Meetings a chance for Orioles to retool

Meetings a chance for Orioles to retool

Meetings a chance for Orioles to retool
BALTIMORE -- The Orioles got their first taste of the postseason in 15 years this past season, and the organization is optimistic that was only the beginning. But if Baltimore is going to continue to compete in the American League East, there will need to be upgrades and improvements -- a tough task, considering the limited budget used by second-year executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette.

Duquette, who -- along with manager Buck Showalter -- did an excellent job adjusting the club's roster, has made a few small moves so far this offseason. The O's traded for outfielder Trayvon Robinson, sending infielder Robert Andino to Seattle in return, and acquired infielder Danny Valencia from the Red Sox earlier this week. Always vocal about exploring every available market, Duquette -- who has said the organization hopes to expand its international efforts into Europe this winter -- has also signed multiple players from independent leagues to Minor League deals. The club also re-signed outfielder Lew Ford, who spent several months with the big league club despite starting the 2012 season with the Long Island Ducks.

And while stockpiling depth can only help over the course of a 162-game season, the Orioles still need to make some substantial moves, most notably one that would net a middle-of-the-order bat. The club figures to make its biggest move via trade rather than by signing a big-name free agent, a strategy that comes with risks and doesn't favor the Orioles and their limited payroll.

With that in mind, here's a quick glance at the O's situation heading into the Winter Meetings, which will begin in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday:

Club needs

First base: The likely departure of Mark Reynolds, who is expected to be non-tendered by Friday's 11:59 p.m. ET deadline and become a free agent, leaves a hole at first base. Chris Davis is the most likely internal solution, although the Orioles could seek an upgrade on the trade market and perhaps rotate Davis, who is pretty versatile, between the outfield and designated hitter. There's not a whole lot on the free-agent market, so the O's would probably have to make a deal to find a replacement from outside the organization. It's also not out of the question that the Orioles could re-sign Reynolds if he becomes a free agent.

Designated hitter: Will the O's try to add someone like Jim Thome, who was a presence in the middle of the order and great to have in the clubhouse? Or will they opt to give Showalter the flexibility he talked about last spring? Davis proved he can fill the role, and this decision is obviously tied to what the O's do at first base. In a perfect world, it'd be a position for Showalter to rotate, but DH could end up being the best avenue for the club to upgrade its lineup.

Left field: Nick Markakis will be back manning right field for the Orioles, and Adam Jones is coming off a career year in center. But there remains a question of whether Nolan Reimold can stay healthy after having dealt with injuries over the past few seasons. The 29-year-old Reimold, the O's Opening Day left fielder in 2012, was on an offensive tear last season before sustaining a neck injury that led to season-ending surgery. He expects to be fully ready next spring, and the Orioles remain in talks to bring back free agent Nate McLouth, a midseason pickup this past season who was a pleasant surprise.

Rotation: The Orioles don't have a true No. 1 starter, but they do have numbers on their side again this spring with rotation candidates, including Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, Tommy Hunter and Steve Johnson. They could also make a move to re-sign free agent Joe Saunders, who grew up an Orioles fan. Additionally, lefty Tsuyoshi Wada, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery on his left elbow, is expected to be an option by late spring. There are other starting pitchers available on the free-agent market if Duquette decides to go that route, but the priority remains adding a premium bat over a pitcher.

Who they can or need to trade

The O's starting rotation is their greatest area of depth, leading to the possibility that former highly regarded prospects such as Britton, Arrieta, Tillman or Matusz could be dealt, but the absence of a dominant arm may prohibit Duquette from parting with anyone who could be needed to prop up the rotation throughout next season.

Top prospects

The O's lack of an ace was made clear during this year's postseason, but there is good reason to see promise in top pitching prospects Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman.

"I'm going to tell you this: The core players are going to come from our Minor League system," Duquette said following the conclusion of this past season. "They're really good ballplayers, and we've got a couple of them on the horizon that can help our pitching staff."

That is a reference to Bundy and Gausman, who could both reach Baltimore at some point next season and will have an outside chance at breaking the club's Opening Day roster. Bundy made his big league debut in September, and these two young pitchers figure to be off limits in any trade talks this offseason.

Former top hitting prospect Manny Machado graduated to the big league club, and it's hard to imagine a scenario in which he'd start next season in the Minors. Barring the acquisition of a big bat for third base, Machado -- who made the move to the hot corner from shortstop -- held his own at the plate as a rookie and is the club's best defensive option there as well.

Rule 5 Draft

The Orioles' 40-man roster is at capacity, so the team would need to clear room if it wanted to select a player in Thursday morning's Rule 5 Draft. Still, the O's could be active in the Rule 5 Draft, and they've got a good -- albeit brief -- track record under Duquette, who selected infielder Ryan Flaherty from the Cubs in last winter's Rule 5 Draft. The Orioles were able to keep Flaherty on their roster all season, and he's currently playing in the Dominican Winter League.

Arbitration-eligible

The Orioles figure to spend between $25 million and $30 million on their 14 arbitration-eligible players: Jim Johnson, Matt Wieters, Davis, Hammel, Troy Patton, Darren O'Day, Matusz, Hunter, Reimold, Steve Pearce, Omar Quintanilla, Taylor Teagarden and Reynolds. The final four are candidates to be non-tendered.

Payroll summation

The Orioles have not made a specific payroll ceiling public, but it is believed the club is trying to operate on a budget in the ballpark of $85 million. With the money already on the books -- primarily the contracts of Markakis, Jones, Brian Roberts and J.J. Hardy -- coupled with all of the arbitration-eligible players due raises, Duquette doesn't have a lot of wiggle room. If the club non-tenders Reynolds, as expected, it could use that money to make some improvements, although it's worth repeating that the O's best avenue of enhancement will be by trade.

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.