The good news is that they know it and new managing general partner Peter G. Angelos has said that he is going to do something about it.
But what? He told reporters last week that he hopes to acquire two -- and maybe even three -- front-line players to beef up an Orioles roster that pales next to the Blue Jays'. It will take that kind of aggressive spending to put the club in position to win the American League East next year, but it might not be a matter of simply writing a bunch of big checks.
There will be more than 100 veteran players available on the free-agent market, but there is not an abundance of the kind of impact player that Angelos might have in mind. He hopes to add a proven starting pitcher and a big hitter who can be depended upon to drive in 100 runs a year, but the Orioles might have to be overly aggressive if they are to skim the cream of this year's free-agent crop.
Who's out there? Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro are the first two names that come to mind, and either would fit right into the lineup at first base. But if the Orioles come up short on both, it will be difficult to make a major improvement in the club's run-production potential.
The pitching situation is complex, because of the injuries that sidelined relief closer Gregg Olson and No. 1 starter Mike Mussina for much of 1993. If Olson, who has a torn ligament in his right elbow, has to be replaced, the ability to acquire a top-flight starting pitcher might be constrained by budget problems. Mussina, who has a sore right shoulder, is expected to be healthy, but whatever uncertainty remains further complicates the club's off-season plans.
Of course, the free-agent market is not the only avenue of player acquisition. The Orioles will be watching closely for opportunities as other clubs move to scale down their payrolls, so there is the possibility of a major trade to acquire the help they need.
That said, here's a look at some of the names you might be hearing during the winter. None is sure to be in Baltimore next year, but none was snatched out of thin air, either. Each has been mentioned by an Orioles official -- either on or off the record -- during the past two weeks.
* WILL CLARK, 1B: The San Francisco Giants first baseman missed some time because of injury and didn't have overpowering numbers this year, but he would bring a combination of power and batting average that would fill the club's run-production gap.
Most of the names you'll hear on the talk shows over the next few weeks will fall into the category of pure speculation, but Clark is a real possibility for the Orioles. Angelos mentioned his name on the day he took control of the club and there is evidence the interest is reciprocal.
* RAFAEL PALMEIRO, 1B: Palmeiro was the other free agent who was mentioned by Angelos during his first news conference on Monday, but he might be the most sought-after position player in the free-agent market this year.
And why not? He batted .295 with 37 home runs and 105 RBI for the Texas Rangers and led the American League with 124 runs scored. He isn't Frank Thomas, but he's as close as anyone is going to get without buying the Chicago White Sox.
The downside: He is in position to command a contract similar to the one signed by Cal Ripken last year. Palmeiro earned $4.55 million this year and figures to step up after a Most Valuable Player-caliber season.
* LARRY WALKER, RF: The Montreal Expos outfielder is not eligible for free agency this winter, but the Orioles might try to make a deal to put him in right field. Walker batted .265 with 22 home runs and 86 RBI.
Why would the Expos trade one of the emerging young stars of the game? Maybe they won't, but they signaled that they might be considering a financial pullback when they attempted to trade veteran pitcher Dennis Martinez this season. Walker already is up to $3 million in salary, which might make him a candidate for an off-season move.
* SID FERNANDEZ, LHP: Injuries limited the New York Mets' Fernandez to 18 starts this year, so his 1993 numbers are not impressive, but he might be the best hope the Orioles have of augmenting their starting rotation in the free-agent market.
Reasons for signing Fernandez: He's effective when he's out there, with a combined 2.98 ERA over the past six seasons.
Reasons to be cautious: He has been injury-prone the past couple of years, missing most of the 1991 season with a broken wrist and half of 1993 with torn knee cartilage. But he has no arm problems.
* FRED McGRIFF, 1B: The guy who got away. The Orioles wanted McGriff when the San Diego Padres traded him to the Atlanta Braves midway through the season. The Braves are in the playoffs. The Orioles aren't. McGriff might have been the difference.
He made an immediate impact on the Braves and became the first player in baseball history to hit 15 or more home runs for two teams in the same season.
McGriff isn't a free agent, but there have been indications that the Braves will cut their payroll at the end of the season. McGriff would not appear to be the place to start, but the Orioles already have expressed hope that he'll be available.
* ANDY BENES, RHP: Not even close to becoming a free agent, but the Orioles can wish, can't they? Benes is one of the best young right-handers in the game, and there were rumors that the San Diego Padres might make him available this winter. That's unlikely, but look for Orioles general manager Roland Hemond to make a serious inquiry in the next few weeks.
Benes won 15 games for an awful club. The Padres' cost-cutting frenzy has deposited Gary Sheffield in Florida and McGriff in Atlanta, but it would be foolhardy to part with a pitcher who could be the cornerstone of the starting rotation for the next decade. Foolhardy, but not out of the question.
* CHRIS SABO, 3B: The Cincinnati Reds third baseman was the subject of speculation involving the Orioles throughout the 1993 season, but nothing came of it. Now, they can acquire him without giving up more than a compensation draft choice.
Will they still try? That's hard to predict, because the success of veteran Mike Pagliarulo (who also can become a free agent) and the presence of Leo Gomez give the Orioles other options. The club probably has more pressing concerns at this point.
* MARK PORTUGAL, RHP: The 30-year-old right-hander went 18-4 for the Houston Astros in a breakthrough season that should make him a very rich man in the free-agent market. He earned $1.87 million last year and should average twice that in a multi-year free-agent deal.
LTC The Orioles are interested, but with some reservations. Portugal was a .500 pitcher with a 4.01 ERA going into the 1993 season, so they might be reluctant to give him a lengthy guaranteed contract.
* KEVIN GROSS, RHP: He will become a free agent if the Los
Angeles Dodgers do not exercise repeater rights and offer salary arbitration.
The Orioles showed some interest in Gross before he signed with the Dodgers in 1990 and might take a look at him again if he is allowed to become a free agent, but he isn't the proven winner they are looking for. He is a decent and durable starting pitcher, but he has not had a winning season since 1985.
* GENO PETRALLI, C: Don't get too excited. The Orioles will look at the possibility of signing another reserve catcher, but only if they can get someone who can hit left-handed.
The Rangers' Petralli is not a spectacular player, but he is a veteran who could spell Chris Hoiles against a tough right-handed pitcher.