We are now more than halfway through January and spring training is just weeks away.
The Baltimore Orioles are coming off two consecutive winning seasons, including a playoff berth in 2012, and that—coupled with the team's talented core—gives O's fans hope for the 2014 season.
However, the Orioles have done virtually nothing to improve their team this winter, or at least in the sense of an impact signing of a bigger-name player.
So it begs the question: Are the Orioles going to make any legitimate moves this winter?
As I previously stated, the O's have a talented core that includes center fielder Adam Jones, first baseman Chris Davis, catcher Matt Wieters, third baseman Manny Machado and shortstop J.J. Hardy. Chris Tillman appears to be making strides toward becoming the first homegrown front-line starter for the O's since Mike Mussina (or arguably, Erik Bedard).
The O's won 85 games in 2013, and though they were strong in areas—leading in homers and putting up arguably the best defensive season in baseball history—they also have glaring holes, preventing them from reaching the playoffs for the second straight year. The team finished 19th in baseball in OBP, lack a true ace starter, lack multiple-innings eaters in their rotation (Tillman was the only starter to reach 200 innings) and while they have some strong bullpen pieces, there remains inconsistency with a few pieces.
With one of the best cores in baseball, the O's seemingly need only a few complementary pieces to push the team to the next level. Their lineup is so strong and their defense is fantastic. If they could manage to have guys on base more often for those homers, or another pitcher who could pitch deep into games and save the bullpen every fifth day, then the team would likely greatly improve.
As I've mentioned before in many previous articles this winter, there are players on the market who could benefit the Birds without breaking the bank. I'm certainly not in favor of signing a pricey player just to make a move. Many of the players who were on the market, or are still on the market this winter, wouldn't have been good fits for the O's, especially at their market value.
However, if the team were to add starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo to their rotation for the next two seasons, they may get a pitcher who pitches to an ERA of 4.50-5.00 (career 4.19 ERA with his last eight seasons in the NL Central), but they'll also get a guy who has made at least 32 starts and pitched at least 199 innings in each of the last nine seasons. That kind of consistency would greatly benefit the bullpen arms every fifth day that he pitches, and wouldn't cost too much for what his innings would be worth.
On the offensive side, the team is in serious need of adding a player who is good at getting on base, and the best guy out there for the O's would be Kendrys Morales.
Sure, he would cost a little bit of money and a first-round pick, but he would fill the gaping DH hole the O's have had for many seasons. His career .333 OBP would slot nicely into any middle-of-the-order position, likely the fifth slot behind Jones and Davis and in front of Hardy and Wieters. Not only would Morales provide protection for the O's current sluggers (helping to improve the pitches they see), he'll receive help from the guys hitting behind him, likely making his numbers better as well.
In regards to the draft pick, I would much rather have a sure thing in Morales than wonder whether a prospect is going to pan out, especially given the O's record with (failing at) developing young talent.
Bringing back reliever Francisco Rodriguez would help provide quality depth to the O's bullpen, especially after the team dealt closer Jim Johnson to the Oakland A's in an obvious salary dump and failed to complete a deal with closer Grant Balfour due to concerns with the right-hander's physical. It would give the O's more options should Tommy Hunter, who is viewed as the favorite to start the season as the team's closer, fail to succeed in the ninth-inning role. And K-Rod wouldn't cost near as much as other options on the market, such as Balfour or Fernando Rodney.
The O's have done a good job at adding depth this winter.
They've signed outfielder Delmon Young and pitcher Alfredo Aceves to minor league deals and outfielder Tyler Colvins to a major league deal (pending an announcement). Baltimore has brought in Rule V pick Michael Almanzar, a corner infielder, and acquired second baseman Jemile Weeks (a former first-round pick) in the Johnson trade, while bringing back quality utility infielder Alexi Casilla. The acquisitions of reliever Ryan Webb and outfielder David Lough were, in my eyes, stellar moves that will probably help the team more than many fans think.
But at some point the O's need to stop adding depth and start trying to add the necessary pieces to go all the way. Their time is now—their core isn't going to stay young and productive forever.
Davis and Wieters have just two years left on their current contracts and are also clients of super-agent Scott Boras, an agent who urges his clients to test the open market rather than sign team-friendly extensions.
The team needs to realize that their time to compete is right now. The plan that former general manager Andy MacPhail had in place to grow the team through the farm system while adding timely and successful trades has now come to fruition. The O's need just a few more pieces to becomes one of the scariest teams in baseball, and that's not even considering that they still have pitching prospects Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy looking for their shot to prove they can match the hype surrounding them.
I'm all for adding depth, and as I said I don't want to see the team add a giant contract just for the sake of doing so. But there are smart moves that the team can make. There's things that they can do to improve. Because as of right now, on paper, the team has only taken steps backwards this winter.
Whether the team adds impact pieces or not, this season is going to be interesting. We'll get to see whether the O's can make magic happen without the benefit of major acquisitions, or we'll get to see how the team molds together and performs with big acquisition guys on the roster.
Hopefully, the O's are able to add a bunch of wins, regardless of which route they have taken come the end of the offseason. But I'm not so sure. All I know is that the time is now to make winning happen, and the O's front office hasn't really shown any urgency to do so.
There's still time, but it's quickly running out.
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