What will Orioles do with Johnson savings?

What will Orioles do with Johnson savings?
December 4, 2013, 9:00 am
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Orioles fans are getting antsy. They see the Yankees signing Jacoby Ellsbury to an enormous contract, the Seattle Mariners supposedly offering Robinson Cano a huge contract and the Red Sox active in the market.

The Orioles, on the other hand, have lost their closer from the last two years and yet to add anyone of note.

The winter meetings end a week from now, and the Orioles will need to show they’ve accomplished a thing or two by then.

Around the time the winter meetings end, season ticket invoices will probably be sent out, and many fans who already put 50 percent deposits down in September for the playoff tickets they couldn’t use, want to see some progress.

Dan Duquette is a patient man, and unruffled by the speculative market. No, it doesn’t make sense to give Ellsbury a seven-year, $153 million contract. He’s a speed and contact hitter. Paying Cano $200 million over eight years to play in Seattle isn’t wise. Do you think the Angels would like to undo the wild Albert Pujols deal that still has eight years to run?

The Mariners haven’t been in the playoffs since 2001 and have four straight losing seasons. Their neighbors, the Seahawks have the best record in the NFL and play before deafening crowds. The Mariners’ crowds aren’t very big at all. They need to do something.

The Orioles aren’t resting on their success of 2012 and the exciting performances in 2013. They have a plan. They need to bolster their farm system. That isn’t sexy, but they can’t be signing Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson or Shin-Soo Choo and lose their top draft pick.

No, they can’t sign Jason Vargas, who they long liked, to a four-year contract.

Duquette is hoping the market calms somewhat, and then he can sign some players who may not cost a draft choice.

So many fans look at the Jim Johnson trade in a vacuum. That’s all we can get for Jim Johnson? The Orioles shouldn’t pay a closer $10 million, and that’s what the team and some disinterested observers thought Johnson would get in arbitration.

If the fans and some players are disappointed in the move, that’s understandable. If that’s all the Orioles do this offseason, then they can vent. But, it won’t be.

The team has to sign a closer or at least someone to give manager Buck Showalter another option besides Tommy Hunter.

They need a second baseman. Right now, the second basemen on the 40-man roster are Ryan Flaherty, Jonathan Schoop and the newly acquired Cord Phelps and Jemile Weeks.

Schoop didn’t show much during the Arizona Fall League, and he has a propensity for being injured. They like Flaherty as a valuable utility man. They don’t know much about Phelps and Weeks except they had a combined 18 at-bats in 2013.

Brian Roberts’ name hasn’t come up in the free agent chatter except where the Orioles are concerned. They’re likely to circle back to him soon. But, Roberts’ return won’t be the move the fans are looking for.

Nor is a re-signing of Nate McLouth. Besides a closer and second basemen, the Orioles need a left fielder and designated hitter. McLouth would be nice to have back. A year ago, McLouth re-upped with the Orioles at the winter meetings. Maybe the same thing happens.

The re-signing of Nolan Reimold was kind of charming. Giving a hardworking, hard luck guy another chance wasn’t just sentimental. If he produces, it’s also a smart move.

Even if the team brings back Roberts, McLouth and free agent pitcher Scott Feldman, they’ll need something else.
J.J. Hardy’s contract expires after 2014. Chris Davis and Matt Wieters’ deals run out in two years. The Orioles need to take the money they’re not paying Johnson—and much more—in an attempt to extend all three.

It’s unlikely they’ll be able to do that with all three this winter, but barring any other big moves, those are the ones they’ll need to make to reassure their fan base they’re not passive.

The Tampa Bay Rays have proven they can compete in the AL East doing it a different way. The Orioles’ way has worked the last two seasons. It needs to work for longer than that.

A flurry of moves at the winter meetings—or just before or after—would show the fans the Orioles recognize the issue. Duquette has said the team would take the money that would have gone to Johnson and spend it.

Now is the time to do it.