It was a tough week for Baltimore baseball fans, who watched Nelson Cruz sign a four-year deal with Seattle and longtime Oriole Nick Markakis depart for a four-year contract with Atlanta. Their absence leaves a gaping hole in last year's American League East championship club and puts the spotlight on executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette to find a way to improve the team. Duquette, recently named Baseball America's Executive of the Year, has shown a knack for spotting value in overlooked players, and he has stated that the O's will once again be able to add payroll.
Having both Cruz and Markakis off the books could also set up Baltimore for a bigger move in a relatively quiet early offseason, with Duquette promising fans at an event Thursday night that the funds wouldn't go to waste. The Orioles' priorities this winter are outfield depth and adding some bullpen pieces with all of the starting rotation returning, and they will be tasked with finding a way to make up for Cruz's power and Markakis' glove and on-base abilities.
With the Winter Meetings in San Diego beginning Monday, here is a quick glance at the Orioles' situation.
Cruz and Markakis will have to be replaced, and Duquette cited some internal options for filling those spots, including Alejandro De Aza, Steve Pearce and David Lough. Prospects Dariel Alvarez and Mike Yastrzemski are also options, though both will need some more time in the Minor Leagues and aren't immediate solutions. Expect the Orioles, who have been linked to Melky Cabrera and Matt Kemp already this winter, to be rumored as having interest in a lot of the remaining free-agent outfielders, and they also will explore potential trade options to fill the void.
Closer Zach Britton is returning, along with setup man Darren O'Day. But the O's will have to try to make up for lefty Andrew Miller, who will command a hefty price tag on the free-agent market. Most clubs will add relief help in the winter, fostering spring competition, and the Orioles are no different. Duquette and manager Buck Showalter have built some impressive bullpens over the years, and it could be an interesting week for the pitching market, which has yet to have the same early activity as the market involving the free-agent bats.
Catcher Matt Wieters is rehabbing back from Tommy John surgery in early June, and that's typically a 9-12 month recovery for position players, making this a spot the O's will look to add depth. Rookie Caleb Joseph did a nice job filling in, but the Orioles also lost Nick Hundley, who split duties and had his option declined earlier this winter.
Who they can trade if necessary
RHP Ubaldo Jimenez
Jimenez had a dismal season in the first year of his four-year, $50 million contract, and the O's have already shopped him this winter. With an extra starter right now for the rotation, the Orioles could move Jimenez if they find a potential match, though it would probably require absorbing a decent chunk of the money.
Top prospects Dylan Bundy is expected to be a full go in Spring Training and compete for a spot, which should make for an interesting storyline. As already mentioned, Alvarez and Yastrzemski also could be in the eventual plans. The Orioles also added starters Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson to the 40-man roster, protecting both young right-handers from the Rule 5 Draft and giving them more depth on the roster.
Rule 5 Draft
The Orioles have been very active in recent Rule 5 Drafts, and they are expected to be again on Thursday. They've been able to keep two of their last three picks -- Ryan Flaherty and T.J. McFarland -- and re-signed Michael Almanzar this winter.
As mentioned above, the Orioles have money to spend. The Opening Day payroll was $107 million last year and was close to $115 million when the season was over, and it should make a similar jump this year.