BALTIMORE -- As the temperature drops and the rumor mill starts to heat up in advance of next month's Winter Meetings, I thought it'd be a good time to dig into my Inbox and answer some questions surrounding the Orioles' offseason.
Hopefully by the time most of baseball convenes in Dallas, Michigan State football will have already won the Big Ten Championship game, and Baltimore's front office decisions -- a good portion of which are still up in the air since the recent hiring of executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette -- will be mostly sorted out.
As usual, feel free to chime in with your own questions or comments in the side box for submissions. My only request is that you actually read this Inbox first. Repeats are only fun when they're championship titles, and even then, it's only if it's your team. So, without further ado, your questions:
Are the Orioles likely to sign a big-name free agent this winter?
-- Steven M., Blacksburg, Va.
Nearly all indications are the Orioles aren't going to make a big splash in the free-agent market by signing a marquee name like Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols or C.J. Wilson. Keep in mind their biggest issue is addressing a starting pitching staff that performed woefully for most of last season and, even after that, next on the docket is addressing the bullpen. This year's class of free agents is thin on viable top-tier starters after Wilson, who should have plenty of suitors as teams are becoming increasingly reluctant to part with big league starting pitching via trade and, in some cases, even when their young arms are still considered prospects.
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Instead of allocating a significant portion of their resources on a big-ticket player, Duquette made it pretty clear his priority is fixing a farm system devoid of depth and bolstering the organization's international efforts. The Orioles have one of the lowest success rates in turning their Draft picks into viable Major League players in recent years, a stat that needs to be turned around if they are going to turn around the on-field product.
Could the Orioles use a power-hitting first baseman, a position they've seemingly had to fill every year with an aging stopgap solution? Absolutely. But it's not one of their most pressing needs, and certainly not the best avenue to go in fixing the organization's problems. Duquette referenced an international plan he would implement, and expect the Orioles to be aggressive in adding depth and making trades. But don't expect them to throw large sums of money at a pricey free agent just to excite the fan base.
I've heard rumors that the Orioles are talking to the Rockies about trading for closer Huston Street. First: Is this true? And second: After the fiasco of Mike Gonzalez and signing Kevin Gregg to a multiyear deal, can't the Orioles just promote Jim Johnson?
-- Brian K., Columbia, Md.
Since you asked a two-part question, I'll address it that way. First, teams can't comment on players from other clubs, but the report -- which came from MLB Network's Ken Rosenthal -- makes sense given the spot the Orioles are in. They need starting pitching, and as I said in the answer to the previous question, it's not exactly out there in abundance. You would have to figure if they acquired Street they would move Johnson, who is highly regarded by manager Buck Showalter, into the starting rotation.
In theory, it sounds like a good idea. But there are some other factors to consider as well. Would Johnson's arm hold up to the increased workload? Would he be as successful as a starter as he is a setup man? Or, as you suggested, the Orioles could try using him in the ninth inning, as Showalter did increasingly in the 2011 season's final few weeks. How Johnson performs in a more pressurized role outside of what he did in September, when the Orioles were already well out of the playoff picture, is another thing to take into account.
The bottom line is, all early trade talks are just that -- early talking. Duquette said he touched base with about 15 other clubs at the recently wrapped General Managers Meetings, and a lot of times those talks lay the groundwork for trades at the Winter Meetings. What the Orioles do with Johnson is a function of what they are able to do to shore up their starting pitching, but acquiring proven late-inning arms could be easier than obtaining viable Major League starters.
Everybody is talking about acquiring a new first baseman, but what happens to Mark Reynolds? His play at third base doesn't suggest Baltimore can move him back.
-- Jon F., Perry Hall, Md.
Reynolds is an interesting case. Acquired in a trade at last year's Winter Meetings, he did exactly what the Orioles expected: provide power. And while he has detractors, and a high strikeout total to go along with 37 homers and 86 RBIs, no one expected Reynolds to struggle as badly as he did defensively. He committed 26 errors in 114 games at third base, and while he fared better when moved to first, it was too small of a sample size to really know for sure how he can handle that position.
The Orioles' preference would be to have Reynolds at first base instead of third. They also would like to have more flexibility on their bench this season and not a designated-hitter-only type. But does the organization make Reynolds, who is only 28 years old, their full-time DH? Having played only with the D-backs before last season, Reynolds has never been a DH and has made it no secret he'd prefer to play the field. Assuming the Orioles don't upgrade at first base, I'd pencil Reynolds in as the team's starting first baseman next year. Or, if the Orioles do get another first base/DH-type player, they could split time in the field.
As for who plays third base in that scenario, the Orioles traded for Chris Davis midseason, and he will get every opportunity to win that job. They also recently added infielder Matt Antonelli, and figure to acquire more infield depth before the offseason is through. They need pitching first and second, but a corner infielder should be a solid third on the to-do list.
Is Duquette going to address an extension for Adam Jones this winter?
-- Edward S., Baltimore
I get asked this question a lot, and I don't think the Orioles have to necessarily extend Jones this winter. I do think, like last offseason, the topic will be broached. But Duquette has to think about how to make this organization successful and how to best sustain that success, and for that you need to see what you have in your arms. If the Orioles' current crop of young arms don't bounce back in the first half of next season -- or at least show signs of progressing forward -- you are looking at a team that has to be stripped down and rebuilt, in my opinion.
If the organization goes into rebuild mode, Duquette and the rest of the front office would have to determine if Jones, who will turn 27 next season, would be a part of that process. Duquette did single out Jones in his first press conference, and I believe he's an above-average player who has benefited immensely from Showalter. I think 2012 will be a paramount year for him, and in a perfect world, I think he's a player the Orioles would love to see man center field for years to come. But, and I'm not telling Orioles fans anything they don't already know, things are far from perfect.