The 2013 MLB winter meetings have come to an end. Four rumor-filled days have passed, teams have discussed numerous trade scenarios, and free agents have made progress toward finding somewhere to call home for the 2014 season.
The Baltimore Orioles are a team with a dynamic young core that has posted two consecutive winning seasons after a 14-year run of sub-.500 play. An 85-win campaign in 2013 shows that they have the potential to be great if a couple of key holes are filled, namely in the starting rotation and the on-base percentage department.
Going into the winter meetings earlier this week, the team was in search of a left fielder, some help at second base, a starting pitcher, and a closer after having shipped Jim Johnson to the Oakland Athletics in order to free up salary.
However, the O's left the winter meetings with just a pair of Rule V draft selections. Third baseman Michael Almanzar, on Triple-A Pawtucket's roster (Boston's organization), was selected in the major league phase of the draft, while Julio Borbon, an outfielder, was taken in the Triple-A phase of the draft from the Chicago Cubs organization.
While the O's weren't able to agree to terms with any free agents or pull off any trades to improve their ballclub this week, the team reportedly did make some progress in negotiations. The biggest and most concrete rumor involving the Orioles is the two-year offer to closer Grant Balfour. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports originally reported that the O's had offered Balfour a contract, while Dan Connolly of The Baltimore Sun tweeted that the offer the O's had on the table to Balfour was for two years.
Since Balfour is looking for a three-year deal, the number of guaranteed years appears to be the main sticking point in negotiations between Balfour and the Orioles, according to Eduardo Encina of The Baltimore Sun. However, Roch Kubatko of MASN Sports stated that the team is trying to get a deal done before GM Dan Duquette's flight back to Baltimore on Friday morning.
Balfour, a fiery Australian who turns 36 later this month, is considered to be the O's top choice to replace Johnson as closer, according to Heyman. And with him almost certainly coming at a lesser cost than the $10 million that Johnson was projected to make in arbitration, the O's would essentially be trading closers with the A's while also acquiring second baseman Jemile Weeks and minor league catcher David Freitas in the original deal, all while cutting back salary. Obviously, that would be a major win for the club.
Of course, it all depends on if Balfour actually signs with the team. The club is confident that it can sign him, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports tweeted, but we all know anything can change at any moment when it comes to free agency.
On top of Balfour, the O's have maintained dialogue with former closer John Axford, Jon Morosi of Fox Sports tweeted. And on top of that, the team apparently has offers out to starting pitchers, relievers and hitters, reports Kubatko, but Duquette wouldn't go into any greater detail.
One of the biggest rumors during the week was the involvement the Birds had with free-agent outfielder Nelson Cruz. A right-handed power hitter, Cruz is generally considered a poor defender and on top of that, was busted for steroids this season and served a 50-game suspension.
Heyman reported that the O's were in talks with Cruz, but it wasn't clear how involved they were with the outfielder, while Encina was told by a club source that the team has not made the slugger an offer.
Regardless of whether Cruz would be a good addition to the team, and at what price, the only sure thing about the O's and Cruz is that nothing, as far as the general public knows, is sure between the two parties. The situation is worth monitoring.
Due to the O's lack of ability to add proven major league talent at the winter meetings, one would think that the team deserves a low grade for its performance this week. But the team did make progress in talks with players, and many times deals come to fruition after the winter meetings because of dialogue that went on at said meetings.
Because of that, I am going to assign the O's a letter grade of "C-" for their winter meetings performance. It's only fair to wait a week or two to see if anything happens because of the meetings. If the O's fail to add anyone, or a scenario such as Balfour signing with a different team comes to fruition, then the team's grade shall drop. If they're able to ink Balfour and/or other pieces, then their grade goes up.
Unfortunately for us impatient Orioles fans, we'll have to wait to see if anything happens within a couple of weeks. But for now, the team deserves a "C-," if anything, for its effort.
Developments could happen, so don't automatically think that these meetings were all for naught for the O's. After a few weeks, we'll see where the O's are at and I'll do a follow-up piece to reassess their grade.