I'm sitting here wondering who the Orioles' first noteworthy acquisition will be this offseason. Newbie executive vice president Dan Duqette should be up to speed and ready to make something happen at the Winter Meetings set for the first week in December. I'd love to see his priority list, because right now I'm not sure what mission numero uno is for the Birds as far as holes to fill.
According to Duquette, pitching will be the focus, but I'm not sure I see him coming back from the Winter Meetings with a starter. Meanwhile, I'd also love to pick Duquette's brain on his second base situation. There really hasn't been much talk from the O's new front office about what just might be a glaring hole in the middle infield in 2012.
I checked in with Brian Roberts the other day. He continues to visit with concussion specialist and is devoting his offseason to monitoring his health and making every attempt to be ready opening day. Roberts told me this is the most difficult thing he's ever had to deal with. This, coming from a man who practically had his arm ripped off covering first base in 2005 and had open heart surgery as a 5-year-old boy.
Despite Roberts' efforts, his return is not guaranteed - ever. The brain is so fragile and though the Orioles hold out hope that Roberts will return, they have to prepare for the worst.
The problem is, how much can they afford to spend on Plan B? Roberts' uncertainty is unintentionally holding the O's hostage in a way. They clearly aren't going out and bidding on top second base free agents. The best on the market are being snatched up by other clubs: Aaron Hill re-signed with the Diamondbacks, veteran Mark Ellis with the Dodgers. Clint Barmes (more of a shortstop) has a deal with the Pirates. The list is getting smaller.
I can understand not wanting to spend money on a position the O's believe they might have covered. Plus, they're already $10 million a year on the books for Roberts' contract over the next two years. However, if Roberts can't play, are they really going to go into 2012 banking on Robert Andino and Ryan Adams as their everyday second basemen? The verdict is out on Adams and Andino's bat just isn't consistent enough to produce everyday. But I love his spunk.
Couple that scenario with the fact that there isn't exactly a Manny Machado-type talent waiting in the minor leagues to be the O's second baseman of the future, and the Birds truly are in limbo right now at the position.
Without Roberts, there's an even bigger problem than manning second base - like who is going to lead off for the Birds in 2012? J.J. Hardy is not a leadoff hitter, although he did an admirable job when asked to bat first last season. There is a glaring absence on the O's roster of a guy who hits for average, has a high on-base percentage and isn't afraid to steal a base. What Roberts brought to the table in those departments has not been replaced.
If you think Roberts wasn't missed last year ask Adam Jones. I've told this story before. When congratulating Jones for a great year at season's end he said, "Thanks, but you know what I would've done with B-Rob leading off?" It was the first thing Jones pointed out.
Roberts' ability to disrupt on the base paths makes it so two- and three-hole hitters like Jones get good pitches to hit. Last season, there wasn't one O's base runner who made an opposing pitcher break a sweat.
Duquette's handling of the Roberts/second base situation will interest me. I don't see how it can be ignored, barring a miraculous recovery by Roberts, going into spring training.