When the Orioles announced another group of minor league signings Friday, after another bunch of no-names Thursday, the old refrain from the last two winters was heard again: Why aren't the Orioles doing anything significant?
That was definitely the theme last winter — at least until February, when the Orioles signed Ubaldo Jimenez, Nelson Cruz and Suk-min Yoon in a whirlwind week.
And frankly, I don't expect much movement of the roster needle in the next few weeks, at least as it concerns other teams' free agents. All Orioles news right now is either under-the-radar transactions or vague national speculation that only confirms what has been written, said or speculated locally.
That's due to a combination of the Orioles' shopping list and an uncertainty with what is going to happen with some of their own free agents.
Start with the shopping list: Don't expect a top starting pitcher to be on it. The Orioles typically don't go there, nor are they expected to this year. Don't expect a midlevel starter under executive vice president Dan Duquette's Christmas tree, either. The Orioles have six starters for five spots; they aren't going to add a seventh at this point in the offseason. (That could change if they trade a starter to improve another position or if a veteran starter is without a club later in the winter and can be signed below his perceived value. So a starter might end up in Duquette's Easter basket instead.)
The Orioles are looking for a potential upgrade at utility infielder — someone who can play shortstop, second base and third base and can hit some. That would give them another option besides Ryan Flaherty and provide further insurance if Manny Machado has a setback or Jonathan Schoop struggles as a big league sophomore. But a guy like that typically doesn't sign early in an offseason.
The Orioles also would like to bolster their bullpen — preferably with a left-hander — especially with left-hander Andrew Miller likely to cash in elsewhere. (A report Friday that Miller's chances of getting a four-year deal are increasing was met with yawns within the Orioles organization. That's been the expectation all along. If Miller doesn't get a four-year deal, it would be a surprise).
Signing a quality reliever, like finding a versatile infielder, is a priority, but it's also not usually a big-ticket, headline-grabbing item. And so it's not necessarily a November signing, either.
The Orioles' other priority is figuring out their outfield, but a lot of that has to do with whether they re-sign Nick Markakis and Cruz. The negotiations with Markakis have not progressed in a while, and the club seems OK with letting him test the market before circling back and making a final decision. Cruz is expected to leave if he gets a four-year deal, but it could take some time to determine whether another club will make that leap. The Orioles, at least right now, don't appear willing to offer four years.
The Orioles' ongoing situations with Markakis and Cruz do hamper an aggressive pursuit of other free-agent outfielder possibilities. That's probably OK, since there aren't many other attractive options out there, or at least not ones without concerns.
And it wouldn't be a surprise if that list isn't checked off until Christmas or later. So for now, this stream of minor moves is expected. And it really is not indicative, one way or the other, of what's to come.