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O's searching for big bat at Winter Meetings

O's searching for big bat at Winter Meetings

BALTIMORE -- With next week's Winter Meetings rapidly approaching, the Orioles find themselves still in search of their top target: a middle-of-the-order bat, preferably one who a plays a corner infield spot.

This year's Hot Stove -- with rules designed to speed up the process by moving up several offseason deadlines -- has already seen free-agent sluggers Victor Martinez and Adam Dunn elect to go elsewhere and leave the O's offer on the table.

Now, the organization -- which has been called "aggressive" in its offseason pursuits by multiple media outlets -- will sift through remaining free agents like Carlos Pena, Adam LaRoche, Paul Konerko, Derrek Lee and Adrian Beltre. President of baseball operations Andy MacPhail has also said that the club is active in trade talks, a scenario that might be better than trying to lure a free agent to a team saddled by 13 consecutive losing seasons and the prospect of playing in baseball's toughest division, the American League East.

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As this year's Hot Stove continues to heat up, the O's are still waiting on their first major move, with only a few housekeeping items -- such as signing Minor League pitcher Mitch Atkins -- completed as of Friday morning.

Here's a quick, updated look at the Orioles' needs and where they stand heading into the start of the Meetings on Monday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.:

Team needs

Corner infield bat: This position has been a serious weakness of late, and one that the Orioles can't afford to keep stop-gapping on rental players and risks, such as last year's Miguel Tejada and Garrett Atkins signings. MacPhail -- who made contract offers to both Martinez and Dunn -- seems to know this, and given the Orioles' problem attracting top-tier talent, acquiring it via a trade could be the easiest avenue. However, any trade always involves Baltimore's young arms, a price that the Orioles -- built around homegrown pitching -- will have to evaluate carefully.

With Dunn and Martinez off the board, Konerko -- who has turned down the Orioles before -- reportedly already has an offer on the table from the O's, although it's unlikely he would sign in Baltimore. Konerko wants to play for a team that trains in Arizona so he can live in his offseason home part of the year, and he still hasn't ruled out a return to the White Sox. A source close to the situation indicated that Konerko wanted to wait for Dunn to sign somewhere, and reports out of Chicago suggest that the White Sox will make a push to have both Dunn and Konerko in their 2011 lineup.

Shortstop: Cesar Izturis anyone? The Orioles' shortstop last season, Izturis is a free agent and they are still in talks to bring him back.

They've also had rumored interest in Jason Bartlett and J.J. Hardy, a non-tender candidate who was given a contract by the Twins late Thursday night. A trade within their division for Bartlett, who the Rays don't view as a move-at-all-costs situation, is unlikely. Tampa Bay wants a useful return and isn't crippled by Bartlett's salary, so the Rays could hold off until midseason if they don't find a suitable offer. The free-agent market for shortstops is thin, and while the Orioles like Izturis' defense, they will try to find a way to upgrade -- although it won't be at the expense of obtaining a big bat elsewhere.

Veteran starter: It's further down the list, but the Orioles do want another veteran starter to eat innings. Sort of a Kevin Millwood, version 2.0. They acquired Millwood in a trade at last year's Winter Meetings and could pull off a similar move this offseason. Adding another arm in a young rotation will help alleviate some of the pressure off Jeremy Guthrie and keep the team from overusing the bullpen.

Who they can or need to trade

RHPs Chris Tillman and David Hernandez: MacPhail has made it clear that no young arm is untouchable, although Tillman and Hernandez are names that have surfaced the most in early trade reports. Tillman is a 22-year-old starter, while Hernandez was moved to the bullpen during the season. The organization hasn't given up on either, and it'd be hard to imagine a scenario where both are dealt unless the Orioles acquire pitching depth elsewhere.

OF Felix Pie: He has never quite panned out to be the can't-miss prospect he was labeled from the start. It's not entirely Pie's fault, as injuries have derailed almost every season he's had thus far. Still, it may be time for the Orioles to sell high on Pie, who hit .274 with 15 doubles and 31 RBIs in 82 games last season.

RHP Guthrie and DH Luke Scott: Two cornerstones of the 2010 season, Guthrie and Scott were highly coveted around last year's Trade Deadline. MacPhail stood pat, believing he didn't get an offer that would have justified moving either productive players. While it's an unlikely scenario, trading either Guthrie or Scott might be the only way for the Orioles to bring back a premium return.

Top prospects

LHP Zach Britton, SS Manny Machado, OF Xavier Avery, 2B L.J. Hoes, RHP Dan Klein, RHP Wynn Pelzer, 1B Joe Mahoney, INF Ryan Adams and INF Mychal Givens: With the exception of Britton, none of the aforementioned list is close to contributing on the Major League level, and given their farm system's lack of depth, it's highly unlikely the Orioles will want to part with any of these guys in a trade, particularly the first five names.

Big contracts they might unload

None.

Arbitration-eligible

Guthrie, Scott, Pie, OF Adam Jones and RHP Jim Johnson.

Non-tendered

RHP Matt Albers

Payroll summation

With less than $29 million committed to next season, the Orioles have money to spend. Only four players -- Michael Gonzalez, Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis and Brian Matusz -- ended the season with guaranteed 2011 contracts. Roster flexibility is a good thing, especially when it gives the O's a chance to upgrade at several spots. Whether they will use that money wisely remains to be seen.

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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