Thursday, October 30, 2008

It starts...

Now that the World Series is over (congrats to Philly fans, please don’t destroy Pat’s or Gino’s during your celebratory riots), the real fun for O’s fans begins.

Trade talk, free agent signing rumors, roster speculation... these offseason rituals are often more fun than watching the team actually play in the regular season.

Unfortunately, the 2008-2009 offseason doesn’t look to be as entertaining (or tedious depending on how you look at it) as the 2007-2008 offseason since the O’s don’t have two valuable trading chips on their roster like they did last offseason with Miguel Tejada and Erik Bedard.

Aubrey Huff generated about as much interest as Pepsi Clear during the 2008 trade deadline and my gut tells me Brian Roberts will be signed to an extension, leaving Ramon Hernandez as the O’s lone tradable player. Even then, Ramon is owed $9 million in 2009, so if the O’s want any one of value in a trade for Hernandez, they are going to have to cover a large chunk of his salary.

That leaves the O’s offseason moves limited to free agency, something they have pretty much steered clear of since 2004. The big names of Mark Teixiera and A.J. Burnett are at the forefront of free agent talk, and the fact that both players have local ties gives fans an added hope that the O’s will sign them both.

But I don’t see it happening. It’s just not Andy MacPhail’s M.O. He prefered the slow and steady route and during his time as GM in Minnesota and Chicago, and his free agent signings were of the minor variety. MacPhail wants to see more of a homegrown core established in Baltimore before he throws money at big-name free agents like Teixiera or Burnett, and I kind of agree with him.

What if they sign Tex and Burnett and the team fails to develop the young pitching they have in the minors? It’ll be like 2004 all over again, letting Miguel Tejada go to waste in a line-up that has little chance to win.

Now don’t get me wrong. Mark Teixiera would be a great addition to this line-up. He’d fill a gaping hole at 1B and bring a legitimate clean-up hitter’s presence to a line-up that should be pretty solid in 2009 with Roberts, Markakis, Jones, Huff and Matt Wieters in it. As long as he won’t cost the farm, I’d love to bring Mark Teixiera back home to Baltimore.

A.J. Burnett is more of a risk. Burnett has been injury prone his entire career, and as a pitcher, he’ll get a lot of money just for being mediocre. It’s the going market for pitching these days. Burnett’s wife is from Annapolis and he’s hinted about wanting to play for the O’s, so if he opts out of his contract with the Blue Jays, you can bet Burnett is going to be waiting for the O’s to call. But how much will he cost? And can he stay healthy? If healthy, Burnett would take some pressure of Jeremy Guthrie as the ace, and bring another anchor a pitching staff that is in desperate need of someone who can give you 6 innings each night and keep you in the game, taking stress off the over-worked bullpen.

But 2009 should be about staying the course. Make Matt Wieters the starting catcher and continue allowing Markakis and Adam Jones to improve. Keep giving the deep crop of starting pitchers we have scattered throughout the minors a chance and hope that a couple of them can stick in the rotation. Then, in 2010, go all out and sign the guys you believe can get you over the hump.

Either way, it’ll be interesting to see what MacPahil can do. He worked wonders with the Bedard and Tejada trades, so maybe he can squeeze another team for Huff or Hernandez. I just hope the O’s can continue to improve the future of this team, whether that is by signing free agents or making some trades.

After watching the Tampa Bay Rays make it to the World Series after 10 years of misery, it gives me hope that the Orioles can somehow do the same.

And it should start with this offseason.

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