Which big-name free agent do you think would help the Orioles get better the quickest? And which big-name free agent do you think would most likely sign with Baltimore?
-- Matthew E., Baltimore
This year, there's a one-part answer to that two-part question. The Orioles, who have sat out of the big-time free-agent market since signing Miguel Tejada a few winters ago, appear poised to make a run at local product Mark Teixeira. Teixeira, a native of Severna Park, Md., has been high on the local fans' wish list for several years.
And that's only one reason why he'd immediately make the Orioles better. Baltimore hasn't had an All-Star-caliber first baseman in several years, and Teixeira would give them one in the prime of his career. Plus, he'd keep Aubrey Huff anchored to designated hitter, giving the Orioles two feared sluggers in the heart of their order.
Teixeira, a two-time Gold Glove winner, will be just 29 years old next season and should be productive for many years to come. The Orioles could sign him without much element of risk, and as a switch-hitter, he'd help Baltimore tilt away from its left-handed-hitting axis. Also, he'd allow Brandon Snyder and Billy Rowell time to develop in the Minors.
Local fans have spoken on Teixeira, flooding the inbox of several Baltimore sportswriters in their zeal to bring him home. And Teixeira has noticed that demand, saying in the past that he'd love to play for his favorite team from his childhood. But as the prime position player in a strong market, he'll have several intriguing choices heaped on his plate.
Teixeira will likely have several big-money offers, and he'll have his chance to sign with a contending team if he wants. If he opts to come home, he'll have the chance to help the Orioles find their path after a tough decade. It seems to be the dominant story of the offseason for Baltimore, and much of the winter planning hinges on its outcome.
Any chance the O's will enter the CC Sabathia sweepstakes or are we going to just plug in two "inning-eaters" and hope our young arms will develop?
-- Mike W., Alexandria, Va.
Unlike Teixeira, Sabathia doesn't have a local tie to the region and doesn't appear likely to forgo a chance to sign with an immediate World Series contender. The burly southpaw does appear to have his own geographical considerations, though, with many rumblings indicating that he'd like to pitch closer to home on the West Coast.
Sabathia may also want to stay in the National League, a circuit he dominated in a half-season with the Brewers. Like Teixeira, Sabathia is sure to draw a lot of interest on the open market. Unlike Teixeira, he comes with a major element of injury risk, as he's piled up nearly 500 innings in the past two years and almost 900 in the last four.
The Orioles are likely to go a little more modest on the free-agent front, but they may hope for a little more geographical favor. A.J. Burnett, who is expected to opt out of his deal with the Blue Jays, makes his offseason home in Baltimore and may be swayed to help front the rotation. Burnett, along with Teixeira, would represent a major makeover.
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If the Orioles can't sign Burnett -- a major injury risk in his own right -- they may set their sights on right-hander Derek Lowe. Baltimore needs an arm or two that can plausibly fill out the rotation behind Jeremy Guthrie and can't find them in-house. Look for the Orioles to sign at least one veteran, and perhaps two or three if they come at the right price.
Is it possible that manager Dave Trembley's "no facial hair" rule is preventing players from wanting to play for the Orioles? I know that if a potential employer had that policy, I would look elsewhere.
-- Todd P., Virginia Beach, Va.
Don't shoot the messenger. The facial-hair policy -- which prohibits players from growing beards or goatees beneath the lip -- is handed down from ownership and only enforced by the team's manager. And while it may be an annoyance to some of the players, it's not anything that keeps them from wanting to play with the Orioles.
Let's face it: When you have a chance to play Major League Baseball, growing a beard is low on your list of priorities. There are several players who might even shave their eyebrows for a chance to latch on with a given team. For example, despite all the grousing Kevin Millar did about the policy, he still wants to sign up for another season.
Baltimore's main hurdle in attracting talent is its record, which has been below .500 for the past 11 seasons. But the Orioles also have several selling points, chief among them Camden Yards and the chance to compete in the American League East. If they miss on a player by virtue of his shaving habits, there are plenty more to choose from.
Can the Orioles move catcher Ramon Hernandez? He has not hit consistently, cannot throw out runners and cannot handle the pitching staff.
-- Tom R., Schenectady, N.Y.
With that scouting report, who would want him? Tom is being a little harsh, as Hernandez has been moderately successful at the plate throughout his Baltimore tenure. It's true that the veteran's defense has begun to slip, though, and the Orioles do have monster prospect Matt Wieters waiting to take over the full-time catching job.
Having Hernandez on hand would help ease the rookie's transition, though, and would allow Wieters to slot in as the DH from time to time during his first season. Whether that consideration will be enough to keep him around remains to be seen, but Hernandez will indeed figure in as one of Baltimore's trade chips this offseason.
Hernandez, just 32 years old, may have another big offensive season or two left in his bat. And given the right circumstances, he could help the Orioles as a backup catcher, first baseman and DH. Guillermo Quiroz, last season's backup, has many of the same flaws without many of the same benefits.
The question, of course, is what the Orioles can expect in return. If they're only offered a mid-grade prospect, it might not make sense to deal Hernandez in the final year of his contract. Catcher is still one of the hardest positions to fill in the big leagues, and Baltimore would be well-served not to heap too much pressure on Wieters immediately.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.