give rookie left-hander Tanner Scott an opportunity, and increases the chances that another left-hander, Nelson Cortes, one of three pitchers taken in the Rule 5 draft, starts the season with the Orioles.
Of course, they could sign or trade for another left-hander, too.
The Orioles still have two vacancies on the 40-man roster, and once they are filled, they'll soon have another spot because Britton can be moved to the 60-day disabled list during spring training.
When the holidays end, there will be six weeks before spring training begins in Sarasota, Fla., Feb. 13. Duquette and the Orioles still have an enormous amount of work to do.