The Orioles will return from the winter meetings still needing a power bat, but it’s hard to tell whether Dan Duquette continues to believe that. He’s talking up free-agent acquisition Conor Jackson as if he can come in and fill that role, but Jackson doesn’t figure to be an impact player in the American League East.
Though Duquette had success with some unorthodox acquisitions last season, his love for low-cost reclamation projects and his confidence in unproven talent could set Orioles fans up for a disappointing 2013 season. Nobody seriously expects the Orioles to duplicate their magical string of extra-inning victories or their best-ever record in one-run games. This is the time to double down on last year’s accomplishments, not rest on them.
The re-signing of Nate McLouth is a very positive move and Duquette is banking on a big comeback season from Nick Markakis, but the Orioles still need an injection of legitimate power in the middle of the lineup or they are likely to be left in the wake of their more aggressive division rivals.
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There are budget issues, of course. The club is going to have to cough up more than $20 million in salary increases for current players, but I take issue with Duquette’s comment on Thursday that the Orioles have to fit into their market and that market hasn’t changed.
The size of the Baltimore market has not changed, but the potential of it changed dramatically during last year’s playoff run. MASN ratings shot way up and attendance rose about 20 percent. The notion that the Orioles have to continually work under small-market conditions is disproven by the Nationals’ ability to spend as much as the Orioles while getting only a small fraction of the growing MASN revenues.
If the Orioles really want to slug it out with the Yankees, Red Sox, Jays and Rays on an annual basis, they need to step up, not sideways. It might be fun to dabble in the Rule 5 draft every year, but that won’t get you to the World Series.