Now that the Orioles signed the Duke, who the Nats had interest in, after grabbing Derek Lee from the Nats hands, I've heard a tiny bit of rumbling about the Angelos' Orioles having a better offseason than the Nats. (I'm going to assume this rumbling is all about the Angelos/MASN connection and not some crazy city rivalry. I refuse to accept that anyone would care about that.) With the cash from the Nats TV deal going to help support the Baltimore 9, it's at least of mild interest to see if that's true and how the Orioles now stack up in comparison to the Nats.
It is true. The Orioles have so far had a more successful offseason, but it's also true that they needed to. While their records were similar, 66 wins for the Os to 69 for the Nats, most indications were that the Orioles were lucky to win that many and the Nats were a bit unlucky not to win more. The Pythagorean records have them almost 10 games apart, a better indication of the talent difference. And if you doubt that you only have to look at the Orioles infield.
The Orioles infield was horrible last year. Here's how the players they had with 400+ at bats ranked and scored in WAR last year, compared to their AL peers.
1B - Wigginton : 0.3 WAR : 3rd to last
2B - no one (Roberts injured)
SS - Izturis : -0.3 WAR : last
3B - Tejada : -0.1 WAR : last
The Nats infield with Zimmerman (7.2 - like top 3 over all NL position players) and Dunn (7th out of NL firstbasemen) was obviously going to be better, but even Desmond (1.1 WAR) and Espinosa (0.4 WAR in limited play) outperformed these guys. It's not even close. They are Cey-Russell-Lopes-Garvey compared to the Orioles infield. The fact that the Os infield was allowed to be that bad in the first place was a crime. So they needed to get better just so they wouldn't be an embarrassment anymore. Reynolds, Hardy and Lee will definitely help them - but these aren't game changers. Even with LaRoche manning first instead of Dunn, the Zimmerman advantage will give the Nats at least an equally productive infield. And if Espinosa can play a decent full year, or he or Desmond take a step up the Nats will have a definite advantage.
A Nats fans might say now - "but they had Jones and Markakis in the OF, while the Nats had Bernadina and Morgan and etc". That is true. It's also true that Markakis and Jones were actually pretty average last year. Neither one was significantly better than Willingham and neither is the player that Werth is. Of course you'd want either one of them instead of Josh because of their ages but we're not talking about that (or else the Nats would have a bigger IF advantage then they already do). While they had a significant advantage in the OF last year, the Werth bump, much like Zimmerman in the infield, closes a lot of ground. They have potential, due to the age difference to be significantly better, but the safe bet is that the Os will only be a step better.
All in all I like the Nats offense better. They have two stars and a couple potential breakout players. The Orioles have more of a "no weakness" lineup. The pitching difference - well there I like the Os better than the Nats. I think missing out on the Duchscherer actually is worse for the Nats than losing out on Lee. I like Lee better than Laroche for his potential to have one big year left in him. If he doesn't, and that the better bet, they'll be pretty equivalent players over the next couple years. But the Nats need as many arms as they can get in their starter pool. None of the arms the Nats have outside of Zimmermann are impressive on their own. The breakout that they could have would be more of a Livan 2010 "what the hell?!?" variety. Therefore the more in there to choose from, the better chance of finding a guy having that type of year. The Duke was just the type of pitcher that could have a good year in him (and an AL to NL guy. Love those).
So in the end are the Os better than the Nats? The best guess is no, but they've probably closed the gap to the point were the talent levels on the field in 2011 are close to equal. The Nats having a slight offensive advantage and the O's better starting pitching as their young guns mature. (The Nats should be better in the bullpen - but anything can happen there). Given the amount of young players that are key on either side there is a lot of room for variation but I figure both have about 70-75 win talent on the table. A nice step up for an Orioles team that had drifted in the wrong direction the last few years, a disappointing lack of movement for a Nats team looking for a breakout year sooner rather than later.