After enduring another long and disappointing season on the field in 2009, the 2009-2010 off-season was supposed to be the start of a new day for the Baltimore Orioles. With enough quality young pitchers to fill two rotations and a nucleus of talented young position players, this was to be the off-season in which the Orioles finally started playing with the big boys on the free agent market as they looked for the veteran pieces, potentially including a couple franchise-changing players, needed to actually become a contender for the first time in a decade.
But a funny thing seems to have happened on the way back to contention. So far, Baltimore general manager Andy MacPhail has forgotten that the Orioles are supposed to be playing to win now, not just continuing to bide time in preparation for a run in a couple years.
As far as I can tell, the first six weeks of the off-season haven’t looked much different than off-seasons of the past. Championship contenders like the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies have been busy pilfering talent from less endowed franchises while also lobbing multi-million dollar contracts at the prized free agents.
At the same time, the Orioles and other want-to-be contenders have mostly been on the sidelines either unable or unwilling to toss money into the ring.
While the Yankees were adding All-Star Curtis Granderson, the Red Sox stockpiled more talent in Mike Cameron and John Lackey and the Phillies did a bait-and-switch to secure top pitcher Roy Halladay, the Orioles made the earth-shattering move to acquire 35-year-old pitcher Kevin Millwood from the Texas Rangers.
Now making a move to get Millwood might have enjoyed blockbuster status five or six years ago, but that is no longer the case. Twice an 18-game winner with the Atlanta Braves between 1999 and 2002, Millwood has won as many as 16 games only once in the last seven years. In four seasons with the Rangers, Millwood went 48-46 with a 4.57 ERA.
Don’t get me wrong, adding Millwood and his average of 190 innings per year to the young and talented Baltimore pitching staff is a nice move, but Millwood is not the ace that the Orioles needed and quite frankly that the fans of Baltimore deserved.
With Halladay and Lackey available this off-season, the Orioles were supposed to be shopping for an ace, not for just another veteran who can eat up innings. They should have been going after both.
Instead, Lackey signs with another AL East team and Halladay is off the market after signing an extension with the Phillies.
At the very least, the Orioles should have tried to muscle their way into the trade that sent Cliff Lee to Seattle for prospects.
Heck, if the Orioles PR machine is to believed, the team has so many future star pitchers poised to make a mark on the majors that trading a couple of them for an ace like Cliff Lee would have barely been noticed.
Once the chance at securing an ace pitcher was blown, fans of the Birds could at least hope that MacPhail would open the purse strings to bring in a stud at the two positions where the Orioles badly need an upgrade, first base and third base. Right?
Well, don’t get too excited waiting for that to happen.
Word is that the Orioles will likely sign former Colorado Rockies third baseman Garrett Atkins to fill the void at third base created by the decision not to resign Melvin Mora.
Atkins had four solid seasons for the Rockies from 2005-2008, but the 30-year-old tailed off miserably last season as he hit .226 with nine home runs and 48 RBIs.
Knowing that offensive numbers are generally inflated for players in Colorado, there seems to be no guarantee that Atkins will bounce back to his form of averaging 25 home runs and 110 RBI from the three previous seasons.
The Orioles have yet to make any inroads at first base and this could prove to be the chance MacPhail needs to redeem himself for the inability to sign a star pitcher.
Still available for the right price is San Diego Padres slugger Adrian Gonzalez, who hit 40 home runs and drove in 99 runs for the Padres a year ago.
Just 27-years old, Gonzalez has hit 130 home runs over the last four seasons and the Padres, who don’t believe they can sign him long-term, are very interested in dealing him for the right price.
Crafting a deal to bring Gonzalez to Baltimore would be exactly the “we mean business” message that MacPhail badly needs to send to his own fans as well as the rest of the AL East.
However, while this seems to be a “no brainer” move for the Orioles, there is a familiar tune that could be getting ready to be played.
Word is that the Red Sox are also interested in trading for Gonzalez. While they don’t seem to have quite the number of top prospects available as the Orioles, with the acquisition of Lackey they now again have enough quality starting pitchers that they could trade one to San Diego without having much impact on their rotation.
If Andy MacPhail really ever wants the Orioles to return to contention in the AL East, he cannot let that happen. After playing around the edges during the first weeks of the off-season, the Orioles must go for the throat and show that they mean business.
Adding Gonzalez might not make the Orioles instant contenders in 2010, but it would signal to the players, fans and opponents that the Orioles are ready to turn things around.
After more than a decade of losing, the Orioles can’t expect to necessarily become instant contenders in baseball’s toughest division in 2010, but by making a move for Gonzalez they can instantly start acting like contenders and that is the first step.