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Inbox: How will O's fill needs this offseason?

Welcome back to the Inbox, a weekly (or close to it) feature on and one that addresses everyone's favorite part of the offseason: the rumor mill. As always, feel free to write in with questions, as there are plenty of scenarios and lingering issues still left to be discussed.

Will the Orioles take a shot and sign Josh Hamilton in left field? I know it's a lot of money, but they could use a bat like that.
-- Steve N., Baltimore

The short answer is no. Hamilton -- considered the premier position player free agent this winter -- is reportedly asking for a seven-year, $175 million deal, a commitment that is well out of the Orioles' price range and could be crippling for the organization in the long-term. Would his bat help? Absolutely. But Dan Duquette, executive vice president of baseball operations, has stated that he believes the team can be competitive within its current payroll, and adding a bat like Hamilton -- even if his price falls -- doesn't mesh with that kind of thinking.

Hamilton will be 32 in March, and he struggled offensively and defensively down the stretch this past season, garnering boos from Rangers fans. Although he's clearly a special talent, there's really no telling how his past personal struggles and history of injury will play out over the course of a multiyear deal, and the O's just don't have the kind of payroll flexibility to take on that large of a financial risk. They have 15 arbitration-eligible players, and that -- coupled with long-term salaries of such players as Brian Roberts, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis -- will push the 2013 payroll as it is.

Outfielder Nolan Reimold is expected to be healthy this spring, and the organization will make a strong push to re-sign free agent Nate McLouth, who would return provided the two sides reach a fair agreement. McLouth is a big comfort guy who excelled with the Orioles after being released by the Pirates in May, and manager Buck Showalter -- along with bench coach John Russell -- are both strong supporters of the former Gold Glove winner.

What do you think is the Orioles' greatest need, and how do you see Duquette filling it?
-- Josh M., Columbia, Md.

Right now, the organization is concentrating on acquiring a middle-of-the-order bat, and there's a sense that Duquette would be more comfortable trading for that given the dropoff after Hamilton. A feared hitter to help supplement the lineup is a lack that was on full display during this year's playoffs and one that is believed to be the top priority over acquiring a front-line starter.

You can pretty much eliminate Hamilton for the reasons stated above, and the Orioles aren't that keen on free-agent outfielder Nick Swisher -- another name that has been linked to Baltimore -- despite his excellent on-base percentage and ability to work the count, things Duquette emphasizes. The team has inquired about Minnesota's Josh Willingham and Kansas City's Billy Butler, with Showalter a fan of Butler in particular, although both organizations are reportedly seeking young starting pitching in return.

Is that a tough thing to part with, especially given the Orioles' uncertain state of pitching this past season? Of course. But when it comes to making an impact trade, you have to give up something of value -- or at least perceived value -- to get something back, and it will be interesting to see how Duquette helps strengthen the lineup.

Last winter's Jeremy Guthrie trade, which netted Jason Hammel -- and was panned in the media -- showed that Duquette isn't afraid to make an unpopular move. And given the success of last year's club -- which led owner Peter Angelos to publicly laud the job done by Duquette and Showalter -- the two seem to have the benefit of the doubt in getting approval to add and subtract this offseason.

Do the O's really need a No. 1 starter from the free-agent market?
-- Scott S., Mondovi, Wis.

They won't sign a No. 1 starter from the free-agent market, Scott. Duquette has gone on the record to note that the organization hopes one of its top young prospects -- specifically, Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy -- can eventually grow into that role. Signing a front-line free-agent pitcher is risky and expensive, and other than Zack Greinke -- for whom the Orioles would have to outbid such bigger-market teams as the Angels and Rangers -- it doesn't seem worth it.

I liked Edwin Jackson as a possible fit last season, and he's on the market again, reportedly looking for a multiyear deal. The 29-year-old is not an ace, but he has electric stuff and is a workhorse, hovering around the 200-inning mark in three of his past four seasons. The O's, looking to add a veteran starter, could re-sign free agent Joe Saunders and add him to a rotation mix that again figures to have about a dozen candidates. Baltimore was able to mix-and-match last season to piece together the pitching, and although Showalter would obviously prefer to avoid that kind of wizardry, the Orioles should benefit from a healthy Hammel and a year of experience behind rookies Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez.

Where does Steve Johnson fit in the Orioles' plans for next year? Will he got a shot at the rotation again?
-- Ed H., Arlington, Va.

Johnson is one of the dozen or so candidates I referenced above, and he certainly pitched himself into consideration this past season. The right-hander doesn't have stuff that blows away hitters, but he knows how to pitch to his strengths and was one of several pleasant surprises in 2012. Will he part of the Opening Day rotation? It's impossible to say. But the likelihood of Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter ending up in the bullpen -- given how dominant they both were in relief -- certainly helps Johnson's chances. If he continues to pitch well, he will get an opportunity as the Orioles head into '13 looking from consistency from some of their young starters.

Are the Orioles planning to extend Buck's contract and lock him up for a while?
-- June B., Marion, Md.

Yes. This has been pretty clear since Angelos went on the record after the season ended and said he wanted to keep Showalter -- signed through next season -- for the foreseeable future. While at the General Managers Meetings this week, Duquette hinted that an extension could be in the works.

"I believe that it's merited and that we'll get that done in due time," Duquette said.

Do you think Roberts will be with the team next year? And if he gets injured, who gets the second-base job?
-- Mike S., Elkridge, Md.

Roberts is working out, and early indications of his status for next spring have been favorable as he heads into the final season of a four-year contract. Health obviously factors huge into Roberts' availability, but keep in mind that if he wants to play beyond '13, he will have to prove that he can not only stay on the field but be productive as well.

The Orioles claimed Alexi Casilla off waivers from the Twins, and they also have Robert Andino returning, with one of those two arbitration-eligibles likely being nontendered -- along with perhaps Omar Quintanilla -- at the end of the month. Rule 5 Draft pick Ryan Flaherty is playing winter ball and is another option at second base.

Baltimore Orioles