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When it comes to free-agent pitching, the Orioles may have reached the point of no return

Possible destinations: Orioles, Royals, Astros Skinny: Gallardo isn't the strikeout machine he once was, but he has reinvented himself as an effective pitcher. The 29-year-old has finished with an ERA higher than 3.84 only once in nine major league seasons, and is 21-22 with a 3.46 ERA in 65 starts over the past two years.
Possible destinations: Orioles, Royals, Astros Skinny: Gallardo isn't the strikeout machine he once was, but he has reinvented himself as an effective pitcher. The 29-year-old has finished with an ERA higher than 3.84 only once in nine major league seasons, and is 21-22 with a 3.46 ERA in 65 starts over the past two years. (Fred Thornhill / Associated Press)

If you recall, the Orioles brain trust told everyone at the end of last season that the top priority going into the winter would be upgrading the starting rotation.

Well, actually, there were two top priorities and the Orioles are still waiting to hear back from Chris Davis. But the club clearly recognized that it wasn't getting enough quality innings from its starters and that situation wasn't likely to get better all by itself since Wei-Yin Chen figured to price himself out of Baltimore.

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Trouble was, the cream of the free-agent crop was out of the Orioles' price range and the fall-off after that was pretty stark. The Orioles still need at least one veteran starter -- preferably a left-hander -- and the list of possibilities has been winnowed down to such a small handful of viable options that they are very close to being locked out of anyone worth signing.

The name that has been floating around all winter is right-hander Yovani Gallardo, who remains available. But we're at the point where he's got to be on a lot of free-agent wish lists with little more than a month left until training camps open. Most of the remaining names that you might recognize are either coming off horrible seasons or coming back from injuries.

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Which creates the unpleasant reality that there really isn't that much out there that is better than what the Orioles already have inside the organization. The choice the club has to make is whether to pay whatever it takes to get Gallardo, gamble some real money on a comeback player or head into the spring with last year's remaining four, two Triple-A guys (Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright) and maybe Brian Matusz as a reconverted lefty starter.

I still think that Dan Duquette will sign or deal for a veteran, but it seems unlikely that the Orioles will end up with a game-changer.

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