BALTIMORE -- While teams around baseball have been filling out their rosters with free-agent signings and trades, the Orioles have been exceptionally quiet.
The club's biggest move this offseason has been the re-signing of outfielder Nate McLouth to a one-year deal, with smaller trades for infielder Yamaico Navarro and outfielder Trayvon Robinson -- along with several waiver claims and Minor League signings -- doing little to generate much buzz around the 2013 team.
Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said Thursday he is still exploring potential additions before Spring Training starts next month, with the emphasis shifted more toward pitching, and he remains intent on holding on to the team's young nucleus and is unmoved by public perception.
"We looked around the industry for that middle-of-the-order bat," Duquette said. "There was one free agent that was a significant player. There have been some other players available in a trade that I'm not sure they were better than what we had, and the cost of the acquisition has been a little pricey for us."
Cost is another word the Orioles' fanbase has bemoaned, with the team's payroll set to stay in the same range as last season. Baltimore has a host of arbitration-eligible players, leaving little wiggle room to add impact players in free agency. While rival clubs in the American League East, most notably Toronto and Boston, have made winter headlines, the Orioles, who have been involved in a fair amount of trade rumors, haven't been willing to pull the trigger and deal away what opposing teams covet most: their young pitching.
"Let's not confuse activity with the strength of our ballclub here in Baltimore; it was a club that won over 93 games last year, and we are returning that core with three playoff wins," Duquette said. "That's our team. If there were better players that were available to us at a reasonable cost, we would have added them, but we still have the core of a very competitive team here.
"We built our team last year, not just for last season, but so we could be competitive for a couple of years. And if you watched carefully, we didn't lose a lot of players this year. And the players that performed and did well, they are getting serious raises in the arbitration system.
"We should also have some other young players coming up through our farm system. That's where we are going to build our team. That's where a lot of our young players are going to come from. That's where Manny Machado and Matt Wieters came from -- like we hope that [top pitching prospects] Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman will this year. That's what the Orioles are about."
Last year, Duquette made two of the club's biggest moves after the new year in signing free-agent pitcher Wei-Yin Chen and trading for right-hander Jason Hammel. The club remains in talks regarding bringing back free agent Joe Saunders, and Duquette said there are "available options" in both the starting pitching and relief market that could aid the organization.
As for the Orioles' quest to obtain a middle-of-the-order bat?
"We've got young big leaguers that are talented in pretty much every position," said Duquette, who wouldn't rule out adding another position player, although getting a legitimate power bat this late in the offseason isn't very likely. "Some of these guys in the middle of the lineup -- [Adam] Jones, Wieters, [Chris] Davis -- they are 26, 27 [years old]. Those guys should continue to improve. That's a legit middle of the order.
"We have a much deeper ballclub now than we had a year ago. We certainly have got a much more experienced ballclub. That's the benefit of playing in the playoffs. We address each of the needs as they come up. It may not be marquee players, but I can tell you [Alexi] Casilla and [Travis] Ishikawa are both qualified big leaguers."
Casilla, acquired on waivers from the Twins, and Ishikawa, signed to a Minor League deal, are the kind of less-flashy signings that Duquette made all of last season. The O's scoured the waiver wire and plucked guys from the independent leagues, with a flurry of roster moves all done with the intent of giving the big league club even the slightest edge over the opposition.
This offseason has been a continuation of that philosophy, with most of the roster intact and the expected addition of healthy outfielders Nick Markakis, who is already in Florida working out, and Nolan Reimold, who was recently cleared to begin baseball activities. Second baseman Brian Roberts, coming back from season-ending hip surgery, is also working out at the team's Spring Training facility.
"We are putting together a highly competitive ballclub, and this ballclub we are talking about improved last year during the season more than any other ballclub in the big leagues," Duquette said, spotlighting Machado and McLouth's arrivals as a significant in-season boost. "And the good news is they are all returning with a year's experience and top-flight leadership.
"The same team the city of Baltimore got behind is coming back."