Attention of Baltimore sports fans turns to Orioles

Attention of Baltimore sports fans turns to Orioles
December 30, 2013, 7:15 am
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For the last five years, the Orioles weren’t the big Baltimore story in January. The first month of the year was always the Ravens’ month.

Sunday’s abrupt end to the Ravens’ season will cause lots of consternation among Baltimore sports fans. Without the NBA or NHL in town, it’s just the Ravens and Orioles.

And, for three months, until March 31 when the Orioles open with the Boston Red Sox, there won’t be any major league sports events involving Baltimore teams.

The last time the Ravens missed the playoffs was 2007, but they fired Brian Billick that year, and dominated the talk.

January promises to be full of Ravens griping, and some anxiety about the Orioles.

Spring training starts on Feb. 13 in Sarasota. FanFest is Feb. 1 at the Baltimore Convention Center, the day before the Northeast’s first Super Bowl. Fortunately for the Orioles, the Ravens won’t be in the Super Bowl because FanFest would have virtually ignored.

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The attention on the Orioles could be a good thing. Fans are clearly impatient, wanting the club to get a closer, another starter and a hitter.

Without Ravens games to vent about, the Orioles will get a lot more attention in Baltimore for the next six weeks than they would have if there was a playoff run to talk about.

Not much has happened in baseball the past week except for the announcement that Japan’s Masahiro Tanaka will be posted, a bidding the Orioles have vowed not to enter.

With another holiday week here, it may be quiet, at least publicly.

Fernando Rodney, who the Orioles have pursued, is still available, and so is Grant Balfour, who the Orioles decided was a physical question mark for a two-year deal.

If not Rodney, then Tommy Hunter is the closer, and the angst about whether Hunter is strong enough to withstand the workload will begin.

The good news for the Orioles is that while the closer market is tight, it’s a buyer’s market for starting pitchers.

Lots of names linked with the Orioles are still out there: Bronson Arroyo, A.J. Burnett, Chris Capuano, Chad Gaudin, Ubaldo Jimenez, Johan Santana and Jerome Williams.

Other prominent starters who the Orioles haven’t shown much interest in, Matt Garza and Ervin Santana are still available, as are many others.

Jason Hammel is still unsigned, as is his former teammate Joe Saunders.

Signing of another starter is likely, and in the past, Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has been busy in the final weeks before spring training.

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Everyone knows that the two prominent hitters available are Nelson Cruz and Kendrys Morales. Both, like Jimenez and Santana, would cost a draft choice, but perhaps Duquette will snap one of the hitters up, more likely Morales.

Cruz has the PED history and the questionable defense. Morales has some nice offensive numbers and as a switch-hitter, could be the fulltime designated hitter.

His agent, Scott Boras, has been trying to interest National League clubs, saying that his client, who has spent his entire career in the American League, is capable of playing acceptable defense. In the last two seasons, Morales has been primarily, but not exclusively a DH.

In the past, manager Buck Showalter didn’t want an exclusive designated hitter. In Morales’ case, that’s what he’d have to be.

Chris Davis is an acceptable, if not an above average first baseman, and Morales would play there only when Davis would DH. He can also play right, but Nick Markakis plays there.

Boras will often wait the market out, and get his client a much better deal than expected. That’s what happened with Prince Fielder. He didn’t sign until late January.

Duquette might hope that the market doesn’t heat up for Morales. If he’s viewed by others as a pure DH, that’s good for the Orioles because it cuts down on his suitors. But, if Duquette waits too long, there’s always the possibility of Boras’ famous mystery bidder appearing.

The time is right for Duquette to strike. Unwittingly, the Ravens have done the Orioles a favor, and if they do sign a free agent or two or three, the Orioles will recapture the attention of Baltimore sports fans—in a positive way.