After the exhilarating thrill ride that was the 2012 season, interest in the Orioles was the highest it's been in over a decade. A rejuvenated fan base couldn't wait to see what the O's front office had in store this winter to make the team even better for 2013.
And...we're still waiting.
Plenty of teams have been burning up the hot stove this winter. The Orioles, on the other hand, are more like that mangled old toaster with the taped-down lever, where you keep ending up with lukewarm bread that you have to fish out with your hands.
The extended silence seems out of character for Dan Duquette, the hyperactive GM who tinkered and maneuvered his way to 142 transactions in a five-month span last season. Duq had no qualms about adding players to the roster at a moment's notice and then jettisoning them even quicker if they didn't do the job (Poor Dana Eveland got designated for assignment on three separate occasions, traumatizing him so badly that he fled the country and now plays in Korea.) Duquette acted quickly to plug holes on the roster, swinging trades for Jim Thome and Joe Saunders, among others. And give credit where credit is due-- Duquette's aggressive nature and constant roster shuffling played an important role in the Orioles' magical 2012 run.
Yet when the offseason rolled around, despite a wealth of free agents for sale and a bounty of talented players available on the trade block, Duquette suddenly stopped wheeling and dealing. Duquette's offseason acquisitions so far have amounted to little more than minor-league depth (with all apologies to Trayvon Robinson and Alexi Casilla). Nate McLouth is back, Mark Reynolds is gone, and the rest of the roster is essentially unchanged.
So what gives with Duquette's lack of activity? Is he being hamstrung by ownership? Did Peter Angelos tell him, "Here's your budget for the winter," and then just hand him a hand-scrawled picture of a frowny face? It's a bit hard to swallow the idea that the Orioles can't afford to dish out any additional money this winter. Yes, we've seen high-payroll O's teams crash and burn in the past (most notably the 1998-1999 teams), but if Angelos is still gun-shy about loosening the purse strings-- even after a hugely successful season, and the sharp increase in ticket revenue that will come with it-- then this franchise is in trouble. This is all speculation, though; we probably won't ever know for sure what's going on behind the scenes or exactly how much money Duquette has at his disposal.
Then we have to consider the other possibility: that Duquette's stand-pat attitude (stand-pattitude?) is simply by design. Perhaps he's content to forego any major moves and go to war with the same basic team he had in 2012. And hey, I understand the impulse to hold the fort, if that is indeed Duquette's intention. It's a group that won 93 games, after all. The core of the team-- Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and the like-- are still in their 20s, the stalwart bullpen remains intact, and then there's the promise of a full season of Manny Machado and perhaps the midseason arrival of Dylan Bundy. There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the Orioles as they stand now.
Still, it's hard not to be disappointed that the O's haven't done more to bolster the team. When your projected designated hitter is some combination of Wilson Betemit, Steve Pearce, and Danny Valencia, it's clear that you have room for improvement. Similarly, there's at least one vacant spot in the rotation, without even taking into consideration the possibility that youngsters like Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez won't be able to hold down a starting job all year. Entering the offseason, the Birds needed any number of upgrades. A high-OBP bat. An innings-eating starter. A league-average second baseman. Thus far, none have been checked off the list.
The offseason isn't over, of course. Last winter, Duquette made a number of notable moves in January or later, including the signing of Wei-Yin Chen and the Jeremy Guthrie-for-Jason Hammel trade that now looks like a steal. A few notable free agents (including Adam LaRoche, Kyle Lohse, and Michael Bourn) remain on the market, and maybe Duquette has a blockbuster trade or two up his sleeve. Or a non-blockbuster trade-- I'm not greedy.
It's too early to judge Dan Duquette's offseason. Having said that, I can't help but judge Dan Duquette's offseason. It's been a woefully uninspiring one so far, and it's hard to say that the Orioles have improved since the end of the 2012 campaign. At the very least, they've lost ground to some of their divisional opponents, most notably the freewheeling Blue Jays. If the Orioles do nothing more this winter, and take the field on Opening Day with their current roster, then I'll be...well, excited, of course. Because baseball is awesome and the Orioles are coming off their most incredible season in ages. But I won't be able to shake the nagging feeling that the O's missed a golden opportunity-- an opportunity to add valuable pieces to a promising team and transform themselves into a true top-flight contender.