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Suddenly busy Orioles add Nelson Cruz — is it enough to compete in AL East?

Mark Townsend
Big League Stew

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(USA Today)

After a quiet and quite honestly confusing offseason that saw the Baltimore Orioles back out of major league deals with Grant Balfour and Tyler Colvin, business has picked up during their first week at spring training.

On Monday, the Orioles made their first truly significant signing, adding free agent right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez on a four-year, $50 million deal. On Saturday, they followed it up by signing arguably the top remaining bat on the open market in Nelson Cruz to a one-year deal worth $8 million.

CBS Sports' Jon Heyman first reported the Cruz deal early Saturday morning. Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes confirmed the numbers and added Cruz could earn up to $750,000 in incentives.

The Orioles will also forfeit a draft pick, just like the Jimenez deal, since the Texas Rangers extended Cruz a $14.1 million qualifying offer. So basically both sides are sacrificing or have sacrificed to arrive at this deal. For Baltimore, the sacrifice comes in their future as they'll lose two important draft picks. For Cruz, the gamble of turning down the Texas offer ended up costing him over $6 million in base salary.

Both are significant, but the focus obviously turns to the Orioles and whether or not they've done enough this week to not only salvage their offseason, but more importantly remain competitive in the AL East. Those are two different points entirely, but only contending in their division and pushing for a playoff spot will make their sacrifices worthwhile.

Though not necessarily an ace, Jimenez flashed potential to reach that level during his dominant 2010 campaign with the Colorado Rockies. Inconsistency with his mechanics were his biggest issue in the two years that followed, but he did bounce back under Mickey Callaway's tutelage in Cleveland going 13-9 with a 3.30 ERA last year. He'll immediately move to the top of Baltimore's rotation along with Chris Tillman.

Meanwhile, Cruz will be coming off a 50-game suspension for his ties to Biogenesis. That should have him motivated to produce, which is exactly what he did prior to the suspension, hitting 27 home runs in 109 games. Cruz, particularly, should prove to be a good fit for Baltimore and vice versa. His biggest downside has always been his defense. The Orioles have a vacancy at designated hitter. It's a problem solver for both sides.

In signing both Jimenez and Cruz, the Orioles have added two of Jeff Passan's top 17 ranked free agents entering the offseason. That means he sees both as impact players in 2014. Their biggest loss this winter was closer Jim Johnson, whom they traded to the Oakland A's after he saved 101 games over the past two seasons. As impressive as those numbers are, finding a new closer is easier than adding a top two or three starter or a likely impact bat to the lineup, so the Orioles project to be better than the team that won 85 games last season.

That's the good news. Now here's the bad news.

The Boston Red Sox won 97 games and a World Series championship last season. They won't be going away. Tampa Bay won 92 games and kept David Price this winter. The Yankees also won 85 games and improved despite losing Robinson Cano. And Toronto should improve on their 77 wins almost by default.

A better team may not necessarily equal more wins for Baltimore. But the bottom line answer is they will be better and should ultimately push for a spot in the postseason if they can stay healthy.

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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