Baltimore Orioles Are Making the Best of the Winter Meetings

Sean LaveryCorrespondent IDecember 11, 2008

Even though the Orioles didn't land Mark Teixeira, A.J. Burnett, or any other big-name free agent, the Winter Meetings were far from a waste. They did make some under-the-radar moves that have the potential to accelerate and strengthen the rebuilding process, and shore up some holes in the roster.

First, the Orioles traded catcher Ramon Hernandez to the Reds for Ryan Freel and two prospects (Brandon Waring and Justin Turner). Baltimore then signed free-agent SS Cesar Izturis to a two-year, $6 million deal (pending a physical). Finally, the Orioles got, well, cash, in the Rule 5 draft.

The O's selected catcher Lou Palmisano with the fifth pick of the Rule 5 draft, then immediately turned around and traded him to the Astros for cash considerations. The trade had been agreed on before the draft, and is little surprise considering the Orioles already have the top catching prospect in baseball.

That same prospect, Matt Wieters, was the driving force behind the Hernandez trade as well. GM Andy MacPhail said that Baltimore will promote Wieters to the majors at some point during the season, although it may not be as a starter. This now puts Baltimore in the market for a veteran catcher.

Recently released Matt Treanor appears to be the top target currently. Despite being the lesser known athlete in his marriage (he's married to Olympian Misty May-Treanor) he could be a solid and cheap veteran catcher to start while Wieters continues to develop. Gregg Zaun and former Oriole Sal Fasano could be two other options.

The trade strengthened the odds that Brian Roberts could be out of Baltimore if he can't be signed long-term. Ryan Freel can potentially fill a similar role in the lineup as Roberts, although with even less power. He has plenty of speed and hits from either the first or second slot in 90 percent of his ABs last season.

Additionally, while primarily an outfielder, he has played 2B before. I don't think the O's would like to use him as their primary 2B, but he at least provides them an option if Roberts is unloaded.

On top of that, prospect Justin Turner is a second baseman. While neither he or Waring are likely to ever develop into quality major leaguers, the Orioles were short on in-field prospects not named Wieters.

Baltimore also filled their biggest gap in the major league infield by signing Cesar Izturis. A defensive specialist, Izturis provides an every day starter in a position the Orioles used six different players to fill last year.

Only signed for two years, he seems to be a shorter-term answer while MacPhail looks for a younger and more offensively potent solution (or prospects) for the future.

While Roberts may be on the market, the source of the most frequent rumors may be finally out of the picture. The Cubs and Padres have apparently stopped negotiating a possible Jake Peavy trade, which lowers the chances that the Cubs will still be interested in Garett Olson.

The additions of Freel and Izturis leave a lot less room and desire for the O's to add either Pie or Cedeno as well. The possibility still exists, but it looks slimmer that Roberts will be playing his home games at Wrigley.

The Orioles have yet to address their biggest need, starting pitching, although they did make some noise during the Winter Meetings. They have apparent interest in John Garland, a veteran starter who can chew up innings like few others. Garland is one of the pricier free agents and is apparently looking for a long-term deal, but I woulnd't put it past the Orioles to make him a serious offer.

The Orioles might have removed themselves from the A.J. Burnett competition as well, by refusing to offer him more than three guaranteed years. Especially now that rumors are circulating that the Yankees have offered Burnett a five year deal, it seems that Burnett won't be playing games near his Maryland home after all.

The Orioles are also showing interest in two Japanese pitchers, Koji Uehara and Kenshin Kawakami. Both are veterans who have won the Japanese equivalent to the Cy Young. Neither is predicted to be much more than a No. 3 or No. 4 starter in a MLB rotation.

The biggest news may be that the Orioles are going all out to get big Tex. Baltimore is apparently one of four serious contenders left for Mark Teixeira, along with Washington, Boston, and Anaheim. Both the Nationals and Orioles have appeal because they are close to his home in Maryland, but neither has the payroll or roster of the Red Sox or Angels.