During the last weekend of the season, Orioles superstar shortstop Miguel Tejada, completing his first year with Baltimore, took a moment and looked past the team's seventh straight losing campaign to 2005, when he believes the Orioles can regain their status as an elite franchise.
"I hope the owner and everybody in here believes we can win next year," Tejada said. "The owner needs to know we need pitching to compete with Boston and New York."
It is perhaps because of Tejada that the Orioles begin today's free agency period with a sense of optimism. Tejada's signing last year gave the Orioles legitimacy, a superstar player who ignored the temptation of signing with a higher profile team. They enter this year's scrum as big spenders, full of hope, ready to end the team's miserable losing run.
"Last year we showed we were going to be serious in pursuing free agents," said Jim Beattie, the Orioles' executive vice president of baseball operations. "I think last season will help our efforts this season. It's a little easier to get in the door. [Last year] worked in kind of establishing ourselves as someone that players are going to be interested in talking with."
The Orioles have rid themselves of almost $17 million with the expired contracts of David Segui, Marty Cordova, Omar Daal and Buddy Groom. They will likely spend a similar amount this offseason, though the Orioles' front office has yet to receive a spending budget.
"I don't think that's been determined yet," said Ed Kenney, Baltimore director of baseball administration. "We're proceeding as though we have enough to be spenders."
Owner Peter Angelos declined to comment.
Beattie has outlined three key goals this offseason. He expects to add a front-line starting pitcher, a first baseman and an outfielder. Preferably, one if not both of the offensive players he adds will be right-handed.
"I think we'll at least do all three of those," Beattie said.
Pitching would seem to be the priority since the Orioles' offense last season established itself as one of the best in the league. By the end of last season, the Orioles had a starting rotation comprised of three players in their first full year in the majors. Their ace Sidney Ponson had failed to become the stopper the team had hoped. The team's best pitcher Rodrigo Lopez had impressed, but was still at best considered a No. 3 starter.
Baltimore has targeted Florida Marlins pitcher Carl Pavano, 28, and Chicago White Sox outfielder Magglio Ordonez, 30. They will likely aggressively pursue both and formulate the next phase of their plan soon after those players sign with Baltimore or elsewhere.
The Orioles met with Scott Shapiro, Pavano's agent, this week during the general manager's meetings in Key Biscayne, Fla.
"The conversations were fantastic," Shapiro said. "I could say there is definitely a lot of interest on the part of the Orioles and genuine interest on the part of Carl."
Shapiro said Pavano would soon arrange plans to visit Baltimore, perhaps as early as next week. Shapiro, an avid Orioles fan since childhood, said he had a positive conversation with his friend Angelos last week about Pavano. Shapiro met the Orioles owner this summer when the agent represented a group from Puerto Rico trying to buy the Montreal Expos.
"With the Orioles, you have a team with a fantastic owner who recognizes he's in a tough division but wants to put a competitive team on the field," Shapiro said.
The competition for Pavano is fierce. He is also considering the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and a handful of other teams.
Should they fail to land Pavano, the Orioles could also pursue Matt Clement, Brad Radke, Matt Morris and Eric Milton. They will likely not be one of the bidders for Boston pitcher Pedro Martinez. In Jerry Hairston, Matt Riley, Erik Bedard and Jorge Julio, the Orioles also have the talent to pursue a trade.
The pursuit of right-fielder Ordonez is also intriguing. Ordonez is represented by super agent Scott Boras -- known for his tough negotiating style -- and is trying to recover from left-knee surgery last year. Reportedly, Ordonez will work out for teams during the winter meetings in Anaheim, Calif., in December. It is Ordonez's knee injury that makes Baltimore think they can sign the outfielder for a lesser price.
At first base, the team hopes to lure either Carlos Delgado or Richie Sexson. Some in the organization wonder about the astronomical offensive numbers the left-handed Delgado could put up at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. But Sexson appears to be a logical choice since he is right-handed and the Orioles want to mix up a lineup they consider to be heavy with left-handed hitters. Baltimore has also discussed Moises Alou, who could be a fallback choice should the team not be able to sign one of their top targets. Alou, 38, would also command a lesser price than Ordonez, Delgado or Sexson.
Beattie said his conversations with representatives for several free agents this week have been positive.
"They think that we're very close," Beattie said. "They have a sense we are committed to this stuff. We want to win."