Why aren't the Orioles willing to trade away some top prospects, not including Manny Machado or Dylan Bundy, to get some big hitters or a No. 1 pitcher?
-- Brandon R., Baltimore
Because outside of Machado and Bundy, the Orioles really don't have the kind of top prospects to make a deal that would land them an impact player. Yes, you can lump pitcher Kevin Gausman -- the organization's first-rounder from last year-- in with that duo in terms of being a highly touted prospect, but Baltimore has no intention of parting with Gausman, either.
When executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette took over last winter, he made it clear that his plan was to build from within and build a solid foundation in the Minor Leagues to form a steady pipeline to the big league level. And while the Orioles' farm system has improved, they still have a ways to go before they can afford to start trading away some top talent. Baseball America ranked Baltimore 21st out of 30 clubs in last year's annual organizational talent rankings, with the other four American League East clubs finishing ahead of them. And with the Orioles not able to outspend most of their competition, they have to hold on to their young prospects and hope they can help supplement the core already in place.
Machado projects to be the club's starting third baseman, while Bundy and Gausman are expected to be in Baltimore at some point in 2013.
What are the Orioles going to do to respond to what the Blue Jays and other AL East teams are doing to get better?
--Stephen B., Baltimore
To answer your question frankly, not much. When Toronto first started spending big earlier this winter, Orioles manager Buck Showalter remarked that his club could continue to be "The Little Engine that Could" in the AL East. And while the Orioles' winning ways last season makes them a more attractive landing spot to free agents, the evidence in this winter's frenzy of above-market deals is clearly that it's still a money-driven world.
So why not make a deal? They're listening, and there have been talks with at least a half-dozen teams and the Orioles regarding a trade, with Baltimore seeking a middle-of-the-order bat. The problem is, as I stated above, if you take Bundy and Gausman, off the table it's significantly harder to negotiate.
There is interest in young arms that are already on the big league team -- guys like Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman and Zach Britton -- although indications are Duquette wouldn't want to trade more than one. And, with the exception of Tillman, they all struggled to establish any consistency as Major League starters. Teams aren't going to trade away an impact bat for a package centered on one young pitcher with a lot to prove.
So will the Orioles be able to add the bat they sorely need? The organization is still hopeful, and Duquette did pull off some late-winter moves in 2012, including signing pitcher Wei-Yin Chen and trading for Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom.
Everyone knows the reason for the Orioles' success last year was the bullpen. What do they intend to do to keep that up in 2013?
-- Daniel R., Arlington, Va.
Fortunately, the O's outstanding relief corps is intact and besides some raises in arbitration, the club won't need to make a lot of personnel changes. Matusz and right-hander Tommy Hunter will both be starter candidates, and if they don't crack the Opening Day starting five, they'll both be strong considerations for the 'pen. Closer Jim Johnson and Darren O'Day -- both arbitration-eligible -- are returning and Luis Ayala's contract option was picked up, so I don't see a whole lot of movement unless Duquette deals a reliever or two this winter.
Like every other club, Baltimore will have a wealth of pitchers in camp and if Matusz ends up in the rotation, there will be more emphasis on finding another lefty reliever, although the O's did select T.J. McFarland in the Rule 5 Draft. Showalter also takes great pride in limiting workloads for the relievers, which plays a big part in having a successful and healthy 'pen.
Is left field Nolan Reimold's spot to lose? Or did Nate McLouth make it his with his play in the second half of the 2012 season and into the postseason?
-- Marco P., Hyattsville, Md.
It's still up for grabs. Showalter shied away from making any decisions regarding left field in last week's conference call announcing the re-signing of McLouth. Instead, the O's skipper simply said he had "some things in mind," but wanted to see how it shakes out this spring, reminding reporters that McLouth -- a former Gold Glover -- is capable of playing all three outfield positions, if necessary.
Reimold, who is coming off season-ending neck surgery, has had a regular winter routine and is expected to be a full-go in camp with Nick Markakis -- who ended his season with a broken left thumb -- also expected to be fully healthy. The addition of McLouth gives the Orioles some options and Showalter could instill an early platoon or rotate around the designated hitter role, depending on what else the club does this offseason. But having too many outfielders is never a bad thing when you're dealing with a 162-game season.