Taking the hot stove to warmer climate

I’m not sure whether the timing of my trip to Orlando, Fla., this morning is perfect or dubious, considering the “wintry mix” that’s predicted in the area.

I’m leaving it behind. That’s perfect timing. I’m driving in it and facing the possibility of a delayed flight. That’s dubious timing.

The Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., stretch over five days, counting today, but the busiest period is Monday through Wednesday.

The local beat crew will sit down tonight with executive vice president Dan Duquette around 7:30 p.m., so look for another blog entry before you go to bed. The Rule 5 draft takes place Thursday morning, and team executives and media types bolt for the airport shortly after its completion.

In between is the real hot stove madness.

I can’t predict what Duquette will do besides meet with a bunch of agents and executives. Plenty of top free agents remain on the market despite the crazy amount of activity last week. The Orioles must fill some holes before “it’s still early” really begins to ring hollow.

The bullpen will be a definite strength - deep and talented - if the Orioles find a suitable replacement for closer Jim Johnson.

Again, let’s not take for granted the challenge of closing out one-run games on the road in the American League East.

Here’s another look at the list of free-agent closers, courtesy of MLBTradeRumors.com:

John Axford (31)
Andrew Bailey (30)
Grant Balfour (36)
Joaquin Benoit (36)
Rafael Betancourt (39)
Kevin Gregg (36)
Joel Hanrahan (32)
Ryan Madson (33)
Chris Perez (28)
Fernando Rodney (37)
Jose Veras (33)

Former Orioles executive Jim Duquette predicted that the team would sign Benoit, Perez or Rodney. Perez is a really tough sell for me - not that anyone cares. I’d take Rodney and suddenly find the whole arrow-shooting celebration much more entertaining. And he’s closed in this division.

The A’s let Balfour walk and are willing to pay Johnson $10-$11 million. Guess Balfour is out of their price range, which means the same for the Orioles. And forget about Jonathan Papelbon, reportedly made available by the Phillies. They’d have to eat a lot of contract and spring for his personality transplant.

The addition of Ryan Webb from the Marlins was met with a collective yawn in Baltimore, but he’s a solid pick-up. Same with outfielder Francisco Peguero. But they don’t stack up against the acquisitions by other teams. They stand out as uninspiring moves - and plenty of other unflattering adjectives - because the Orioles haven’t made a big strike during the offseason.

Had they signed, say, Carlos Beltran or a frontline starting pitcher, the other announcements would have been met with more enthusiasm.

I’d certainly take Shin-Soo Choo and plug him into left field and atop the order, but I don’t see it happening. I’d certainly take Kendrys Morales and let him serve as the regular designated hitter. I’d take anyone who can make an impact and appease fans here.

I’m underwhelmed by Nelson Cruz, but it beats coming home empty-handed - or Rule 5-handed. Get to the podium. Don’t try to sell us on Dana Eveland.

By the way, the Orioles included minor league pitcher Jarret Martin in that Dec. 8, 2011 deal, and the Dodgers placed him on their 40-man roster last month to protect him in the Rule 5 draft.

Eveland pitched in Korea this year.

My point is, don’t make a trade just for the sake of making a trade, but something must be done to improve this ballclub.

Plenty of folks in the organization love the core group of players. They anticipate improvements from the younger pitchers. They’re extremely curious about Cuban outfielder Henry Urrutia, hopeful that he can make an impact during the 2014 season. But the Orioles need another 200-inning starting pitcher and a quality hitter who, in an ideal scenario, can find his way to first base without relying on home runs to circle past it. They need someone to fill Johnson’s very big shoes.

Sleeves will be rolled up in Lake Buena Vista. No wintry mix there.

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