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Monday, February 7, 2011
What exactly did the Orioles buy?

By Dan Hennessey

The Orioles officially added Vladimir Guerrero on Friday, continuing the turnover of their roster. And for the scant sum of eight million dollars!

Guerrero joins Derrek Lee, J.J. Hardy, and Mark Reynolds as new right-handed bats in the Baltimore lineup. Add center fielder Adam Jones, and the new-look Orioles are right-handed heavy. A potential lineup (with 2010 OPS against right-handed pitchers):

2B Brian Roberts (.726)

CF Jones (.804)

RF Nick Markakis (.762)

LF Luke Scott (.935)

DH Guerrero (.810)

1B Lee (.773)

C Matt Wieters(.741)

3B Reynolds(.694)

SS Hardy (.759)

The Orioles have definitely improved, but not quite as much as the names might suggest. Decent right-handed pitching will be able to handle this lineup. Guerrero fell apart at the end of last season, Reynolds and Lee are coming over from the weaker National League, and Scott having his first huge season at age 32 screams "fluke" more than "breakout."

According to Cot's Contracts, the four new players will cost Baltimore $26 million in 2011, which leads to the bigger question: When will the Orioles actually be able to contend for a playoff berth?

It's not 2011. The pitching's not close to ready; Brian Matusz had a good rookie season, Chris Tillman is fun to watch, and … that's the extent of nice things I can say about the pitching staff.

Additionally, by handing the DH job to Guerrero, Scott shifts to left field, denying Nolan Reimold regular playing time. In what will be just his third big-league season, Reimold might still be around when Baltimore could compete. By signing Guerrero, the Orioles won't find out if Reimold can hack it in the bigs until 2012.

Guerrero and Lee are rentals, used (if Baltimore management is wise) as trade bait come July, and Hardy will become a free agent after the season. While the Orioles might be hoping for draft picks if Hardy leaves town, the compensation system is in danger of being either replaced or eliminated after this season.

Not to mention that the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays all figure to win 90-ish games, and the Blue Jays keep getting better.

And that money didn't have to be spent on free agents, if at all. Keith Law recently ranked the farm system 24th, citing recent graduations and a "lack of international talent."

Baltimore's offseason moves have made them a better fifth-place team in 2011, which counts for nothing. The cost: delaying respectability in the form of contention. The kids in the system need to play, if only to figure out that they can't get the job the done.

There's no value in moving from 66 wins to 72, or from 74 or 77, when those same guys won't help a team get to 85 or 90 wins.

Dan Hennessey writes Baseballin' on a Budget, a blog about the Oakland Athletics. Follow him on Twitter @DanHennessey31.