The 2012 season has been over for nearly two months, and spring training is still a little over two months from now. There are things left to do for the Orioles, but they have already accomplished some of them.
Here are the five most important things the Orioles have done so far this off-season.
1) Re-signed Nate McLouth
The Orioles wanted to keep McLouth, but he wanted to test the market. Dan Duquette looked at some other options, Cody Ross and Jonny Gomes before circling back to McLouth.
Rescued from obscurity by Norfolk manager Ron Johnson, who urged Buck Showalter to take a look at him, McLouth played his best ball in four years at the end of the season.
Batting leadoff after Nick Markakis was lost for the season, the Orioles didn’t regress with McLouth. He provided solid hitting, excellent fielding and speed, something the team sorely lacked.
He may be platooned with Nolan Reimold, but that’s fine because the left-handed hitting McLouth will get the bulk of playing time.
At $2 million with up to $500,000 in incentives, it’s a fair deal for the Orioles, and if McLouth has a strong full season, he’ll be in line for much bigger money a year from now.
2) Improved options at second base
If Brian Roberts is ready to play his first complete season since 2009, everyone’s happy. If he isn’t, the Orioles have several options. Last year, Robert Andino had a great first month offensively and then fell off dramatically.
Andino will always have folk hero status for his dramatic post-midnight hit that beat the Red Sox, a win that started the Orioles on their way to contention.
Duquette didn’t want Andino to go the arbitration route, and he’s been traded to Seattle.
Anticipating this, the Orioles picked up Alexi Casilla from Minnesota on waivers. He was ready for arbitration, too, but the Orioles valued him more highly than Andino.
Casilla comes with a high recommendation from Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, and should be an effective defender. Not much on offense, he’ll bat ninth.
Ryan Flaherty, who’s playing in the Dominican and Yamaico Navarro, picked up from Pittsburgh last week, are an improvement over Steve Tolleson and Omar Quintanilla, though Showalter said this week, “Q” may be back.
3) A faster team
The Orioles ranked last in the majors with 58 stolen bases. With a full season, McLouth, who stole 12 in two months, should swipe many more.
Casilla’s steal ratio is 88 percent, and was even higher last season.
Adam Jones likes to run, and with McLouth, Jones and Casilla, the team’s overall speed is much higher.
4) No wasteful free agent spending
Duquette chuckled at the amount other teams were spending on what he called “mediocre players,” Gomes signed with the Red Sox for two years and $10 million, far above what the Orioles valued the lifetime .244 hitter.
Boston signed Shane Victorino this week for three years, $39 million.
The Orioles prefer to put the money into their own players. Duquette estimates that players returning will get about $22 million in raises that they earned, he says.
They’ll pay big money for an accomplished hitter, but Duquette is saving money for a year or two from now when some of his own players will get raises and contract extensions.
5) Kept season ticket prices steady
For the fifth straight year, season ticket prices won’t be raised. Single ticket prices have risen in that time and may again this season. The team used the enticement of 2012 playoff tickets to convince people to buy 2013 season tickets last fall.
Attendance was up nicely last season, especially in the last month, and there should be another spike this year. Because the Nationals also have a competitive team, it’s unlikely the Orioles can reach 3 million as they did for the first decade of Oriole Park.
Last year, the team drew nearly 350,000 more than it did in 2011. A similar increase would return them to just under 2.5 million, which would put them in the middle of the major leagues.