Pitching is starting to look like a top priority

In case you missed it, outfielder Felix Pie elected to become a free agent. He can sign with any team.

I don’t think the Orioles are near the top of the list.

And speaking of lists, the Orioles rank starting pitching first among their priorities this winter.

They need a bat in the middle of their lineup. They might need a left fielder, corner infielder, designated hitter and second baseman. They might need a late-inning reliever. But another arm for the rotation tops all of them.

The Orioles’ 4.89 ERA ranked last in the majors. The rotation’s ERA was 5.39.The failure of their starters to consistently avoid early exits again caused their season to unravel.

“You’d be surprised how much better your bullpen’s going to look if you can get deeper into games,” manager Buck Showalter said last week. “There’s a morale, there’s a consistency in the clubhouse, everything. You walk out there and you’re down 5-0, 6-0, 7-0 in the third or fourth inning a week in a row, I don’t care how strong you are mentally, that beats up on you.

“Because of the proposition of where we play - what league we play in and what division we play in - that’s going to be a constant challenge. But when you look at New York and Boston, and especially Tampa Bay, and Toronto’s coming, that’s the biggest separator.”

I asked Showalter whether the club could go against it’s grow-the-arms philosophy and make an aggressive offer to a free-agent starter such as C.J. Wilson or Mark Buehrle.

“I think you have to look at all avenues,” he said. “The first place you’re always going to look is from within, and I think one of the biggest things you can do as an organization is evaluate yourself sincerely, not with rose-colored glasses, and look at things clearly. If you can’t fill it from within...we’re into the process some with the young pitchers. It’s not a one-day, one-start, one-year thing. It’s a process. But through that process, you also have to be willing to identify that maybe this one is not going to happen. You’ve got to be honest with yourself, instead of saying, ‘Well, he was traded for, he was drafted here, he was this and that.’ You’re better off getting ahead of the curve than waiting until everybody else figures it out.”

You can speculate which of the young starters has Showalter thinking “This one is not going to happen.”

Here’s the list of free-agent starters, courtesy of mlbtraderumors:

Erik Bedard (33)
Mark Buehrle (33)
Chris Capuano (33)
Bruce Chen (35)
Bartolo Colon (39)
Aaron Cook (33) - $11 mil mutual option with a $500K buyout
Kyle Davies (28)
Doug Davis (36)
Ryan Dempster (35) - $14 mil player option, no buyout
Zach Duke (29) - $5.5 mil club option with a $750K buyout
Jeff Francis (30)
Armando Galarraga (30)
Freddy Garcia (36)
Jon Garland (32) - $8 mil club option with a $500K buyout
Aaron Harang (34) - $5 mil mutual option with a $500K buyout
Rich Harden (30)
Livan Hernandez (37)
Hisashi Iwakuma (31)
Edwin Jackson (28)
Kenshin Kawakami (37)
Scott Kazmir (28) - $13.5 mil club option with a $2.5 mil buyout
Hiroki Kuroda (37)
Rodrigo Lopez (36)
Paul Maholm (30) - $9.75 mil club option with a $750K buyout
Jason Marquis (33)
Kevin Millwood (37)
Sergio Mitre (31)
Roy Oswalt (34) - $16 mil mutual option with a $2 mil buyout
Brad Penny (34)
Oliver Perez (30)
Joel Pineiro (33)
C.C. Sabathia (31) - may opt out of remaining four years, $92 mil
Javier Vazquez (35)
Tsuyoshi Wada (31)
Adam Wainwright (30) - $10 mil vesting option for ‘12, $12 mil for ‘13
Tim Wakefield (45)
Chien-Ming Wang (32)
Brandon Webb (33)
Dontrelle Willis (30)
C.J. Wilson (31)
Chris Young (33)

Showalter also said that the Orioles need “defenders.”

“We’re going to continue to put a priority on people who can defend,” he said. “When a ball stays in the ballpark in this division, you better catch it. You better have the ability to take an out, take a batted ball and make it two outs. And you better have a big bat if you’re just going to make the routine play.”

I have to believe he’s referring to left field, which was an adventure for anyone who played there.

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