The Orioles entered this off-season as the AL East Division Champs, which was a title they hadn’t claimed since 1997. They were able to beat Detroit, the team many people felt would represent the AL in the World Series, in the ALDS and they did it with relative ease. After that series, they played the red hot KC Royals and were swept. As an Orioles fan, it hurt to get so close only to see it end with such a whimper. The good news was that the team’s success in reaching the post-season allowed them to generate some additional revenue and, coming off their most successful season in over 15 years, the fans were anxious to get the off-season started and see how Showalter and Duquette would improve this team.

Baltimore Sun

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The Orioles are notorious for taking their time in the off-season but reports had us offering Cruz a 3-year deal and Markakis a 4-year deal. It appeared that they were being aggressive (I use that word loosely, since we don’t know how much money they were offering) and trying to keep their own. That all came to a screeching halt this week.

Early in the week, we heard that Nelson Cruz, the player voted Most Valuable Oriole (MVO), had signed a 4 year deal with Seattle. Seattle is paying him 57 million plus a 1 million dollar signing bonus. Personally, I am glad the Orioles didn’t go the 4th year for Cruz. I felt that 3 years was the ceiling for him (in terms of what I would like to see committed to him), so 4 years were just too much for me. That being said, the AAV isn’t outrageous by any means and while it is an overpay, its not a drastic one IMO.

A few days later, the gut punch came. Nick Markakis signed with the Atlanta Braves. He had spent his career here. He is probably one of the top 25 or so Orioles players ever. He was here through many of the bad years and he finally got to experience the playoffs this year, after missing out in 2012 due to an injury (thanks CC). We all assumed Nick was re-signing in charm city. The local media assumed it, the fans assumed it and I bet that even the Orioles and Markakis assumed it. We have heard that the Orioles had a 4-year deal on the table early in the off-season but we have also heard that the 4th year may have been pulled off or maybe not offered at all. Why would they do that? Well, as we heard today, Markakis is going to have surgery to repair a bulging disc in his neck. Markakis believes this surgery will be no big deal and that he will recover just fine. I hope he is right. I want to see him continue to play well and get a chance to win again. However, this is a player who has shown some signs of decline, his power has decreased and having neck surgery is certainly a concern (ask Nolan Reimold). With this news being known, the Orioles decided to pass on the 4th year and that was what ultimately cost them a chance to keep their fan and clubhouse favorite. Ultimately, as much as I hate to see him go, the Orioles made the right decision. Even before hearing about the surgery, I didn’t want to see them go 4 years for Markakis but this surgery news cements that for me.

The icing on the cake came today when Andrew Miller, arguably the Orioles MVP in the playoffs, left the team and signed with the hated New York Yankees. He now joins Betances for arguably the best back end of the pen in baseball and, if they continue to pitch at the level they both did last year, perhaps one of the best 1-2 combos we have seen in years and will see for a long time. The Orioles were never really in on Miller. I would have liked to see them put up a better fight but again, I won’t jump on the team for not matching or beating this offer. It does sting that he went to NY though.

So far this off-season, we have seen Toronto, Boston and NY get better and those teams will spend more and add more pitching and offense. TB is going through a transition period in terms of management but they have a deep rotation and a lot of talent on offense.

Not to be Captain Obvious here but the Orioles have lost a lot of production this off-season, they have seen the division get stronger and they don’t really know when Machado and Wieters will be back and playing at the level they need them to play at. Suffice it to say, the Orioles have a lot of work to do and while the off-season has a lot of time left, the options are dwindling on seemingly a daily basis. The question is what should they do and what areas of the team do you focus on?

The obvious spots are the positions where we have seen defections thus far. Those positions would be DH, corner OF and the bullpen. The Orioles have been adding some depth in the pen and someone(s) that they have added could turn out to produce but overall, I would like to see some solid options added but not ones that will cost crazy money. I feel its okay to go with some combo of Pearce/De Aza/Lough at one of the OF spots (with the other OFer being the 5th OFer). I would prefer to do better than that but 2 of those guys should be able to give us good production at that spot. That means, adding a DH and an OFer.

There is talk the Orioles have discussed Justin Upton with the aforementioned Atlanta Braves and Matt Kemp with the Dodgers. Either of those guys could be very good additions depending on cost. They each come with their issues. Upton is signed for only one more year. He has been inconsistent while also being one of the most talented players in baseball. He has had MVP caliber seasons and below average seasons. He is however a big time talent, one who has big power and will take a walk. His defense has gotten worse though and that is an issue albeit one that we could overlook. There has been a lot of speculation about what Atlanta wants for him. Seattle was a team talked about and they were talking Tiajuan Walker in that deal. If Walker is really on the table, I feel Atlanta would have made the deal. We saw Atlanta trade Heyward for a solid package of players but Upton makes a lot more money than Heyward does, so I am not sure they get quite as much. Still, this is a situation to watch. As a side note, Upton is from Chesapeake, VA, so perhaps playing closer to home will do well for him and it may be easier to get him to sign an extension as well.

Matt Kemp on the other hand isn’t a potential 1-year rental. He is signed for 5 more years at 107 million. Kemp has had some recent injury issues and has had some poor play recently as well. His defense isn’t that good either. However, Kemp had a big second half last year and if his bat is back to where it was just a few years ago, you will have one of the best power hitters in baseball. For me, the question isn’t would you like to acquire Kemp. The questions are how much of his contract are the Dodgers willing to eat and how much do they want in return? If you are the Orioles, do you trade cheap, controllable assets for Kemp? We have heard rumors of them asking for Bundy and we also have heard Tillman’s name out there. Now, if you trade players like that, you aren’t just acquiring Kemp and his contract. You are also getting rid of a player you have for several more years at little cost. That has to be factored in here. It will be interesting to see what happens here. The Dodgers have added OFers this off-season and basically need to get rid of at least 1 OFer, if not 2. Teams know that and I am not sure they will get much for these guys since they carry such large salaries. LA has desire to sign one of the elite starters as well, so if they trade Kemp, that may free up some money for them to do just that. Of course, the Dodgers have so much money that they probably don’t need to trade anyone to sign a big time starter but it sure would help them out if they got out from a lot of Kemp’s deal.

I personally still want to see Chris Davis dealt to Miami for Andrew Heaney and look into getting Upton and/or Kemp. Some people may see that as counter productive but we don’t know what Davis we are getting in 2015 and Heaney is a long-term piece. Guys like Upton and Kemp should be every bit as good (and perhaps much better) as Davis would be, so we aren’t losing ground there either.

The Orioles decided to tender all 11 players that were eligible. I was surprised to see them tender Matusz and I wouldn’t have offered a tender to Hunter (at the expected dollars) but overall, I don’t think we can be surprised by the tendered contracts. That being said, with Nick, Cruz and Miller gone, the Orioles have a lot of money to spend this off-season and they have some talent to trade as well. Duquette is now in the biggest off-season he has experienced since maybe his days in Boston.  A team that is in the midst of a nice 3-year run, has a lot of money to spend and has lost some of their key players. How Duquette handles the rest of the Winter could very well map out the Orioles future for years to come.

The off-season really gets rolling this coming week. The Winter Meetings begin in the next few days and while that can often be a week of unfounded rumors, a lot can happen as well. Groundwork gets laid for trades and signings, among many other things that can happen. I would like to see the Orioles be “aggressively smart” this week.

A tough week in Birdland can quickly be turned into a positive. This is always going to be a week where the fans look back on with some “sadness”(sports sadness is different than “real life” sadness) because of the players that have moved on but Duquette can quickly change those thoughts to happy ones if the right moves are made. Mr. Duquette, the ball is now in your court. We don’t want to see dumpster diving, we want to see real upgrades added and we want to see this team competing for a World Series title again in 2015. Make it happen!

Rob Shields
Rob Shields

Rob has interviewed guests from outlets such as ESPN, Sports Illustrated, NBC Sports, CBS Sports, FOX Sports, Baseball Prospectus, Athlon, Sporting News, MLB Network, Brooks Baseball, Baseball Info Solutions, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Sports on Earth, Grantland, NFL Network, FanGraphs, Football Outsiders, ProFootballFocus, etc. etc. The Baltimore native lives in Perry Hall with his Wife Lindsay, and two young sons. He has appeared as a guest on 105.7 The Fan, Q1370, and WNST 1570. Co-Host of The Warehouse: Co-Host of Sports Tonight: