Commentary:Offseason of inactivity for Orioles

Atlanta Braves newest outfielder Nick Markakis speaks with reporters in the baseball team's clubhouse, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Atlanta. Markakis signed a four-year contract with the team on Wednesday. (AP Photo/David Goldman) ** Usable by LA, DC, CGT and CCT Only **
Atlanta Braves newest outfielder Nick Markakis speaks with reporters in the baseball team's clubhouse, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Atlanta. Markakis signed a four-year contract with the team on Wednesday. (AP Photo/David Goldman) ** Usable by LA, DC, CGT and CCT Only ** (David Goldman, AP)

Today we take a brief respite from the sound of basketballs echoing through gymnasiums and the sight of footballs – deflated or otherwise – spiraling through the air.

Spring training is only about three weeks away and major league general managers have spent the past three months assembling their rosters.


Or, more accurately in the case of one particular GM, reading Canadian travel brochures and dreaming about the Great White North.

For the Baltimore Orioles, this has been a winter marked by, ahem, inactivity. Perhaps that was the plan all along. Or perhaps the club Dan Duquette has been focused on plays in Toronto.


At the end of last season, I remember reading a piece by a stathead who used analytics to explain why the Baltimore Orioles were the most likely 2014 playoff team to miss the postseason in 2015, based on the personnel losses the team was expected to suffer in the offseason.

I scoffed. Audibly.

"Nonsense," said I, certain there was absolutely no possibility the Orioles would fail to capitalize on all the positive strides made in 2014.

That pesky playoff flameout against the Royals notwithstanding, Baltimore arguably had the best team in the American League a year ago, particularly over the last two months of the season. The prospect of another AL East title in 2015 seemed not only possible but probable.


Sure, they had three high-profile free agents in slugger Nelson Cruz, reliever Andrew Miller and outfielder Nick Markakis, but surely they would sign one or two of those and use their MASN money and the extra revenue generated by their best attendance figures since 2005 to replace anyone they lost, possibly reloading by making their own splash in free agency.

That was in November.

Now it's nearly February. Don't I feel foolish.

Cruz, Miller and Markakis now reside in Seattle, New York and Atlanta, respectively. They've been replaced by ... by ... by ...

Wesley Wright. A left-handed set-up man. Who is 0-7 over the past two seasons.

He's a poor man's Andrew Miller, which is fitting, considering the Orioles are spending like a poor man's MLB team.

Yes, arbitration-eligible players like Matt Wieters and Chris Davis and others are getting raises. Hefty raises, in some cases. That happens everywhere.

But everywhere else teams are spending the offseason trying to, oh, I don't know, improve their rosters.

There is no way even the most diehard, orange-and-black-pom-pom-waving fan can make an argument that the Orioles have improved.

Oh, the argument can be made that the losses of Cruz (MLB-high 40 home runs), Miller (103 strikeouts in 62 1-3 innings) and Markakis (Gold Glove defense) can be offset by the expected returns of Wieters and Manny Machado and the expected return to form of Davis. (Note the use of the word "expected" twice in that sentence.)

But guess what? The presence of Cruz and/or Miller and/or Markakis would've done nothing to inhibit those expected returns.

Last year, the roster was so deep that Steve Pearce got cut in April. And Delmon Young was largely stuck on the bench. And that was even before they added outfielder Alejandro De Aza.

This year, depth isn't exactly the word that springs to mind when one assesses the Orioles' 40-man. Pearce, with exactly one good year on his resume, looks to be the starting right fielder. Young will play a lot at DH. Machado and Wieters are penciled in, so they'd better be healthy. And they'll desperately need Davis, batting cleanup, for 162 games.

OK, 161.

Thing is, 2015 should be THE year. It's the season everything has been pointing toward since 2012, when the pitching staff started to come together and the young players started to pop. It's the last season Wieters and Davis are under club control.

Clearly, those two should be ultra-motivated to post big numbers in a contract year. So should Machado as he tries to show he's talented (and healthy) enough to warrant a long-term deal.

Not sure exactly what happens if the injuries start to pile up, as they sometimes do over a long season, however.

As for the pitching staff, it's pretty much the same as it was last year, with the exception of replacing the expensive Miller with the discounted Wright.

That's not really a bad thing. It's a pretty good staff with six or seven solid stafters vying for spots in the five-man rotation.

But ask yourself this: How many of those six or seven could crack the Washington Nationals' rotation? Two? One? None? Whoever begins the year as the Nats' fifth starter would likely have the pedigree to take the mound on Opening Day for Baltimore.

The Nats, of course, made the biggest signing of the offseason in stud pitcher Max Scherzer, committing some $210 million to the pursuit of a World Series title by adding him to a rotation that was already the best in the bigs. It was a swing-for-the-fences move.

And, yes, this is the supposed poorer team in the Baltimore-Washington corridor. The one that claims to be hamstrung by the MASN deal foisted upon it by MLB. Now it's a\ team that is on track to have added about 10 percent to its payroll while the Orioles have pared more than 10 percent. And the Nats' payroll was more than $25 million higher than the Orioles' last year.

Payroll alone, of course, guarantees nothing. The Nats' move may backfire spectacularly and the Orioles may very well have another excellent season.

But I'd feel a lot better about ponying up my hard-earned money for season tickets to an organization that saw an opportunity to win it all and went for it this offseason rather than an organization that saw an opportunity to win it all and opted to, to, what exactly have the Orioles done?

Bob Blubaugh is the Times' sports editor. His column appears every Sunday. Reach him at 410-857-7895 or bob.blubaugh@carrollcountytimes.com.