Market's very attractive for Orioles
Baltimore will try to take advantage by signing marquee players
BALTIMORE -- The Orioles won't just be looking for a few new players this offseason, they'll be looking for a new identity. Baltimore, which has operated under a rebuilding philosophy for the past year, is apparently ready to attempt a big splash this winter that could involve landing one of the market's hottest players and hottest pitchers.
The Orioles are out from under Miguel Tejada's contract, and onerous deals for Melvin Mora and Ramon Hernandez are set to expire after the 2009 season. Now appears to be the time for Baltimore to add to its talent base through free agency, and the Orioles appear to be considering a run at local favorites Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett.
Teixeira, a free-agent first baseman who hails from nearby Severna Park, Md., figures to be among the most highly sought-after free agents. And Burnett, who recently announced plans to opt out of the last two years of his contract with the Blue Jays, makes his offseason home in the Baltimore area and may want to stay there full-time.
Andy MacPhail, Baltimore's president of baseball operations, acknowledged those possibilities at the end of the season. MacPhail said it may be difficult to ink both of them, but the Orioles would explore whether or not it was feasible.
"You have to be realistic about whether it's attainable or not, but I think you have to recognize that this hasn't been a great destination for free agents because of the competition you face," MacPhail said. "And some of the economic handicaps you're on are related to these other teams that are uniquely gifted in terms of resources. I think we would be remiss if we don't look into what might be unique opportunities in the case of geographic ties to the area. I think we owe it to our fans to explore that.
"Again, I don't know how realistic it would be, but I think we'd be remiss in not exploring it."
Baltimore has seen four players -- Kevin Millar, Jay Payton, Alex Cintron and Juan Castro -- file for free agency, but none of them rips a hole in the fabric of the lineup. Payton spent last season as the fourth outfielder, a job that may be filled by Lou Montanez or prospect Nolan Reimold. Millar started at first base, but Aubrey Huff may be set to take that slot.
Outside of the hunt for Burnett and Teixeira, the Orioles expect to add a starting shortstop and more pitching depth. Baltimore was disillusioned by the progress made by prospects like Radhames Liz and Garrett Olson last season, and it wants to install a veteran firewall who will keep young arms from making the Major League roster until they're absolutely ready.
That could signal a signing or two, but it could entail a wholesale reordering of the rotation. Staff ace Jeremy Guthrie is really the only sure thing for next season, and MacPhail will attempt to mix and match around him.
"It's a really a game of inventory for me -- as many as you can," he said of pitchers. "You are going to have certain disappointments, [and] you're going to have some pleasant developments. You've just got to work with numbers and try to build up the base as best as you can, and add as much inventory as you can and sort of go with the events from there."
Rick Kranitz, the Orioles' pitching coach, said it's hard to expect young pitchers to step up on command. He cited the case of Adam Loewen, who was anointed a rotation linchpin before he had withstood the rigors of a full season. Loewen, the fourth overall pick in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft, had elbow problems and subsequently retired as a pitcher, latching on with Toronto to become a position player.
"When guys haven't done it in this league, it's unfair to put those kind of expectations on them," Kranitz said. "We have to face the teams we face, and it is what it is. But you also have to look at it from the other side: Why not cut your teeth in the best division [American League East] in baseball? Step up and become a man, become a better pitcher."
Baltimore, which inked veteran Steve Trachsel last season to serve as a steadying factor, may make other moves in that same vein. Trachsel didn't work out and wound up getting released, but the Orioles' rotation got beat up all season long. Daniel Cabrera had another erratic season, and Brian Burres, Olson and Liz all pitched themselves out of the rotation.
The Orioles will have Troy Patton and Matt Albers returning from shoulder injuries and attempting to fit into the mix, but MacPhail will likely shake the culture by adding arms with a proven track record. Baltimore may get that from within if Danys Baez is able to transition back to the rotation, but he will likely want to make a larger investment elsewhere.
It's all on the table, the missing ingredients for Baltimore's return to contention: A starting shortstop, an All-Star-level first baseman and a few capable starting pitchers to flesh out the rotation. The only problem is that several other teams have the same aspirations and the same targets, giving the Orioles plenty of work to realize their offseason goals.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.