Baltimore Orioles Head Into a Big Offseason

John JohnsonContributor INovember 12, 2008

With the city buzzing at the possibility of its native son returning home, the Baltimore Orioles face a significant offseason ahead of them. With Mark Teixeira declaring for free agency, the Orioles are most certainly going to be in the bidding for him.

But, the O’s have other glaring needs with which they must address. The birds must address starting pitching and shortstop play if they are going to build upon a season that showed so much promise early on.

With pitcher CC Sabathia in high demand, look for Baltimore to go after the somewhat second tier of starting pitching within the free-agent market. Arms like A.J. Burnett (who makes his offseason home in Maryland), Ben Sheets, and Jon Garland are possible pitching candidates and should be on the Orioles offseason radar.

A.J. Burnett has all the stuff in the world and last season led the American League in strikeouts. Last season, Burnett pitched 200+ innings and would be a great front-line starter to go along with current Oriole ace Jeremy Guthrie.

But his enigmatic career has been plagued by several injuries, including an elbow injury. It should be interesting to see how aggressive the Orioles will be with signing the Maryland resident.    

Ben Sheets, who missed the final month of the Brewers season with an elbow injury finds his career paralleling with A.J. Burnett. Sheets, a young arm with the ability to no hit a team on any given day, has often frustrated management with a rash of injuries. Sheets, possibly the best free agent arm on the market other than Sabathia, will not come cheap.

If the Brewers lose out on the Sabathia sweepstakes, look for them to do everything in their power to keep Sheets in Milwaukee.

Jon Garland may be the most under-appreciated pitcher on the free-agent market. Last season with the American League West Champion Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Garland went 14-8 with a 4.90 ERA. His overall career record is 106-89 with a 4.47 ERA.

Garland, who has shown throughout his career that can be relied on and is a durable starting pitcher, may be the most inexpensive out of the other two pitchers named. His addition to the young Orioles rotation would most certainly be welcomed.

While the Orioles need to address starting pitching, they must also look to fill the void at shortstop. Last season the Orioles started five different players at shortstop (Castro played the most games at shortstop with 61; batting only .193 on the season). This was more than any other team in baseball.

The gaping hole at shortstop was created after Team President Andy MacPhail traded Miguel Tejada to the Houston Astros in a blockbuster deal. The Orioles played musical chairs at shortstop last season as they tried to find someone who could hold down the position until this offseason came.

With Brandon Fahey, Freddie Bynum and Luis Hernandez in the minors, and with Juan Castro and Alex Cintron filing for free agency, Baltimore is left without an incumbent starter at shortstop.

With free agents like Rafael Furcal available, or possible trade candidates like San Diego Padres SS Khalil Green, Pittsburgh Pirates SS Jack Wilson and Milwaukee Brewers SS J.J. Hardy, there are plenty of viable long-term solutions for the Orioles shortstop problem.

Baltimore also has some in-house situations to address. They would most certainly love to trade catcher Ramon Hernandez to help clear the way for top prospect catcher Matt Wieters. But, Hernandez’s lack of defensive hustle and his streaky productivity have raised concerns with other ballclubs.

Baltimore would also like to trade enigmatic pitcher Daniel Cabrera. The organization has grown frustrated with his lack of consistency. If the birds can sign a couple free agent pitchers, look for them to explore possible trade partners for the 27-year-old Cabrera.

Lastly, Baltimore must address the Brain Roberts contract situation. Brian has expressed his desire to remain an Oriole for the remainder of his career. He has also expressed his desire to win and play for a contender. He has made himself available for trade possibilities.

Team President Andy MacPhail has stated that he would like to sign Roberts to a long term extension. Roberts is Baltimore’s largest trade chip outside of star right fielder Nick Markakis, but Roberts is also the face of the franchise and very involved within the community.

Last offseason, MacPhail and the Orioles organization made several moves that paid dividends during the season and more importantly could pay huge dividends on the upcoming Oriole season.

With solid building blocks like CF Adam Jones, RF Nick Markakis, and a very solid bullpen (closer Chris Ray and middle reliever Dannys Baez return from injury) in place, MacPhail and the Orioles find themselves in a pretty good situation.

If they can sure up their starting pitching and middle infield play the Orioles will find themselves capable of competing with the Red Soxs, Yankees, and the rebuilt Rays. Let’s just hope Owner Peter Angelos lets MacPhail open up the checkbook and spend a few bucks on these top free agent needs.