I thought adding [manager Buck] Showalter and our strong finish to last season was supposed to change things. But it seems the Orioles are still struggling to attract the top free agents. Do you know how involved Showalter is in things and when -- or if -- this will change?
-- Allan E., Catonsville, Md.

Good question, Allan, and one I'm sure a lot of O's fans are wondering after a memorable final two months in August and September. As one premiere free agent told me earlier this winter, Showalter "helps, but he's no miracle worker." Translation: Even a proven manager can't erase the stigma attached with 13 consecutive losing seasons in Baltimore.

The Orioles are going to have to put together solid baseball for a much longer, more consistent stretch to change that. But having better players, of course, goes a long way in helping stop that skid. It's a cycle that's only grown more frustrating to longtime fans, and one of which the front office is well aware.

To the Orioles credit, they were aggressive early in making a legitimate offer to Victor Martinez -- who signed with Detroit -- and were also in on slugger Adam Dunn, although they were outbid by the Chicago White Sox. Now with Christmas nearing, they're forced to settle on the "best of the rest" in filling their first-base hole, and have been talking with Adam LaRoche and Derrek Lee, although there is no guarantee they will be able to get either player. In the end, they may have to turn to Luke Scott. In any case, the O's need a bat that -- along with new acquisition Mark Reynolds -- will help augment a lineup that struggled to produce any pop last season.

As for Showalter's involvement in free agency, he speaks to president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail on a near-daily basis and has praised the open lines of communication between the two. MacPhail has said he doesn't want to saddle Showalter with a player he doesn't want because "that wouldn't be productive for anybody" and it's fair to assume -- particularly given Showalter's detail-oriented nature -- that he has more of a hand in things than his predecessors. But when deciding how much to offer Lee or how many years to give to LaRoche, that decision is solely MacPhail, although it may be the product of multiple conversations with other people inside the organization.

Are the Orioles still looking to add a veteran pitcher? Who are they discussing? And what about bringing back Kevin Millwood?
-- Tim K., Baltimore

The team is still looking into adding an innings-eater type pitcher, although I wouldn't be dusting off a Millwood jersey anytime soon. While the likable Orioles veteran is close with Showalter, I haven't heard anything that would suggest either side has an interest in him having another run in Baltimore.

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While Millwood has remained adamant that he would like to pitch somewhere in 2011, he would prefer it to be either a contender or a team in a more pitcher-friendly park, perhaps in the National League. That leaves the Orioles looking for a Millwood 2.0 of sorts, a guy who can help set an example for the young pitchers, take some of the top-of-the-rotation load with Jeremy Guthrie and eat up some innings to save the bullpen.

The Orioles aren't looking for a top free-agent starter like Carl Pavano, which is a good thing given the thin class for top-notch starters and the growing trend of teams locking up their pitchers to longterm deals. They don't have any serious interest in former Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb, an intriguing but risky case given his injury history and have tepid interest in Phillies starter Joe Blanton, who Philadelphia is actively shopping. The rest of the free-agent list isn't too inspiring, although they've at least talked about pitchers Freddy Garcia, Justin Duchscherer and Chris Young, among others. MacPhail could trade for a veteran arm, but the Orioles don't have much return left given that they've already dealt away four young relievers and are already positionally thin in the Minor Leagues.

While I agree with the trade for J.J. Hardy and Brendan Harris, I don't understand why we had to bring back Cesar Izturis as well. Are we going to have a healthy Brian Roberts in 2011?
-- Ian S., Martinsburg, W.V.

MacPhail has said all along that Harris -- a utility infielder acquired with Hardy from Minnesota -- will have to make the team this spring. The organization has always liked Izturis' defense, and he was one of the Orioles' most popular players in the clubhouse, so signing him to a one-year deal -- while upgrading offensively with Hardy's bat -- is a good move.

As for Roberts, we all saw last season how much the offense struggled without his presence in that leadoff spot and the expectation is he will report to camp fully healthy. Having Izturis -- and possibly Harris -- is insurance. Keep in mind, the O's lost Ty Wigginton, who signed with Colorado, and must account for a viable backup given that Roberts missed most of last year with a herniated disc in his lower back. The Orioles expect him to be healthy, but as Showalter likes to say, you have to consider the "what-if."

Will Zach Britton be in next year's Major League rotation?
-- Todd M., Owings Mills, Md.

Probably at some point. In an ideal world, the Orioles will acquire another veteran starter, forcing Britton -- and perhaps Chris Tillman -- to Triple-A. The O's would like to have starting pitching depth and Britton, who turned 23 on Wednesday, is the only prospect even close to ready to start in the Major Leagues. A highly touted lefty, Britton will be in contention for the fifth rotation spot this spring -- more so if Baltimore doesn't sign another innings-eater like Millwood. But, barring an injury or a trade, Britton will likely start the season with Norfolk.