Things to watch for O's at meetings

The Baltimore Sun (TNS)

The Orioles don't typically use baseball's annual winter meetings as a platform to make a splash. Under executive vice president Dan Duquette, they've actually made few moves under the brightest hot-stove spotlight of the offseason.

Still, the Orioles will head to this year's meetings at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn., with a long shopping list. Despite acquiring power-hitting first baseman Mark Trumbo from the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday, the Orioles still have plenty to do this offseason, most notably upgrading the starting rotation and attempting to retain slugging first baseman Chris Davis.

Duquette, who has traditionally built the Orioles with a more methodical approach focused on year-round additions, said Friday that the club will be active this week in adding to its 2016 roster.

"It's that time of the year to add players to the team," Duquette said. "I'm sure we'll be able to add some players to our club. And we have a couple of trade discussions we need to follow up on with some teams and some discussions to hopefully sign a few players. We're still looking for some pitching help, first base and the outfield."

This could be an active week in Nashville in general, especially on the starting pitching front, now that the top two starters — left-hander David Price and right-hander Zack Greinke — have come off the board.

"I believe you'll see things start to move," Duquette said. "I think you'll start to see the team move on a couple of these different fronts."

Any major move by the Orioles during the meetings would buck the recent trend. Besides participating in the Rule 5 draft, the Orioles' biggest move over the past four seasons was re-signing outfielder Nate McLouth to a one-year deal during the 2012 meetings. During that span, other meetings moves were unspectacular: signing nontendered reliever Ryan Webb to a two-year deal in 2013 and trading for left-hander Dana Eveland in 2011.

Whether the Orioles are active or not, the meetings won't be devoid of storylines. Here are five things to watch regarding the Orioles at this week's meetings:

The Davis factor: Re-signing Davis is the Orioles' No. 1 priority this offseason, according to plenty of people within the organization.

And it's going to take a truckload of money to do it — perhaps $150 million to $175 million, maybe more. That would be a huge departure for an Orioles organization that has never given more than $72 million to a free agent (Miguel Tejada) or $85.5 million (Adam Jones' extension) to anyone.

The Orioles don't believe they'll be the highest bidder for Davis, but they do think they have a chance because of the relationships he has forged in Baltimore. And, of course, because the Orioles are willing to offer their own truckload; it all will just depend on the size of the truck.

The problem, though, is that Davis' agent, Scott Boras, isn't one to rush negotiations. He lets the market develop. Sometimes his top-grade clients sign in early December, but others take longer.

In 2012, Prince Fielder didn't sign his megadeal with the Detroit Tigers until Jan. 26.

Because of their obvious need for a left-handed power hitter and, in particular, one who plays first base or corner outfield, the Orioles can't afford to wait on Davis while other possibilities go elsewhere. It's a Catch-22 (or Catch-19) for the Orioles; they want Davis, but other teams covet him, too. And they can't emerge from this offseason without someone to fill the gap that would be left by his departure.

Interestingly, one potential replacement, Pedro Alvarez, who was recently nontendered by the Pittsburgh Pirates, is also represented by Boras.

The Orioles don't want one player to affect their offseason plan, but at some point — perhaps soon — they'll either have to decide to wait for Davis and hope they can land him, or move on and sign others.

The starting pitcher market: The Orioles were never going to jump into the deep end of the free-agent pitching pool. So Price's seven-year, $217 million deal with the Boston Red Sox and Greinke's six-year, $206.5 million deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks were never going to be challenged by the Orioles.

The club's largest free-agent deal for a pitcher is the four-year, $50 million contract given to Ubaldo Jimenez before the 2014 season. The best guess is that the record stays that way through this winter.

Even the second tier of free-agent starting pitchers — Wei-Yin Chen, Scott Kazmir and Ian Kennedy among them — will get huge paydays. And that just isn't the Orioles' modus operandi, even though boosting their rotation is probably what they need to do most to improve on 2015.

The Orioles will maintain interest in most mid-level starters, veterans such as Yovani Gallardo and Doug Fister, for instance. But whether they can land them will be a simple question of economics: Will the Orioles pay more than they want to in what is sure to be an inflated market?

Normally, the answer is no. And it's actually a fairly sound philosophy considering that long-term contracts to pitchers often don't work out. But the Orioles rotation had a 4.53 ERA, second worst in the American League, while throwing the third fewest innings in the AL. And Chen, their best 2015 starter and only left-hander in the rotation, is expected to sign elsewhere.

They might not have much choice but to buy a starter or two and hope they picked the right ones.

Roaming the outfield market: If it seems that the Orioles' search to shore up their corner-outfield spots has been a recurring theme, it's because it is. Ever since they allowed Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis to walk last offseason, the Orioles have been looking for suitable replacements.

The newly acquired Trumbo has experience in the outfield, but he's both better and more comfortable at first base. And let's face it, he's getting paid to mash, not defend, so he could see considerable time at designated hitter as well. Either way, he's not an outfield solution.

The free-agent outfield market has many promising alternatives, but most come at a considerable cost. Players such as Ben Zobrist, Alex Gordon and Dexter Fowler could give the Orioles impressive track records and much-needed help from the left side of the plate — a major area of need given the team's right-handed-heavy lineup. But they are players who could not only require three- or four-year deals, but also would force the Orioles to forfeit their first-round draft pick.

The Orioles are more open to relinquishing a first-round pick this year because they will have a surplus of selections — up to seven in the first 105 picks depending on whether Davis or Chen sign elsewhere.

One thing is clear. The Orioles' approach last offseason — attempting to fix their outfield holes with patchwork solutions such as Travis Snider, Delmon Young and Alejandro De Aza — served as a cautionary tale that relying on matchups goes only so far.

A veteran outfielder such as Denard Span is intriguing. He's an experienced left-handed hitter with a high on-base percentage and the ability to hit atop the order, but his injury history is worrisome. And he's still likely to get paid.

The Orioles could also retain outfielders Gerardo Parra and Steve Pearce, but both seem to be fallback options.

While there are many options for outfielders, they all seem to have some level of risk. It's just a matter of how much risk the Orioles are willing to take.

Keeping the bullpen a strength: One philosophy, which was perfected by the World Series champion Kansas City Royals, is to supplement a mediocre rotation with an exemplary bullpen. The Royals had the best bullpen ERA in the AL (2.72) by four-tenths of a run. The Orioles were third with a 3.21 mark.

It wouldn't be a surprise if the Orioles attempt to follow the Royals Way in 2016, adding a couple more relievers to help closer Zach Britton and company.

One of the keys has already been taken care of. Darren O'Day will return to the team. On Sunday, he agreed to a deal for four years and $31 million Still, the Orioles need to look at strengthening their bullpen, concentrating as much on the final four innings of a game as they do the first five.

That would require adding one or two quality relievers. But they are already in solid shape with Britton, O'Day, Brad Brach, Mychal Givens and Brian Matusz, among others.

The Rule 5 draft: Without question, the Orioles see the Rule 5 draft as an opportunity to build their big league club. They've made selections in the Rule 5 draft all four years under Duquette, and in three of those years the club has retained its Rule 5 pick — utility player Ryan Flaherty in 2012, left-hander T.J. McFarland in 2013 and right-hander Jason Garcia in 2015.

Last year, the Orioles made two selections in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft, Garcia and right-hander Logan Verrett. They were unable to hold on to Verrett, and doing so with Garcia — a hard thrower who hadn't pitched above Single-A — took equal parts patience and sacrifice.

A different challenge exists this year, because for all intents and purposes, top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy is already like a Rule 5 pick. Bundy enters the season out of minor league options, so he must remain on the major league roster or the Orioles risk losing him on waivers. Duquette said the Orioles have put a lot of preparation into this year's Rule 5 draft and have a 40-man spot available for a selection, but being forced to carry Bundy makes putting another inexperienced player on the 25-man roster much trickier.