November 2010

Arbitration and Non-tender deadlines nearing

The baseball news should pick up this week, starting with tonight’s midnight deadline for free agents to accept arbitration if offered by their club.

The Orioles did not offer arbitration to either Koji Uehara or Kevin Millwood so there’s no decisions on that front. The wonderful website MLB Trade rumors  has done a great job keeping track of the decisions and you can click here for the American League and NL updates.
Most big-name free agents are a lock to decline, but there’s always some middle-of-the-pack guys who opt to test the market in hopes of a pay raise and/or better situation. Teams that offer arbitration and are declined get compensation in the form of Draft picks, depending on if the free agent is a “Type A” or “Type B”.

Thursday is is the non-tender date, which has been moved up from recent years. This is the deadline for the Orioles to tender a contract to any arbitration-eligible players. That includes six guys: Matt Albers, Jeremy Guthrie, Jim Johnson, Felix Pie, Adam Jones and Luke Scott. Albers, who seemed to constantly be in jeopardy of losing his roster spot, has shown he can be an effective Major League reliever at times. The O’s will decide whether he’s a part of their plans for next season.

Any player tendered a contract is considered a signed player; the question becomes whether a deal is worked out or the sides go to an arbitration hearing to decide a salary.

On the flip side of the non-tender deadline, as I noted in today’s Winter Meetings preview Part 1, the Orioles will be monitoring closely who other clubs non tender.  It’s not often a non-tender emerges as a bona fide Major League contributor, but there are certainly bargains to be had.

Why I hate the BCS

Michigan State wins its first share of the Big 10 title since 1990 and won’t get a chance to play in the Rose Bowl. Are they as good as Ohio State? I don’t know (they didn’t play each other), but they beat Wisconsin, the team that people are picking to win the bid (which is now based on the BCS Standings.)

Of the three teams tied atop the Big 10, Michigan State is the only one to have not either of its co-titleholders. MSU currently holds the Big Ten Championship, Megaphone (ND), Paul Bunyan (Mich), Brass Spittoon (Ind), Land Grant (Penn St) trophies. If I recall correctly, the Spartans were picked to finish seventh in the preseason rankings and beat Wisconsin with their head coach in the hospital.

People think the World Series and baseball’s playoffs need work and I’m open to that argument. But the way college football is handled is ridiculous. I can go on and on about how my beloved Spartans (yes, I’m a biased alum) are getting the shaft, but you came here for Orioles news. So, back to baseball we go…

A few offseason and coaching tidbits….

*The Orioles Major League coaching staff is set, and Gary Allenson will return to manage Triple-A Norfolk. Bobby Dickerson will continue to have an roving Minor League instructor role and Alan Dunn will also have a Minor League pitching instructor role. The rest of the Orioles Minor League staffs shouldn’t take long to become official, as the organization was operating with several “what-if” scenarios.”

*In discussing hitting philosophies manager Buck Showalter praised new hitting coach Jim Presley, who was unavailable on Wednesday’s conference call. The Orioles believe they will benefit immensely from shifting longtime hitting coach Terry Crowley into a newly-created evaluator role and adding Presley’s expertise.

“We thank [owner Peter Angelos] and [president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail] for doing that. It worked out real well for us. It makes us better,” Showalter said.

“Terry is an outstanding evaluator of hitting talent. I’ve know Jim for a long time. Every coach is different. You look at what you think your needs are. It’s something that Jim and I have talked about, what we can get better at. But the bottom line is players are going to have to embrace it.”

*Of course, the real bottom line is the Orioles need a big hitter and losing Victor Martinez to the Tigers feels like a big blow. As most of you know, this is my first season covering the O’s but it didn’t take long to realize the pain and suffering of the very loyal fanbase here. It’s a stark difference from the two previous cities (Tampa Bay and New York) I’ve been in, and one that I understand given what Orioles fans have suffered through. 

If I’m the O’s, I’m going after two guys now — Adrian Beltre and Paul Konerko — with all I’ve got. The chances are slim they come here, and even slimmer that you land them both, but surely Showalter’s presence and the Orioles money has to equate to something. Personally, I like Konerko. The rumors are that he’ll end up in Arizona or back in Chicago. But that can change. Make him come here.

*I was driving home for the holidays when the Koji arbitration news broke and I wanted to reiterate that this doesn’t mean the Orioles don’t want him. But they feel they can sign him cheaper than what arbitration would have cost. He made $5 million each of the past two seasons.

It’s a gamble, because he’s free to negotiate with other teams instead of –if he accepted arbitration — returning to Baltimore on a one-year deal. But given his injury history perhaps other teams will take a flier and make it easier for the O’s to resign him for less. I don’t like the move, but it could still work in the Orioles favor.

*Finally, I wanted to wish everyone a happy and hearty Thanksgiving. I’ve got a lot to be grateful for and, hopefully, you do too…    

More on the Os new coaches..

I blogged earlier about the Orioles possibly adding to their staff. However, nothing is set in stone in that regard and what the Orioles do have in Willie Randolph (bench coach), John Russell (third base coach), Mark Connor (pitching coach), Jim Presley (hitting coach), Wayne Kirby (first base/outfield) and Rick Adair (bullpen coach) is enviable in itself.

Five of the six men have at least six seasons of Major League coaching or managerial experience, with Kirby the only newcomer in that regard. At 46, Kirby is also the youngest of the group but brings a scrappy, hard-fought mentality –stemming from eight seasons as a big league outfielder – that had always intrigued Showalter from afar.

“We thought there was a need for him in our clubhouse and on the field that we didn’t have,” Showalter said of Kirby, who has spent the last nine seasons as a Minor League coach, most recently with Texas. “In a lot of ways he’s as experienced as anybody, if not more, in what there was a need for.”

“With each hiring…it wasn’t about how many years each person had accomplished in professional baseball,” Showalter added. “It’s about the players. It’s about what their needs are going to be. It was no reflection on the previous staff. Every year and every challenge is different.”

And by all accounts, the enthusiasm surrounding next year’s challenge -and turning things around in Baltimore – was radiating from Wednesday’s conference call. Randolph, who

“Hopefully, we’ll have some fun, and the only way you have fun is winning ballgame,,” said Randolph, who agreed to terms on Tuesday afternoon and, as former manager of the Mets, brings an expertise in instruction and baseball education.

“Buck is very prepared and one of the smartest guys I know in the game. He’s going to delegate and let us do our jobs, which is all we want as coaches…The main thing is you have a guy that is professional and organized and he’s going to make sure we understand our goals and go out there and bust our butts every day.”

By most accounts, the preparation is already well underway. Four of the six were present at the organization’s mini-meetings held several weeks ago, although getting on the same page for a guy like Connor -who will be working under Showalter for the fourth time – won’t take long. Instead, the 61-year-old Connor, who most recently served as a pitching instructor in the Rangers Minor Leagues, has been studying film of the O’s young arms and has come away impressed.

“We’re going to have to build that trust [between the pitching coach and the staff] but it’s nothing that we haven’t done before,” Connor said of the work ahead for him and Adair, who will review the tapes separately before meeting together.

“It’s fun to come into this situation knowing that there is some talent there. The last place that I worked it wasn’t that way in the beginning. We were always trying to patch the tire in the beginning, guys that have been around, six year free agents…This is an organization now that is hell bent on developing young pitchers. And if you look at the organizations in the playoffs this year, with the exception of one or two, most have done that. It’s the way to go.”

“I’ve been fortunate over the last few years to see this group of young pitchers and from an opposition standout,” said Adair, who was the Mariners pitching coach last season. “The upside with the talent we have is unlimited.”

Tasked with leading that pitching staff is 24-year-old catcher Matt Wieters, who will work closely with Russell, a former Major League catcher who spent three seasons at the helm in Pittsburgh.

“The kid really wants to be a good catcher and I think that’s important,” Russell said of his early impressions of Wieters. “Looking at the numbers he obviously has a very good arm, he receives the ball well. It’s just the maturity of being able to go out there day in, day out without always having to look over your shoulder.

“I think this kid, from everything I’ve seen and heard, he’s on the right track.”

The Orioles hope they can say the same for their offense, which struggled mightily this season with runners in scoring position. While obtaining a power bat remains a priority, Showalter is confident the addition of Presley -and newly-created hitting evaluator role for predecessor Terry Crowley – is a win-win situation.

“I feel good about where we are…the approach that we are going to take from a hitting philosophy standpoint,” Showalter said. “[The] bottom line the players are going to have to embrace it and have the want-to to try to bridge the gap to where we are and where we want to be.”

Presley, who was not available on the conference call, spent the past five seasons as the hitting coach for the Marlins, presiding over the breakouts of players like Dan Uggla, Hanley Ramirez and Chris Coghlan.  He played eight years in the Majors and worked for Showalter for three seasons as hitting coach in Arizona.

Os unveil coaches, but could still add to the staff

Orioles manager  Buck Showalter is the first to admit the process of hammering out next season’s staff took a little longer than anticipated. But the six-man group, including former Major League managers Willie Randolph and John Russell, is certainly impressive.

And it might not be done just yet.

“We may not be through completely through with some of the assets we are using,” Showalter said on Wednesday morning’s conference call, adding that the “first place” he looked was within the organization.

In certain cases, the time commitment was too much and Showalter was also wary of “robbing Peter to play Paul,” meaning cleaning house and hiring guys from the O’s Minor Leagues and then leaving that cupboard barren. But he acknowledged on Wednesday that the current six-man staff could have another addition or two by Spring Training, although nothing is set in stone in that regard.

Showalter made it no secret that he wanted a Spanish speaker or former Oriole on staff and although he got a fine groups–that includes Randolph, Russell, Jim Presley, Mark Connor, Rick Adair and Wayne Kirby — none of them fit those requirements. So would he add another instructor or an “eye in the sky” coach watching from up above? It all depends.

“You have to make sure there is a need,” Showalter said. “There is some ways, if we feel like that’s a need of the construction of our club [to add someone], we can move forward with some stuff.

[And] make sure that’s a comfort zone for everybody.”

Showalter said in certain situations that having having ties to the organization as a former player would be a “tiebreaker” for him, but also made it seem as if he had explored that avenue with several guys already.


Report: V-Mart off the market

Ignacio Serrano, a reporter for Venezuela’s El Nacional, reported this morning that Victor Martinez is closing in on a four-year, $50 million contract with the Tigers.

According to Serrano, the Tigers outbid the Red Sox, White Sox and Orioles, who reportedly offered V-Mart four years at $48 million. Martinez would have been a great acquisition for the O’s given his power at the plate, versatility (they could have used him at first base, DH and to backup catcher Matt Wieters) and veteran experience.

This report should at least show some restless fans that the Orioles are making offers, even if most of them stay out of the media until after the fact. Martinez was a good fit but there were also indications that he wanted to catch full-time, which wouldn’t have been possible in Baltimore. Yes, the O’s were outbid. But their offer was hardly an arbitrary one.

Now the O’s must turn their attention elsewhere in filling a sorely-needed corner infield power bat, a list that includes Adrian Beltre, Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, Adam LaRoche, and Carlos Pena, should they choose to go the free agent route. 

A few tidbits..

*A reminder that the Orioles have until midnight tonight to decide whether to offer arbitration to Koji Uehara and Kevin Millwood. More details are up on the site here.

Do I think the Orioles will offer Uehara arbitration? I don’t know. I know they want him back, and it would seem like a good idea, in my opinion. He is due a substantial raise for essentially half a season, so they could gamble and pass but they have money to spend and a fan base that’s tired of guys being passed over. 

*Willie Randolph is close to joining Buck Showalter’s staff, and is in discussions with president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail about a contract. I’ve been asked a few times what the holdup was and from what I heard it had nothing to do with monetary factors, like the Juan Samuel situation. Showalter simply took his time going through candidates. After Don Wakamatus opted to go to Toronto, Showalter was deliberate in mulling over numerous candidates, some who knew they were in the mix and some who didn’t. In the end, assuming Randolph agrees to terms, and I think he will, it’s a pretty impressive group of two former managers (inc. John Russell) and a bullpen coach (Rick Adair) who has also served as a Major League pitching coach. Lots of experience and expertise.

*Don’t expect much of anything on the Hot Stove concerning the Orioles, or anyone in the next few days. With a short holiday week a lot of GMs will be traveling and while there could be a few minor transactions it’s unlikely anything notable involving the O’s will go down.

*Also, an interesting premise by NY Daily News columnist Mike Lupica, who deems the Orioles “lucky” to have given Buck a chance. Here’s a snippet of the story with the full column up here

“So everybody loves Buck now, and not just in Baltimore. Everybody wants to know why their teams didn’t hire Buck in the years after he left Texas. I hear guys who thought Buck was obsessive and controlling and manipulative – the short list – now asking why the Mets didn’t hire him. Terrific.

But he’d been fired three places and had to go back to ESPN, so often a shelter for fired coaches and managers and even general managers, before the Orioles were smart enough to give him a shot. Suddenly, nearly 20 years after the Yankees first gave him a shot, Buck is the hot kid all over again.

You know what owners and general managers really know about the managers they hire in the end? That they never know.” 

Randolph talking terms with MacPhail

Orioles manager Buck Showalter is expected to finalize his coaching staff in the next day or two and it figures to be one that boasts vast experience and expertise, with at least one -and possibly two – former Major League managers.

Ex-Mets skipper Willie Randolph, a close friend and former colleague of Showalter’s, is the O’s top choice for the sixth and final position on staff, with the organization currently discussing contract terms. The move is not official and it’s still being determined whether Randolph would serve as third base coach or bench coach. 

Given his infield experience and well-known love for teaching and instruction, Randolph’s name surfaced along with Yankees third base coach Rob Thomson and Orioles instructor Bobby Dickerson on a list Showalter carefully deliberated on following Don Wakamatsu’s decision to go to Toronto.

The Baltimore Sun was the first to report on Monday night that the two sides were negotiating a possible deal that would bring Randolph -fresh off a one-year stint as the Brewers bench coach – to Baltimore.  A source close to the situation confirmed that Randolph is in contract talks with president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, and cited Randolph’s work with young players like Milwaukee’s Rickie Weeks and emphasis on development as key in Showalter’s decision.

Reached at his home on Sunday evening, Randolph declined to discuss specifically coming to Baltimore, but made it clear he wouldn’t view a coaching job anywhere with one eye elsewhere.

“In my case you are looking for an opportunity that fits,” he said. “And you give your heart and soul to that. But it’s not like I’m doing this just to manage. I have a passion for the game, and the young players. I love what I do. It’s not about using a situation to try to get ahead.”

Showalter has declined to comment on any portion of his staff until the process is complete, as has MacPhail. Particularly with the way things unraveled in contract talks with Juan Samuel -who left for Philadelphia – it’s important to note that while Randolph is a strong possibility, it is not official.

The O’s have agreed to terms with hitting coach Jim Presley, pitching coach Mark Connor, bullpen coach Rick Adair, first base coach Wayne Kirby and former Pirates skipper John Russell, although some details regarding Russell’s position depends on Showalter’s final hire.

Some coaching thoughts..

The Mets have hired Terry Collins as their next manager and multiple reports have speculated that Collins could bring in close friend Dave Wallace to serve as pitching coach, although Dan Warthen did an admirable job this season.  The Pirates are also closing in on naming a coaching staff for new manager Clint Hurdle, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, with four hires expected to be made official soon. 

So, it’s safe to say Rick Adair isn’t going off to greener pastures and will be the O’s bullpen coach for next season. Manager Buck Showalter is down to one final coaching spot, although it could be either third base or bench coach that gets filled depending on his last hire. Former Pirates skipper John Russell could serve either position and it stands to reason that he would be bench coach if Showalter promotes Bobby Dickerson –the O’s roving Minor League instructor turned interim Triple-A manager –to his big-league staff. The pair haven’t spoken formally about that, but Showalter knows Dickerson well from their days in the Yankees’ Minor Leagues.  If Dickerson isn’t named to Showalter’s staff, he will return to his role as roving instructor, assuming Gary Allenson heads back to manage Triple-A Norfolk.

It’s less clear what would happen if Showalter hires Rob Thomson –who has served as the Yankees third base and bench coach — or former Mets skipper Willie Randolph, who is fresh off a one-season stint as Brewers bench coach.

Those scenarios are still under discussion and Showalter has done a pretty good job of keeping his cards close to the vest. Thomson is well thought of in the Yankees organization and could be hard to lure away, while Randolph is a baseball lifer who would jump at the chance to join Showalter’s staff.  While some former managers would consider joining a staff only in terms of whether the situation would help them “get ahead” for another gig, Randolph has a passion for teaching and instruction and a friendship with Showalter that extends beyond baseball.

A final decision could come in the next few days, particularly now that the Mets and Pirates made headway in filling some vacancies on Sunday night.

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Os add three to 40-man, Gabino a free agent

As expected, the Orioles only added three players to their 40-man roster, lefty Zach Britton, outfielder Matt Angle and infielder Joe Mahoney. This leaves the O’s 40-man roster at 35. Full story to come on

Also, right-handed pitcher Armanda Gabino rejected his assignment to Triple-A Norfolk and became a Minor League free agent. Gabino cleared waivers yesterday.