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What should the Orioles' top offseason priority be right now?

Christmas may be over, but the Orioles still have plenty of items left on their offseason shopping list.

There are seven weeks until pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota for spring training, and the club has plenty of holes to fill.

A lot has been written in this space recently about the Orioles' closer situation after they stepped away from a two-year, $15-million deal with free agent Grant Balfour over concerns with his physical.

But given the team’s other needs – a starting pitcher and another bat – closer might not be the Orioles' biggest priority, even if it does seem to be its biggest hole.

I’ve read a lot of comments on this blog from readers who have said the team shouldn’t invest big money in a closer after trading away Jim Johnson. They argue that money would be better spent on investing in a starting pitcher.

Right now, it looks like the Orioles are shelving their search for a closer – at least temporarily – in order to focus on other needs. At this point, it appears that Tommy Hunter will be the team’s closer when camp opens, but that could change.

The starting pitching market will start to shake out over the coming weeks now that we know Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka will be posted, giving teams willing to eventually pay a $20 million posting fee a 30-day window to sign the pitcher. Teams are only liable for the amount if they sign Tanaka, who has two years remaining on his contract with the Rakuten Eagles.

The Orioles aren’t expected to participate in the Tanaka sweepstakes. At the winter meetings, executive vice president Dan Duquette said that the club would not take part in the posting system.

Tanaka is the top starting pitcher in what appears to be an underwhelming free agent market. The Orioles aren’t high on Matt Garza and believe Ubaldo Jimenez will command too large a commitment, as will Ervin Santana. Their search will focus more on veteran arms like Bronson Arroyo and A.J. Burnett, pitchers with a track record of stability who can be signed to shorter-term deals.

The Orioles’ acquisition of David Lough in a trade with the Royals earlier this month has been well-received both around the game and inside the warehouse. Whether he fills the void left by Nate McLouth remains to be seen, but he has enough tools to potentially make an impact.

Still, Duquette said he would like to acquire another bat. The name that constantly comes up at this point is Kendrys Morales. Morales turned down the Mariners’ $14.1-million qualifying offer, so at first blush it doesn’t seem like the Orioles would be willing to meet his asking price while losing a first-round draft pick, especially given Morales essentially clogs the DH spot.

Still, he’s a switch hitter with even splits from both sides of the plate, so he would solve the team’s designated hitter platoon.

But what do you think? Right now, what should be the Orioles’ top offseason priority?

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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