The Orioles' offseason to-do list looked dramatically different a week ago. Re-signing outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis was paramount. Trying to get a one-year deal with veteran outfielder Torii Hunter was a potential fallback option.
But in the past few days, Cruz, Markakis and Hunter have signed elsewhere. Not only are the Orioles now without two key members of their 2014 lineup, but they also enter baseball's annual winter meetings, which start Monday in San Diego, searching for replacements in a particularly weak outfield market.
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said the club is looking for outfield depth, though he believes it has internal options in returning players Steve Pearce, Alejandro De Aza and David Lough as well as newcomer Alex Hassan and minor leaguer Dariel Alvarez.
No matter the posturing, the Orioles' No. 1 priority at the winter meetings will be finding competent outfielders — and they'll likely engage in trade talks and discussions with free agents. The club also is monitoring the market for relief pitchers — specifically a left-hander to replace free agent Andrew Miller, who signed with the New York Yankees on Friday — and trolling for a reserve catcher and a utility infielder.
They won't completely dismiss adding starting pitching, but they aren't going after the top tier: Jon Lester, Max Scherzer and James Shields. Duquette might hide in the grass and sign a lower-level starter or injury rehabilitation project to a one-year deal later in the offseason.
The bottom line is, the Orioles have plenty of work to do, but not much of it is sexy. And, in true Duquette form, a chunk of it might not get done until 2015. But for now, here are potential targets they could pursue next week, and the likelihood of landing them.
OF Delmon Young
The double gut punch of losing Markakis and Cruz makes a reunion with 2014 playoff hero and pinch-hitter extraordinaire Young more likely. Young hit .302 in 83 games with the Orioles last year as a part-time designated hitter and left fielder. He was 10-for-20 as a pinch hitter in the regular season and delivered the biggest hit of the American League Division Series. He's only 29 and has made the playoffs for six straight seasons. Young has been with five teams in the past four years and will seek a little more security, so a multiyear deal is a priority. The Orioles want him back on a one-year deal — maybe with an option for 2016 — and seem hesitant to go longer. But maybe that changes with the recent offensive departures. The sides are expected to talk in San Diego.
OF Melky Cabrera
He's a fit because the Orioles, after losing Markakis and Cruz, need outfield help and hitters to get on base regularly. Cabrera, 30, batted .301 for the Toronto Blue Jays last year, has a career .339 on-base percentage and is best suited hitting in the top three spots of an order. But he has some baggage, including a 50-game suspension for failing a performance-enhancing-drug test in 2012. He's the best all-around outfielder on the open market, so he has plenty of suitors. And the Orioles are pretty careful about upsetting team chemistry, so a marriage might not work. Still, he can hit, and the Orioles sure could use him.
OF Michael Morse
It's hard to believe Morse is near the top of this list, considering he ended his brief Orioles career in an 0-for-22 slump in 2013. He also upset some folks over not telling the club how badly his left wrist was hurting after being traded to Baltimore in late August of that year. Morse played in 131 games for the San Francisco Giants in 2014 — after offseason wrist surgery in 2013 — and the big right-hander proved again that he hits when healthy. He could fill the left-field/DH void and provide some power. One hesitation, though, is that the Orioles will want to make sure he is 100 percent healthy, and he's represented by the same agency that went through the failed-physical debacle of Grant Balfour last winter. That could make for some interesting wrangling.
OF Matt Kemp
This is the sexiest name available on the trade market. When healthy, the 30-year-old right-handed hitter is a threat offensively, defensively and on the base paths. After injury-riddled years in 2012 and 2013, Kemp played 150 games in 2014 and batted .287 with 25 homers. He can be a difference maker but is owed $107 million over the next five seasons and would cost some talent in return if the Los Angeles Dodgers are to eat a significant amount of that contract. The Orioles aren't willing to part with Kevin Gausman or Dylan Bundy, so they probably aren't talking for long on this one, especially given Kemp's shaky health history.
OF Justin Upton
Another former All-Star who could be available via trade, Upton, 27, is a free agent after 2015 (he'll make $14.5 million this season). So this would be a rental, and the Orioles would have to give up some talent to get him from the Braves. He obviously fits, but are the Orioles willing to trade for another potential pending free agent with catcher Matt Wieters and first baseman Chris Davis, among others, also in their walk years? Doubt it.
LHP Craig Breslow
There are several left-handed relievers who could be thrown into this mix, including Joe Thatcher and Neal Cotts. The Orioles would love to land one member of that trio. I chose to focus on Breslow because, well, he is from Connecticut, went to Yale and has had two stints with the Boston Red Sox. And Duquette always is intrigued by New Englanders. Plus, Breslow is coming off a rough year, after a couple of good ones, and the Orioles never are afraid to choose track record over a recent stumble, especially with relievers. They'll get a left-hander; it's just a matter of whom and when. Thatcher, a sidearmer, is intriguing because Orioles manager Buck Showalter loves different looks and approaches from his relievers.
OF Nori Aoki
He's a 32-year-old left-hander who hits for average, gets on base, steals some bases and plays a good right field. He has little power but can bat first or second in the lineup, which is key for this order. And he's not likely to get a long-term contract or break the bank. That being said, there are some in the organization who feel Aoki is an older, more proven and more expensive version of David Lough, and that adding him would be redundant.
C Nick Hundley
The Orioles want catching insurance in case Wieters is not back from elbow surgery by Opening Day. Caleb Joseph is the primary backup, but he has minor league options remaining. The Orioles liked what Hundley brought in terms of leadership and play calling. The sense is that Hundley will find another job with more guaranteed playing time. If he can't, the Orioles want him back. They maybe could entice him with a one-year deal with an option or a two-year deal.
INF Emilio Bonifacio
Like Hundley and Breslow, Bonifacio represents an area of need more than anything. He can hit some and play several positions. The problem is, Bonifacio isn't considered a competent shortstop, and that's one attribute the Orioles would like to have in a utility infielder. Bonifacio's the kind of guy they would pursue more in January or February if he still doesn't have a job. He's worth keeping an eye on.
A Rule 5 pick
The Orioles have a full 40-man roster, but they have several players, such as infielder Steve Lombardozzi (Atholton), who likely will be removed at some point. Duquette loves rolling the dice on a Rule 5 player, a minor leaguer who has to stay on the big league roster all year or be offered back to the original team at half the $50,000 purchase price. Duquette has drafted a Rule 5 player each year, and two, left-hander T.J. McFarland and infielder Ryan Flaherty, have stuck. Look for the Orioles to find a reliever or infielder in Thursday's Rule 5 draft.