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Pitching of the utmost importance to O's

Pitching of utmost importance to O's

BALTIMORE -- This is where the rebuilding movement begins to get tricky. The Orioles will head into the Winter Meetings at the Bellagio in Las Vegas from Dec. 8-11 on the heels of a disappointing season and with multiple holes to fill on their pitching staff, but they'll go in with the ambition to be a major player and to use the open market to thoroughly remake their roster.

Baltimore, which finished near the bottom of the American League's ERA chart, is looking to add one impact bat and several arms to its existing stockpile of talent. The pitching part of the equation is considered crucial, as depth in the starting rotation and bullpen became a major factor down the stretch last season.

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"It's pitching," said Baltimore manager Dave Trembley earlier this offseason, summarizing the organization's main target area. "I think the philosophy has been established. It's pitching, it's defense and it's athletes. We need to improve our starting pitching, and we need to determine who's going to be our starting everyday shortstop."

The shortstop position was a headache for the Orioles last season, with five players earning and subsequently losing the starting job. Baltimore isn't sure whether its next shortstop will come via free agency or trade, but it plans on casting a wide net for pitching that will help allow the team's existing prospects time to develop.

The Orioles didn't have that luxury last year, and Garrett Olson and Radhames Liz were forced to sink or swim at the big league level. Neither was able to make a pain-free transition, and Baltimore wants to avoid the same experience with its next wave of arms, a group that includes Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen and Jake Arrieta.

To make that happen, Baltimore has to add at least two starting pitchers at some point this offseason. Staff ace Jeremy Guthrie is the only sure thing for the rotation, and the Orioles expect either Matt Albers or Troy Patton to compete for a job this spring. Daniel Cabrera could also be in the mix, depending on whom Baltimore acquires.

The bottom line, as far as the Orioles are concerned, is adding as many qualified pitchers as possible. Andy MacPhail, Baltimore's president of baseball operations, made that point clear earlier this offseason.

"It's really a game of inventory for me," he said of pitching. "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."

Baltimore hasn't been this intent on making noise in the offseason since it signed Miguel Tejada and Javy Lopez following the 2003 season. The Orioles signed Ramon Hernandez before the 2006 season and Aubrey Huff the following winter before sitting out of the big-money acquisition game last offseason.

This year, the Orioles have been linked to ex-Toronto arm A.J. Burnett, who makes his offseason home in nearby Monkton, Md. Baltimore may also be interested in veteran pitchers like Derek Lowe and Jon Garland, dependable innings-eaters who could ably take the ball and buy the Orioles time to develop the rest of their staff.

The Orioles are also interested in talking to Mark Teixeira, the two-time Gold Glove-winning first baseman who figures in as this offseason's top free-agent bat. Baltimore is expected to attempt to leverage Teixeira's local ties to the community into a signing, but pitching appears to be an even bigger part of the wish list.

"It's going to take some time with the free-agent things, but I think the groundwork has been laid," Trembley said. "We had the organizational meeting, Andy went to the [General Managers] Meetings and now we have the Winter Meetings coming up. I think it will sort itself out. All it means to me is that Spring Training is a little bit closer."

Baltimore is attempting to move out of the rebuilding phase and into the light of contention, but it won't be easy after falling 28 1/2 games behind the AL East leader and 17 1/2 games behind the fourth-place team last season. The Orioles will need several things to break right this winter, starting with the search for more starting pitching.

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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