O's head to Winter Meetings with meaty to-do list
Offseason needs include second baseman, left fielder, DH, starting pitcher, closer
BALTIMORE -- The Orioles will head to Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on Sunday with a big to-do list. Monday's trade of closer Jim Johnson -- essentially to unload his contract -- puts even more pressure on Baltimore to try to improve last year's club, with the team also having concerns in the starting rotation and at second base, designated hitter and left field.
It's not exactly an ideal spot, and it will require some savvy from executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette with limited payroll flexibility -- though trading Johnson created some room -- and an American League East division that keeps getting tougher.
Here is a quick glance at the Orioles' situation heading into the Winter Meetings, which return to the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort:
Rotation: Ideally, the Orioles would like to give manager Buck Showalter two more viable starters, although that could prove difficult. The club has been aggressive in talks with free agents, including Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana. The asking price from earlier deals has made upgrading more than one starter a serious challenge, particularly with the Orioles' laundry list of other needs. Pitching has always been a priority, and Duquette has done his best to stockpile it, so expect the O's to make some signings for depth as well. They will have Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen and Bud Norris returning to the rotation from last season, with top prospect Kevin Gausman as another option.
Second base: Does Brian Roberts get an encore? The veteran is a free agent this winter and -- with Robinson Cano off the market -- the class of available second basemen is underwhelming. The Orioles aren't ready to turn the job over to Ryan Flaherty or Jonathan Schoop, and Jemile Weeks, who was acquired for Johnson, is a wild card. Their best bet could be to swing a trade to upgrade here, with an emphasis on on-base percentage, given the Orioles' all-or-nothing offense in 2013.
Left field: With the departure of Nate McLouth, this position is another question mark. The Orioles have been linked to big-name outfielders Shin-Soo Choo and Nelson Cruz.
Designated hitter: The Orioles badly need a DH after posting one of the worst averages and slugging percentages in the American League in this category last season. They have power in their lineup but could use another big bat. If they land a bigger name in left field, they could use this spot to rotate around the field and spell a lineup that relied too much on the same few guys last year. Showalter has said before his preference is to stay away from DH-only types and with Chris Davis firmly entrenched at first base, upgrading at left field could be a better strategy.
Closer: The Orioles would prefer to add someone with ninth-inning experience and leave guys like Tommy Hunter and Darren O'Day in their current setup roles. John Axford and Andrew Bailey, who were both non-tendered, are available, along with free agents like Grant Balfour, Fernando Rodney and Joel Hanrahan.
Who they could trade
Matt Wieters: Can they? Will they? Should they? The debate rages on, but there's no question the All-Star catcher would be one of the Orioles' most coveted players. As it becomes clear that both sides are on different islands in extension talks, the Orioles are listening to offers. But it would take a significant haul before Baltimore moves a cornerstone of the organization like Wieters.
Troy Patton and Brian Matusz: The left-handers could be expendable as the Orioles already have added a few relievers and have made no secret that there's massive change coming to this year's bullpen. While Matusz's stock has dropped since his days as a promising young starter, he could command some interest as a possible rotation option.
J.J. Hardy: Already the subject of trade rumors this winter, it's highly unlikely Hardy is dealt, despite the interest in the Glove Glove and Silver Slugger winner. The shortstop anchors the defense and is affordable, and the O's have no clear-cut backup solution, particularly given third baseman Manny Machado's recovery from knee surgery.
The Orioles have made it pretty clear in the past that they won't part with top pitching prospects Gausman and Dylan Bundy, and they wouldn't do it now, with Bundy coming off Tommy John surgery. Eduardo Rodriguez and Mike Wright are two more promising young pitchers who figure to be off the table in trade talks, leaving very little to pick from. The farm system has improved recently, but the Orioles still lack depth -- particularly positionally -- making a high-caliber trade impossible to pull off unless they soften their stance. Gausman, who was with the big league club this year, could be part of the 2014 rotation, while Bundy may factor into the second half.
Rule 5 Draft
The Orioles have been able to keep a Rule 5 Draft guy on their roster each of the past two years, in Flaherty and T.J. McFarland. Expect them to do the same this year.
The million-dollar question this winter is: How much will the Orioles spend?
Trading away Johnson gives Duquette some wiggle room, although the Orioles stand to dole out sizable raises for arbitration-eligible guys like Davis and Wieters. There's been no budget made public, but with the term "resource allocation" used in trading away Johnson, it doesn't exactly lend to a lot of free-flowing cash where the Orioles are concerned. Still, it would be hard not to be in the $100 million range and field a competitive team, particularly given what their divisional foes already have done this winter.
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.