As Yankees and Red Sox stock up, Orioles shop at the bargain bins

It would have been nice if the Orioles' two acquisitions at the Winter Meetings were players you've heard of.

There are two kinds of teams that attend the annual baseball winter meetings – the ones that come to hunt and the ones that come to gather information for future reference.

It wasn’t hard to discern which was which this year. The Boston Red Sox took over the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center early in the week and acquired superstar pitcher Chris Sale, power-hitting first baseman Mitch Moreland and solid right-handed reliever Tyler Thornburg in three separate deals on the same day.

There were some other big moves, but the Red Sox dominated the hot stove conversation here the way everyone is now assuming they will dominate the American  League East again next summer.

The Orioles, meanwhile, did what they do at this point in the offseason. Baseball operations chief Dan Duquette laid some groundwork for some possible trades and free agent transactions before selecting two players in the major league phase of the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday morning.

Roll your eyes if you want, but Duquette is a Rule 5 impresario. He loves to shop the unprotected lists of other teams and has had surprising success stealing future major league role players from his competitors. He also has used the qualifying offer system to major benefit and has the best regular-season record in the American League during his five-year tenure with the Orioles, so ridicule him at your own risk.

But it’s fair to say that the 2017 season might be his greatest challenge, especially after the defending division champion got a whole lot better and the Yankees flashed their fat wallet this week to sign slugger Matt Holliday and re-acquire dominating closer Aroldis Chapman.

To this point, all the Orioles have done is watch 2016 major league home run leader Mark Trumbo, veteran catcher Matt Wieters and left-handed slugger Pedro Alvarez enter the free agent market, though that also is par for a Duquette offseason.

It has to be galling to Orioles fans to watch the Red Sox mine their deep farm system and reach into their even deeper pockets to assemble a starting rotation that now features three of the most dominating pitchers in either league.

If it’s any consolation, Duquette also has been mining the Red Sox player development system. His first pick on Thursday was outfield prospect Aneury Tavarez, who is the third Red Sox minor leaguer the Orioles have chosen in the Rule 5 draft since Duquette arrived in Baltimore in 2011.

None of them have made a big impact, but the Orioles have gotten significant contributions from Rule 5 draftees T. J. McFarland, Ryan Flaherty and Joey Rickard, all of whom are still on the team’s major league roster.

The past week has – for the umpteenth time – illustrated the wide economic gulf between the Orioles and the two power players in the division, but you have to admire the way Duquette and manager Buck Showalter embrace the challenge of competing against them with far more limited resources.

Nothing that happens in November and December guarantees a successful season. The Red Sox proved that late in 2014, when they spent $183 million to sign free agents Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, acquired starter Rick Porcello and finished dead last in the AL East in 2015.

The White Sox spent last winter beefing up for what they hoped would be a big run in the AL Central, acquiring power-hitting third baseman Todd Frazier, second baseman Brett Lawrie and catcher Dioner Navarro, among others. They got off to a strong start and held the division lead for the first two months of the season, but tumbled all the way to fourth by season’s end and came back to the winter meetings to sell off Sale and high-upside outfielder Adam Eaton for a boatload of solid prospects.

That said, it’s better to be improving at this time of year than trying to stay relevant while several key players test the free agent market. The Orioles can’t expect to stay in playoff contention forever by poaching Rule 5 players in December and waiting for the free agent market to winnow in February.

Or can they?

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and follow him @Schmuckstop on Twitter.

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