Fauber: Orioles remain quiet

Baltimore Orioles fans can’t really act too surprised, can we?

It’s not as if we haven’t seen this before. Winter Meetings come and go, and year after year there is very little headline news that pops out of Baltimore. Sure, there are holes to be filled on the roster each season, but have the Orioles ever really been willing to dig deep into their pockets and haul in that big free agent or complete that blockbuster trade that we as baseball fans constantly crave? No, at least not recently.

So I can’t say I’m surprised the O’s accomplished very little during this week’s Winter Meetings.

To be clear, I’m not bashing Baltimore’s front office. Some great moves have come out of Baltimore in the recent past, under both former president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail and current executive vice president Dan Duquette.

That trade with Seattle in 2008 has worked out nicely for the Orioles, the one that sent pitcher Erik Bedard to the Mariners for five prospects that included future Gold Glover Adam Jones and Chris Tillman, who emerged as the Orioles’ most consistent pitcher in 2013.

There was also the drafting of catcher Matt Wieters and shortstop-turned-third-baseman Manny Machado in 2007 and 2010, respectively. And who could forget the trade in 2011 with Texas that sent Koji Uehara to the Rangers in exchange for emerging slugger Chris Davis and pitcher Tommy Hunter? (Although it would’ve been nice to get Uehara back after he became a free agent following the 2012 season).

Those moves have helped Baltimore become more competitive over the last few seasons, and it’s definitely more exciting to be an Orioles fan now than it used to be. But every year it feels like Baltimore is one pitcher and one more slugger (less so now with the sudden emergence of Davis) away from making a serious run in the playoffs.

Each offseason, it’s noted that the Orioles are in need of starting pitching, usually an ace that can serve as the backbone for a staff that has largely consisted of young talent with the occasional veteran thrown in to eat up innings and guide the younger guys through the season.

This winter is no different. The Orioles came into the offseason needing outfield help after losing left fielder Nate McLouth to free agency, a left-handed batter to fill in at designated hitter, and — you guessed it — starting pitching. Then Baltimore traded closer Jim Johnson to the A’s for next to nothing, adding a proven closer to the Orioles’ list of needs.

But while many teams were busy making moves and signing players last week, the Orioles were their usual silent selves. Then came the Winter Meetings on Monday, which we saw come and go without Baltimore making so much as a ripple. The Orioles couldn’t even land Bartolo Colon, who seemed to perfectly fit Baltimore’s recent criteria for free-agent starting pitchers (old).

No way are the Orioles shelling out the money to land outfielder Shin-Soo Choo (who is seeking a contract somewhere in the $130M range), nor should they risk signing the now-steroid-free Nelson Cruz, who, rumor has it, has “bust” written all over him.

In the Rule 5 draft, the Orioles nabbed infielder Michael Almanzar (.268 batting average, 16 home runs, 81 RBIs last season in Double-A) from Boston, who will need to remain on Baltimore’s roster the entire season if the Orioles hope to retain him. And apparently, Duquette feels the Orioles have helped their search for a left fielder by grabbing former first-rounder Julio Borbon in the Minor League portion of the draft from the Cubs. (I think I had Borbon on my fantasy baseball roster for a brief stint a few years ago when he played for Texas. I remember he could steal bases — that’s about it.)

The Orioles have been labeled as heavy favorites to land former Oakland closer Grant Balfour, as Baltimore is reportedly one of three teams to have offered Balfour a two-year contract. Landing the Aussie, who had a 2.59 ERA and 38 saves last season, would obviously settle Baltimore’s closer situation, but it does little for the Orioles’ starting pitching concerns. And signing a closer doesn’t count as a high-profile move in my book.

I’m not going to pretend like I know what deals should be made and what pitchers — if any — Baltimore should be targeting. If I knew the answer, I probably wouldn’t be writing for a living. But sometime soon, the Orioles need someone to take over the role as the undisputed ace of the club, whether that comes from within — which is Duquette’s preferred method — or from an outsider.

I wouldn’t mind seeing the Orioles take a few risks in the trade market, as long as they don’t sacrifice too much of the young core of talent that Baltimore has worked so hard to gather over the last several years. I don’t want to go back into that miserable “rebuilding phase” again.

Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD