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Some thoughts on Orioles' next moves after winter meetings

Baltimore Sun reporter Eduardo A. Encina talks about baseball's winter meetings and the pair of right-handed pitchers the Orioles selected in the Rule 5 draft. (Baltimore Sun video)

The Orioles returned from the winter meetings with nothing more than two selections in the Rule 5 draft, a high-upside project in right-hander Jason Garcia and a right-hander with a steady minor-league resume in Logan Verrett.

Other than that, the Orioles stood by as other teams, in both large and small markets, made trades and signed free agents during what might have been the most frenzied 48 hours in recent winter meetings history. A lot of players changed jerseys.

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Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette went from seemingly having one foot out the front door of the Warehouse at the beginning of the week to making a poignant plea to O's fans, telling them to remain patient and not jump ship on the club this early in the offseason.

Let's think back to this time last season, when the Orioles also came home from the winter meetings with nothing more than a Rule 5 pick. It was before the Orioles signed outfielder/designated hitter Delmon Young, before they signed right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez and way before they inked outfielder/designated hitter Nelson Cruz.

This time, it's a litte different. There's no Nelson Cruz lingering out there on the market. And a bearded Nick Markakis isn't walking through the doors of the Convention Center for FanFest in January.

But Duquette does deserve some goodwill from the fanbase. Despite a quiet December last year, the Orioles had their highest payroll, won 96 games and an AL East title, enjoying their best season in 17 years.

We know Duquette well enough now to know he's not going to dive into the winter meetings pool and make a big splash. The prices there are often too rich. He reminded us of that this week, reinforcing that the Orioles' strategy isn't centered on signing high-profile free agents. It's not going to happen very often.

By now, we know how Duquette shops. He's not shopping at Nordstrom. He's shopping at Nordstrom Rack -- on the additional 30 percent off clearance rack. But he's proved you can still get some good stuff on discount.

Following the Rule 5 draft, he made reference to the career season Steve Pearce had in 2014. Pearce went from a guy who couldn't get an at-bat in the first month of the season to one of the Orioles' best players down the stretch. Some sabermetricians will say he was the best player. He led the team with a 6.0 WAR (wins above replacement).

"When Pearce emerged last year when he got the opportunity," Duquette said. "We're going to need somebody else to emerge this year. Maybe it's a left-handed hitter this time, but we will be able to find some hitters for DH, outfield."

The Orioles are also banking a lot on Manny Machado, Matt Wieters and Chris Davis returning to their old selves.

The Orioles can probably bring Delmon Young back, though it will only likely happen on a one-year deal. There are plenty of outfielders still out there, but beside Melky Cabrera, they all have their warts.

The situation with Cabrera is an interesting one to watch. Cabrera was seemingly on his way to Seattle to join Cruz on a four-year deal, but the Mariners are reportedly balking on giving him a fourth year. That's an interesting development because if Cabrera doesnt get a four-year deal, it definitely puts the Orioles in the market for the 30-year-old  outfielder.

The Orioles aren't going four years with Cabrera, but I was told the Orioles would consider a deal of two or three years. They realize that Cabrera is the best outfielder remaining on the market and his numbers last season (.301/.351/.458, 16 homers, 73 RBIs) were better than Markakis' last year.

Maybe Duquette has something up his sleeve again this offseason. At this time last year, no one thought Nelson Cruz would be wearing an Orioles uniform. And no one thought Steve Pearce would hit 21 homers.

Other thoughts coming out of the meetings:

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** The Orioles' apparently wanted Rule 5 acquisition Jason Garcia badly. After the team saw him pitching for the Boston Red Sox's instructional league team this year -- Duquette said he struck out 14 of 18 Orioles hitters he faced -- the Orioles worked out a deal for the Houston Astros to take Garcia with the fourth pick and trade him over for cash.

Duquette admitted its a stretch that Garcia, who hasn't pitched above low-A ball, can stick on a big league roster. But he's been clocked regularly at 95-98 mph and some reports say he's hit 100. At the end of the day, it's his ability to use his secondary pitches that will allow him to stick in the majors. He is said to own a plus slider and an occasional changeup.

** The Orioles are getting closer to hiring a new hitting coach to replace Jim Presley. Manager Buck Showalter said this week that he has 3 or 4 strong candidates. A hire could be made as soon as early next week.

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