Baltimore may make big changes

Baltimore may make big changes

The Orioles stand on the verge of a potentially team-altering offseason, and not even they know where they'll land. Baltimore could go for a major makeover if the right circumstances play out, but it could so something entirely more modest if the big-ticket items fall in another direction. The Orioles at least will be involved in some of the bidding for elite players this offseason, a change after remaining on the sidelines for the last few winters.

Whether they land any star-level talent remains to be seen, but the Orioles have seen the Rays point the way to the top of the division. It's all about acquiring starting pitching and top-shelf Minor League talent for Baltimore, which will build around the top players in its farm system and shop some of its veterans for prospect-laden hauls. Nick Markakis and Adam Jones have arrived, but now the Orioles need to find them some company.

Club needs:

ROTATION RELIEF -- The Orioles have the grand total of one starter from last year's rotation (Jeremy Guthrie) whom they can pencil in for 2009, and they'd like to shop around for at least two dependable veteran stopgaps to flesh out their starting staff. Bottom line, Baltimore is tired of watching its pitching prospects graduate to the big leagues before they've proven they're ready to compete at a high level. This means highly regarded arms like Radhames Liz and Garrett Olson may have to reprove themselves at Triple-A to get another shot.

SHORTSTOP -- This is a black hole within the organization, starting at the big league level and progressing all the way down to rookie ball. Baltimore sifted between several shortstops of the no-hit variety last season -- Luis Hernandez, Freddie Bynum, Juan Castro and Alex Cintron among them -- and will search to find someone better this winter. If possible, the Orioles would love to trade for a prospect who is blocked in another organization.

ICON ALERT (specifically Mark Teixeira) -- Baltimore natives have been counting down Teixeira's free-agent clock for years, hoping the Severna Park, Md., native will make a grand homecoming. While they're not likely to land him, the Orioles are willing to bid high and should be among the teams in the auction all the way to the end. If the unthinkable happened and they inked Teixeira, it likely would require a change in organizational philosophy. And if Teixeira doesn't take the bait, the Orioles will be hoping that local resident A.J. Burnett ends up in Baltimore.

Whom they can or need to trade:

2B Brian Roberts -- Roberts remains Baltimore's best trade chip, and he likely will be a highly sought-after commodity this winter. The two-time All-Star was linked to talks with the Cubs and Indians last season and should be available again at the Winter Meetings. Barring a contract extension, the Orioles would like to echo the Erik Bedard and Miguel Tejada trades from last season, which entails dealing Roberts for as many quality prospects as they can find.

DH Aubrey Huff -- Huff had a monster year, winning the American League's Silver Slugger at the DH position and recasting himself as a legitimate cleanup bat in the process. Baltimore can reap the benefits of that unexpected metamorphosis by either keeping Huff in the middle of its lineup or by dealing him at the peak of his value.

3B Melvin Mora -- Mora has a full no-trade clause and may be extremely difficult to move, but his advancing age may make it worthwhile for the Orioles to explore extricating him from the everyday lineup.

C Ramon Hernandez -- Hernandez was brought in to lift the Orioles toward contention, and now he's about to lose his job to Matt Wieters, perhaps the best prospect in baseball. Baltimore can keep Hernandez as a crutch to help Wieters in the first half of the year, but it also could deal him and vacate the position altogether.

LHP George Sherrill -- Sherrill performed relatively well as a closer, but he likely belongs as a situational southpaw in a good bullpen. As with Roberts, the Orioles would be looking for nearly ready-made prospects in return. Baltimore has erstwhile closer Chris Ray returning from injury, which further underlines Sherrill's status.

LF Luke Scott -- Scott has four years of service time left before free agency, but he is 30 years old, which encourages the Orioles to gauge his value on the trade market. If Baltimore gets the right offer, it could easily deal Scott and promote either prospect Nolan Reimold or reserve Lou Montanez to challenge for Scott's job.

Top prospects:

C Matt Wieters -- Wieters was named Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year.

RHP Chris Tillman -- The young righty is the jewel of the Bedard trade and one of the best arms in the Minors.

LHP Brian Matusz -- The highly touted lefty was Baltimore's most recent first-round pick in the First-Year Player Draft.

3B Brandon Snyder -- The young slugger was supplanted by Wieters as catcher of the future, but he is still a possible impact bat.

1B Billy Rowell -- Rowell has struggled but still has major potential as a power hitter.

OF Nolan Reimold -- Reimold thrived at Double-A and may be ready to play in the big leagues now.

RHP Jake Arrieta -- Arrieta was a first-round talent who signed later in the Draft for an above-slot bonus.

Eligible for arbitration:

Markakis, Ray and Sherrill.

Non-tender possibilities:

RHP Daniel Cabrera; RHP Lance Cormier.

Payroll:

The Orioles were just under $70 million in 2008 and likely will increase that substantially this offseason. Baltimore will shed some salary via free-agent defections, but it may add big-ticket items in Teixeira and Burnett. If the right free agents make themselves available, the club could have a markedly different team next season.

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