Now that the Orioles have traded Jim Johnson and other teams are signing closers on the free-agent market, what is the club going to do?
-- Bob S., Aberdeen, Md.
The Orioles would prefer to go out and sign a closer to fill Johnson's spot, but as you mentioned, it's a market that is developing quickly -- and it's not exactly a cheap avenue. Baltimore traded away Johnson because of "resource allocation," meaning the club didn't want to spend approximately $10 million he will likely get in arbitration on one pitcher.
Getting a reliable ninth-inning guy substantially cheaper got a little harder on Thursday, with the Red Sox agreeing to a two-year, $9.5 million deal with Edward Mujica. Joe Nathan got a two-year, $20 million deal with an option from the Tigers, while Brian Wilson signed a one-year deal with the Dodgers at $10 million that includes a player option. Names like Grant Balfour, Chris Perez, Fernando Rodney, Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey and John Axford are among the free agents available, and it'll be a challenge for the O's to sign a capable ninth-inning guy for a substantially cheaper price than Johnson.
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The smarter move for Baltimore may be to allocate those resources toward a big bat, with that being a better market than the starting pitching this winter. The only way the Johnson trade will be viewed favorably will depend on what the Orioles do with that cash.
What's a reasonable payroll for the Orioles?
-- Glen L., Elizabethtown, Pa.
This is a hard question to answer, because my reasonable is going to be different from yours, and I'm sure the organization has another definition entirely. The way the team is constructed now, it'd be hard to stay under $100 million, although there's been no budget set publicly by the O's. They have a number of players -- such as Matt Wieters and Chris Davis -- who will receive raises in arbitration, and that will drive up the payroll even without the club making any moves.
Trading away Johnson freed up about $10 million, and the Orioles will have a hard time justifying that move if they don't go out and spend on the free-agent market this winter. No one expects the O's to throw around cash like they are suddenly the Yankees, but with smaller-market teams like Oakland, Seattle and even San Diego looking prime to open up their wallets, it'd be difficult for Baltimore to justify another offseason in which the club kept the roster virtually unchanged.
Do you think adding a good arm or two to the rotation will be enough to make the Orioles serious contenders this year?
-- Jeff M., No hometown provided
I've said it before, but I think it's the team's biggest need. It was last winter and it is again. Do I think the Orioles will go out and get two significant rotation upgrades? No, but I think if they added a No. 2 or No. 3 starter, it could go a long way in helping stabilize things behind Chris Tillman. It's been said before that the club's best avenue to acquire starting pitching is in a trade, but when you're trying to build a successful organization, it's incredibly difficult to trade away top prospects and still do that. For example, the Nationals had to deal a pretty good young player to acquire Doug Fister from Detroit. The O's have players such as Kevin Gausman or Eduardo Rodriguez who teams want, but they aren't willing to part with them and leave the farm system vacant.
The organization is also hopeful some of its current pitchers will take a step forward next season, similar to what Tillman did this year. New pitching coach Dave Wallace will have a serious challenge in trying to develop an inexperienced rotation in the American League East, and adding another arm such as Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana would be a boost. The O's, who really liked Tim Hudson before he signed with the Giants, are also interested in a veteran hurler and remain hopeful of retaining Scott Feldman.
Why are other teams getting serious players and we are adding depth to the 40-man roster?
-- Jon S., No hometown provided
Obviously some of those players on the 40-man roster won't be on the Opening Day roster, but you raise an interesting point. The Orioles have given out some puzzling 40-man roster spots this winter, and a lot of that has to do with the competition. The O's can't outbid certain clubs who stack their Triple-A teams by paying guys well above normal Minor League salaries. However, Baltimore can offer a roster spot that other teams may not be able to do. It's also not written in stone. The Orioles bcan remove guys off the 40-man later this winter if need be, so I wouldn't worry about those signings precluding the organization from doing something bigger.
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.