Orioles fans' Christmas wish? Some free agents

Orioles fans' Christmas wish? Some free agents
December 25, 2013, 8:30 am
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It’s Christmas morning, and it’s quiet in the warehouse. It may not be quiet in your house, and these days Orioles fans are anything but quiet.

A year ago, fans were happy. The team was coming off a great, unexpected season and followed it up with a compelling, but in the end unsatisfying one.

Less than three months ago, fans were exuberant over Chris Davis setting the team’s home run record.

Now, they’re angry.

They’re mad that Jim Johnson was traded for a player that may not even make the team. They’re angry that Nate McLouth left, and furious about the Grant Balfour mess.

For 14 years an extremely passionate fan base watched mostly losses, hoping that things would one day turn around.

In that magical season, fans got to hope. Last year, they got to hope some more.

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In some ways, it’s funny that Johnson’s trade got the fans so angry. He blew nine saves last season, and many fans wanted the Orioles to use someone else, maybe Tommy Hunter, as closer.

They may get that wish next spring.

Their anger toward Johnson wasn’t anything like the anger that’s being felt now. Fans want the Orioles to sign some free agents, at least ones that they’ve heard of.

At the 2012 winter meetings, reporters were waiting for a briefing with Dan Duquette when a group of men left the Orioles’ suite. Later we found out it was the Rakuten Golden Eagles. The Orioles were trying to establish a working agreement with them.

A year later, the Golden Eagles have finally posted Masahiro Tanaka, who promises to be a most sought after free agent. Tanaka was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA, and allowed just six home runs in 212 innings.

It would be a huge surprise if the Orioles went after Tanaka, who’ll probably demand an enormous contract. There aren’t too many 25 year-old pitchers with that sort of record available.

The Orioles have signed two Japanese pitchers. One was Koji Uehara. That went well. Tsuyoshi Wada’s time in Baltimore didn’t go well. Even with the team out of contention in the season’s last week and Wada finally healthy, Wada was never given a chance to start in Baltimore.

One Japanese reporter suggested that Wada’s treatment by the Orioles could negatively impact how other players in his country view the team.

Tanaka is expected to be heavily pursued by the Yankees, Dodgers, Angels, Diamondbacks and Cubs. It would be nice to see the Orioles in that mix, too.

Most of the best position players have signed elsewhere. Kendrys Morales and Nelson Cruz are the only two left who might fit in, but both would require the team losing a draft pick.

The Orioles have been reluctant to surrender a pick. Other teams have been reluctant, too, and that’s probably why Morales, Cruz, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana are still available.

They still need a starting pitcher. Jimenez, Santana, Bronson Arroyo and Matt Garza are unsigned.

Some have theorized that the uncertainty about Tanaka has put a hold on the starting pitcher market.

With all the pitching still available, the Orioles ought to be able to sign another starter.

It’s probably better to keep Hunter in last year’s role. Questions remain about his durability, and Fernando Rodney for a year or two could be a great solution.

The Orioles will probably have to spend more on Rodney than they were prepared to spend on Grant Balfour, but two years at $20 million could be a little pricey.

Fans don’t want to hear that. They want the team to spend.

They don’t want to hear that they have, at least for another year, a core of Davis, Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy, Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis.

They want more.

Chris Tillman is coming off a marvelous season, and the addition of new pitching coach Dave Wallace should help bring out the best in Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Bud Norris and others.

If they sign Rodney, their bullpen looks to be a strong one, and two promising starters, Mike Wright and Eduardo Rodriguez, don’t look far away.

There are plenty of positives, but the fans have watched the Yankees make some interesting signings. Carlos Beltran could have been a terrific one here. In light of Troy Patton’s upcoming suspension, left-handed reliever Matt Thornton could have helped.

Signing Ryan Webb to help the bullpen and trading for David Lough to replace McLouth in left seem to be smart moves.

They need others. They need a flashy move—and soon. The fans’ anger isn’t going away. This most passionate fan base remembers those 14 years all too well, and they don’t want to go back there.