Last season the Baltimore Orioles went to Major Leage Baseball's winter meetings with a slew of needs and left the annual get-together having addressed exactly none of those deficiencies. This year will be different, they promise. When the podium in the media room in Dallas is set up for a news conference the Orioles believe they will be one of the teams to get up there.
"I don't think we're going to stand pat," Orioles Executive Vice President Mike Flanagan said. "There are still things we could do."
But several team insiders wonder whether the Orioles have been priced out of the free agent market and whether they will be too reluctant to trade any of their young talent to make any significant moves. When asked if the Orioles will make a major move this offseason one team official said, "I just don't know."
A sobering phone call two weeks ago may have dictated exactly what course the Orioles will take this offseason. On Nov. 18, Flanagan took a phone call from a reporter who informed the executive that B.J. Ryan had accepted an offer from the Toronto Blue Jays for $47 million over five years.
"The first time I heard about it I didn't believe it," Flanagan said. "Second time, I didn't believe it. Third time, I didn't believe it. After that, I started to believe it."
With one contract, Flanagan's offseason was thrown off course. Other teams' offers would soon dwarf Flanagan's offer to Angels free agent pitcher Paul Byrd -- a serviceable but certainly not a spectacular hurler -- because of the Ryan contract. Other closers, now a need for Baltimore because of Ryan's defection, would soon begin to ask for bigger contracts -- something Baltimore wasn't willing to offer because it believes reliever Chris Ray, a rookie last season, would soon be ready to assume the role.
"I think [the Ryan contract] has affected everything," Flanagan said.
The Orioles have offered more money to a player this offseason than they did last year -- a five-year, $65 million contract to first baseman Paul Konerko. That Baltimore never had a legitimate chance to sign Konerko, who took less money to stay with the White Sox, doesn't diminish the Orioles' effort.
But the Orioles aren't ready to jump into the free agent market with the same vigor they showed in trying to lure Konerko. Konerko and Byrd are the only free agents that have been offered contracts by the Orioles. They have very little interest in pitcher A.J. Burnett because of concerns about his surgically repaired right elbow and the five-year, $50 million offers he's received from other teams. Agent Darek Braunecker, who represents Burnett, said the Orioles have not been aggressive about his clients and are not being seriously considered.
Two other marquee free agents, pitcher Kevin Millwood and center fielder Johnny Damon, play positions of need for Baltimore, but they are represented by agent Scott Boras, who has not begun serious negotiations with any teams.
"It's not been time for him to grab center stage," Flanagan jokingly said of Boras. "Maybe in February."
Baltimore is still considering an offer to Cubs free agent shortstop Nomar Garciaparra to play first base, but he is not expected to sign with any team until late in the offseason. Garciaparra, who has missed significant time the past two seasons with injuries, may eventually get a lengthy contract offer the Orioles think is too risky to match.
Baltimore also has interest in catchers Bengie Molina and Ramon Hernandez, but neither is a priority.
"I think we're still in the [free agent] market, but it's running high," Flanagan said.
Baltimore most likely will try to improve through trades. One team official said the team has some interest in Florida Marlins center fielder Juan Pierre but no serious talks have taken place. The Texas Rangers' Adrian Gonzalez could fill the void at first base, but talks are just in the initial stages. Baltimore seems willing to explore all options, even trading young players such as starter Erik Bedard and reliever Jorge Julio.
The Orioles have been linked with Philadelphia outfielder Bobby Abreu, but it likely would take Bedard and another player to acquire the slugger. Baltimore may balk at such a price.
There certainly has not been a shortage of teams inquiring about some of Baltimore's young talent. Flanagan said he has already made several appointments to speak with teams during the meetings.
Perhaps the Orioles can be encouraged that in spurning their offer, Konerko praised new vice president Jim Duquette, one of several new faces in the Baltimore front office. It is a sign that perhaps this isn't the same old Orioles team that was content watching others make news.