Once distinctive to Orioles, teams waiting out free agency becoming destructive this offseason

Orioles reporter Eduardo Encina, Jon Meoli and Peter Schmuck on the Orioles front office decision to wait out free agency. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)

This time next week, many of the Orioles' players and coaches will be in Sarasota, Fla., for spring training, with the team they have and plenty more opportunities to add to it.

The glacial pace of this offseason has left the free-agent market full of viable big leaguers into February, and over the past few days, representatives for those players took teams to task for violating trust with the workforce. On Sunday, the Major League Baseball Players Association had to come out and deny reports that it was planning a boycott of spring training as a result of a stagnant offseason.


The Orioles have company in the fact that they've made only minor moves to fill out their 40-man roster this offseason, but their perspective on it is unique. The organization would likely contend that this is how they operate anyway, with the signings of the likes of Ubaldo Jiménez, Nelson Cruz, Yovani Gallardo and Pedro Álvarez all coming after spring training began over the past few seasons.

The Orioles used the looming specter of the approaching season to sign deals they viewed to be at the correct price for what they wanted to spend and executed them.

Three years ago, some wondered why the Orioles didn't have more company in this method, as big contracts were handed out early in the offseason every winter and the Orioles were able to try to find value against no suitors late.

That, of course, was when veteran players who declined a one-year qualifying offer with their old team would cost the signing club a first-round draft pick. And that was when the Orioles weren't going to be bidding against anyone but themselves and the clock for the services of these players.

All that has changed now, so instead of trying to gain some kind of competitive advantage, the Orioles are not only part of a larger problem, but are liable to arrive in Florida this month with significant concerns of their own.

The market is certainly going to drive down prices some as spring training approaches, but with players concerned about what this offseason will portend, it's unlikely anyone is going to take a deal that sets a bad precedent both this spring and going forward.

Other than saving themselves money in a time when the game is flush with it, teams won't have accomplished much this offseason. The Orioles will likely push up near the club-record payroll they set last year of over $164 million, so it's not as if they're not spending at all.

But when the object of the offseason was so clearly to upgrade a rotation that rightly shouldered the blame for the team's collapse last season, not spending to do so in an offseason when so many options are available doesn't curry much favor.

In addition to taking three pitchers in the Rule 5 draft and signing a host of minor league free agents, the only pitcher the Orioles added to their 40-man roster from outside the organization this offseason was right-hander Michael Kelly, who doesn't seem to be in contention for a rotation spot.

The same names have been batted around in one form or another all offseason — Chris Tillman, Jason Vargas, maybe Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb if the prices come down. Kudos to the Orioles for making plays on Miles Mikolas and Mike Fiers early, but there's a reason those pitchers were off the market quickly on reasonable contracts.

Aggressive clubs with similar needs such as the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals pounced so as not to be in this position in February. Now, they can sit back among the handful of teams that did their business as usual and be relatively blame-free as the players look for targets of their frustration while teams like the Orioles play a waiting game that's gone from distinctive to destructive in three years.