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On Black Friday, Orioles still waiting on high-priced free-agent pitchers

Today is Black Friday, and some of you might still be defrosting from a night of waiting in line outside your local Best Buy to get that coveted flat-screen television to replace the one you got this time last year.

Or maybe you saw the lines at the local mall and just turned around and headed home.

While we’re on the topic, let’s gather around the hot stove, warm up and have a discussion about the Orioles offseason.

Over the past two weeks, the Orioles have made some rather low-profile acquisitions to their 40-man roster. None will get fans excited, and frankly, you can here the grumbles about how the Orioles are pinching their pockets again this offseason bustling through the beltway.

It doesn’t help that for every Edgmer Escalona the Orioles sign, there’s a Jason Vargas who gets a four-year, $32-million deal from the Kansas City Royals.

The Orioles sign Cord Phelps to compete to become the starting second baseman, but there’s hardly a whisper of making a run for Robinson Cano. They add Brad Brach to their bullpen, while reliever Joe Smith gets three years and $15.75 million from the Los Angeles Angels.

Realistically, these additions can help the team next year, but let's face it, they're not moves that make fans believe the Orioles will return to the playoffs in 2014 and beyond.

It doesn’t look good, and most inside The Warehouse realize that. But the truth is that the real free-agent frenzy has yet to start.

The Orioles need pitching, so let stick to that.

Veterans coming off injuries like Tim Hudson and Dan Haren have already been signed, but we can liken those to “Black Friday” purchases, ones with some risk that could reap huge rewards. In retrospect, the Orioles probably would like to have made a play for Hudson, whose two-year, $23-million deal will be a bargain in this reporter’s eyes.

As for the rest of the free-agent market for starting pitchers -- take away the likes of Vargas, Ricky Nolasco and Josh Johnson -- it has yet to be set. But when it does form, the Orioles must be willing to move.

Trust me, there’s a lot of talk about what fits -- both financially and in terms of years -- for the Orioles when looking at a starting pitcher. This market isn’t a great one, and like I’ve said, don’t expect the Orioles to make a run at the pitchers atop the free-agent wishlists like Matt Garza or Ervin Santana.

The Orioles would still like to bring back Scott Feldman. At this point, it appears as though they’d likely have to commit to at least a two-year deal worth around $16-18 million. Feldman has pitched well in Baltimore and is battle-tested in the American League East, but do you give that money to a mid-rotation starter?

Right-hander Bronson Arroyo is intriguing. The Orioles need a starter who can consistently go deep into games, and Arroyo has thrown 200 innings in seven of the last eight years. But the Orioles would likely need to offer at least two years and a vesting option for him, and possibly a flat three-year deal, which have been rare in Baltimore. Arroyo turns 37 in February.

Like Arroyo, A.J. Burnett will be 37 on Opening Day. The Orioles have shown interest in Burnett in the past and he has ties to Baltimore. The Pirates didn’t make Burnett a $14.1-million qualifying offer, but Pittsburgh is still trying to re-sign Burnett for a lesser deal. If that falls, through, he could fall to the Orioles on a one-year deal.

The dominoes of the market should start to drop after the Thanksgiving holiday, but the market in starting pitching might not really develop until around the time of the winter meetings next month.

Only then will the Orioles truly be able to gauge what fits them.

The Orioles haven’t been very active during the meetings the past two offseasons. In 2012, they returned with Dana Eveland. Last year, they re-signed Nate McLouth. One thing’s nearly certain: they likely will take someone in the Rule 5 draft after successfully carrying a pick the past two years.

But that’s also when we will find out how serious the Orioles are about improving their pitching through free agency.

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