- Nick Markakis signed a 6-year, $66.1 million contract extension, ensuring he is an Oriole through the 2014 season.
- Cesar Izturis signed a 2-year, $6 million contract, filling a glaring hole at shortstop.
- Ramon Hernandez was traded for Ryan Freel, netting the Orioles a valuable utility player and, more importantly, clearing the way for Matt Wieters to catch in 2009.
- Greg Olson was traded for Felix Pie, adding outfield depth and upside potential for a pitcher on whom the Orioles had clearly soured.
- Gregg Zaun signed to be a veteran mentor for Wieters.
- Koji Uehara signed to fill a rotation slot, marking the Orioles first foray into the Japanese player market.
- Randor Bierd was traded for David Pauley, giving the Orioles another arm to compete for innings in the rotation.
For a team that finished 2008 with a 68-93 record, none of those moves is particularly overwhelming and certainly, taken individually, does little to boost the Orioles above any one of the Rays, Red Sox, Yankees or Blue Jays. However, the process involved with each move offers a great deal of hope:
1) First and foremost, the Orioles added to the talent pool within the organization and created spots for young talent to play on a daily basis. Matt Wieters, if not the starting catcher on Opening Day, will spend most of 2009 in Baltimore, and Felix Pie, a former top-prospect with lots of tools, will finally get an opportunity to play every day in the majors.
2) The team recognized that the fastest and cheapest way to improve its run prevention was to improve on defense. Cesar Izturis is widely recognized as an excellent glove man, and an outfield of Pie, Jones and Markakis will hopefully chase down lots of balls that would otherwise fall for hits. That should help a pitching staff that is very much a work in progress.
3) MacPhail declined to overpay for veteran pitchers just to fill glaring rotation holes. Behind Jeremy Guthrie, the Orioles figure to have Uehara, and... well, we'll see. Hayden Penn, David Hernandez, Bradley Bergensen, Matt Albers, Danys Baez, Brian Burres, Radhames Liz, Troy Patton, and Pauley all figure to get a good look as candidates to fill the remaining rotation slots. More importantly, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta are ranked in Keith Law's Top 100 Prospects and could contribute in the relatively near future.
4) The Uehara signing signals a change in philosophy beginning to bear fruit. When MacPhail arrived, he implemented a new emphasis on international scouting. I take it as a good sign that he was able to target and sign a Japanese free agent.
Sure it's not the most exciting offseason, but it might be just what the Orioles needed. The team wasn't going to compete in 2009 under all but the most unlikely of circumstances (say, signing all those free agents who ended up with the Yankees), and thus held to the philosophy of building for 2010. If the young pitching can continue to develop, the Orioles are right on track.
Offseason grade: B+
UPDATE: Brian Roberts has been offered a 3-year, $30 million contract extension. A Roberts extension would likely bump the offseason grade to an "A."