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December 2009: 'Tis O's Time To Spend

Every holiday season people get excited about activities they do every year -- like drinking eggnog, visiting in-laws and taking the kids to see the mall Santa. We buy into the holiday hype as if we forgot that such activities last year were about as much fun as shoving a reindeer antler in your eye. Yet, like pigs leading ourselves to slaughter, we jump on the jolly bandwagon year after year with glorious expectations.

Baseball’s winter meetings have become very much like these mid-December traditions for Orioles fans -- exciting leading up to it, but quite anticlimactic once the realization hits that the same type of player is being acquired yet again.

Fans hope, pray and speculate that this is the year the Orioles land the big blow. Remember last year? All O's wanted for Christmas was a big box with hometown boy Mark Teixeira inside. They didn’t get it. 

Every year fans rip open that nicely-wrapped box labeled “To: Birdland; Love, Orioles Front Office” and yippee, it’s another middle-of-the-pack, 30-something “proven” free agent who will be a “much-needed” stopgap until the prospect slated for that position is ready. In other words, it’s kind of like a kid getting a sweater.

Last year the Orioles came back from the meetings with Ryan Freel and Cesar Izturis. Freel was traded in April and Izturis isn't exactly the type of player who sends the message to the fan base that the Orioles are willing to buy the big-time players necessary to compete.

At this year's winter meetings the Orioles came back with a slightly bigger name as far as "proven" 30-something veterans are concerned, acquiring starting pitcher Kevin Millwood for reliever Chris Ray in a trade with the Texas Rangers. Millwood fills a major hole at the top of the rotation and is an innings horse. The righty threw 198.2 innings with an impressive 3.67 ERA last year.

However, Millwood is 34 years old and is still owed $12 million for the remaining year of his contract ($9 million of which the O's are responsible for). So based on his age, he probably isn't going to be a part of the Orioles future.

It's time for the Orioles to make a bigger statement. It’s the next step in Andy MacPhail’s rebuilding process. The Orioles have reached the point where the massive overhaul they began in 2007 needs to go from rebuilding mode to results mode. 

That means going after the big-time free agents who are able to mesh well with the arsenal of young 20-somethings. Sitting and waiting for that young group of homegrown talent to grow into competitors together is not enough. MacPhail needs to go out and buy those expensive final pieces, which is what he said the plan was all along. Build now, buy later. Well, Andy, it’s later.

Go for the big gun, but make sure he fits into the blueprint. Acquiring a pitcher like Millwood could be a good move for 2010 because the O's really didn't give up much to get him. After all, Ray's ERA was over 7.00 last year. But, what will Millwood have to offer the Orioles beyond that? Players in their early- to mid-30s simply don't fit into the Orioles timeline.

The Orioles need to bring in someone who will still make sense four years down the road when young Birds like Matt Wieters and Brian Matusz are in their prime. The good news is the O’s have the money to do it. After last season, they were relieved of big-time contracts with Danys Baez, Jamie Walker, Melvin Mora and Jay Gibbons. Now is the perfect time to open the pocketbook.   

When the decision was made at the end of the season to keep Dave Trembley as manager, MacPhail said the skipper would be judged this year more so on wins and losses. Now is the time to make wins possible by spending money on top-tier players.

MacPhail has said he isn’t willing to trade top prospects and he may not have to. He has some veteran trade chips that, if packaged properly, could bring a hard-hitting right-handed bat or closer. Jeremy Guthrie, Luke Scott, and Ty Wigginton could all be valuable to a team with specific needs and are likely candidates to be shopped around into late December and January. 

It will be interesting to see what happens because, thus far, MacPhail has already tempered fans’ dreams. It has been reported he expects the Orioles to be much more active after the winter meetings when prices for free agents typically go down. This isn't the time to be conservative in spending. Considering the O’s have been a perennial loser, they just might have to overpay to convince a big-name player to come to Baltimore.

With a fragile fan base that has suffered for 12 years, the O’s need to deliver. Fans deserve something to be truly excited about this holiday season.

Issue 144: December 2009