Here come the Orioles!
Boom, boom and (maybe) BOOM! In the past 16 hours or so, the Baltimore Orioles have reached preliminary agreement with closer Mike Gonzalez and corner infielder Garrett Atkins (both pending physicals), and have reportedly "jumped into" the bidding for left fielder Matt Holliday.
Do the Orioles have a legitimate shot at Holliday? Probably not. Holliday is known to prefer the NL (after an awful experience with Oakland this season), and there are NL teams, namely the Cardinals and Mets, with plenty of motivation to land him. It's also not exactly correct to assume the Orioles have tons of money lying around simply because Mark Teixeira turned down their offer of $140 million over seven years last winter. Once Teixeira signed with the Yankees, the Orioles immediately spent almost all that money on extensions for Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis, plus the signing of Koji Uehara.
The best hope Orioles fans have of landing Holliday is the unpredictability of their owner. Agent Scott Boras will almost certainly direct Holliday to the team that offers the most money, and with Peter Angelos, you just never know.
Regardless of where Holliday winds up, Orioles GM Andy MacPhail has executed a smart, sensible off-season plan thus far. The team had four primary needs entering the winter -- first base, third base, closer and No. 1 starter -- and MacPhail has filled three of them with moderately priced veterans. Right-hander Kevin Millwood will cost them $9 million next season, when you factor in the money the Texas Rangers sent over in that trade. Gonzalez will cost $6 million in each of the next two seasons. And Atkins (who will play either first or third, depending on what the Orioles do next) probably cost only $5 million or so. So for roughly $20 million in 2010 payroll commitments, or about what one year of Holliday might cost, the Orioles got three solid pieces that they absolutely needed.
They're not going to challenge the Red Sox or Rays, let alone the Yankees, in the AL East next season, but the Orioles -- with their solid young core now surrounded by a good mix of veterans -- seem to be positioning themselves for a major improvement in 2010, and if things break just right, perhaps a run at contention in 2011. At least to the extent a run is still possible in this division.
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