November 2010

Os to expand food options

The Orioles experience at Camden Yards is getting an upgrade. In addition to yesterday’s news about the new wider seats, the team announced today in a press release that the food is getting revamped. Here are the details….

The Baltimore Orioles and Delaware North Companies Sportservice today announced a 12-year partnership in which the global hospitality management company will provide food, beverage and retail merchandise services at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Sportservice will manage all concessions, catering, dining operations and retail stores and kiosks within the ballpark, including Eutaw Street.

“Oriole Park is the standard-bearer for major league ballparks, and it is fitting that our concessions and retail operations be held to the same standard,” said Orioles Director of Communications Greg Bader. “The fan experience is extremely important to both the Orioles and Delaware North Companies, and we expect that everyone will benefit from this new partnership through expanded food and retail options, quicker transactions and significant facility upgrades.”

Sportservice has a strong reputation in the industry for its culinary expertise and innovative concessions concepts. In addition, its customer service program, GuestPath®, is highly regarded by the teams with which it works, as is its environmental management program, GreenPath®.

“Delaware North Companies is honored to become a partner of the Orioles organization and to have the opportunity to enhance the food and beverage offerings at the ballpark that set off a wave of new thinking about sports venues across America,” Sportservice President RICK ABRAMSON said. “Baltimore and the region are known for great food, and we are eager to add more menu items at the ballpark that celebrate local fare. Fans can count on Delaware North Companies for the highest level of service and culinary excellence when they come to Camden Yards.”

The Orioles and Sportservice will collaborate on an $11 million project to redesign and enhance the food and beverage stands at the ballpark, the first effort of this magnitude since Camden Yards opened in 1992.  As part of the investment, new concessions-related technology will be added, including a new point-of-sale system for faster transactions and new grills and other equipment so more food can be prepared fresh in front of fans. Additional details on the ballpark enhancements and culinary options will be provided throughout the offseason, as we get closer to Opening Day.

Abramson plans on touring a number of restaurants and food companies in the greater Baltimore area in the coming months as he works with Sportservice’s top culinary executives and chefs, as well as the Orioles, to identify new concepts for the ballpark while preserving fan favorites such as Boog’s BBQ and ESSKAY hot dogs on the Oriole Park menu. The company’s chefs are mentored by Delaware North Corporate Chef ROLAND HENIN, a highly regarded certified master chef. Sportservice can also draw upon its relationship with Food Network for menu development and offerings.

Over the next few years, Sportservice will improve the retail operations at Oriole Park as well. The Orioles Store on the first floor of the Warehouse will undergo several enhancements, including redesigned merchandise displays, a broadening of the merchandise available and emphasis on year-round activity to complement ballpark tours and other nearby museums and attractions.

Sportservice has extensive experience completing successful enhancements of concessions in professional sports facilities. In the past year alone, the oldest name in sports hospitality has developed concessions concepts and entire food and beverage programs for such highly regarded new venues as the Minnesota Twins’ Target Field and the New Meadowlands Stadium, home of the New York Jets and Giants.

A few tidbits

*Free agency brings about all sorts of rumors, with any scrap of info having the potential to become “big news”. The Orioles aren’t going to reveal who they are in on and who they aren’t. I know they’ve made some calls, both to former players turned free agents and options outside the organization. How active they are compared to other years or other organizations is impossible to say. But they are certainly throwing their name in there.  President of baseball operations Andy MacPhail is close to the vest and always has been, so the potential of hearing “the Orioles have contacted player X” is less likely than with other clubs. I wouldn’t read too much into that.

*I wrote last night about Juan Samuel exploring other options outside of Baltimore, namely joining the Phillies staff as first-base coach. MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki has more on that today on his blog including a quote from Samuel’s agent, Rex Gary. 

“We’ve been in touch with the Phillies, just very recently,” said Gary. “I don’t know where it’s going to go, but there’s obviously a position and Juan Samuel is still available. We’ll see. We’ve been in touch with other teams, too. But I will acknowledge that we have spoken with the Phillies.”

The Orioles have yet to agree contractually with Samuel, who is currently still in the Dominican Republic, and the feeling out of Baltimore is that he’s likely headed for Charlie Manuel’s staff. No offer is believed to have been extended by the Phillies yet.

*The O’s also have to fill a bench coach spot and although I’ve gotten a few emails about it, it won’t be Samuel. My guess is Showalter will go with someone experienced, and it could very well depend on who does (or doesn’t) get the two remaining managerial openings in New York and Pittsburgh. If Samuel does go to Philly, Gary Allenson has a chances to stay on Showalter’s staff as third base coach. He’s a former catcher, which is another plus since the O’s don’t have a staff member with specific catching expertise.

*If you missed it last night, ESPN.com has a story that Japanese middle infielder middle infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka could potentially be posted to MLB teams. Have the Orioles scouted him and would they be interested if he does become available? The answer to both questions is yes. But don’t get too excited as this is all in the infancy stages.

Nishioka reportedly to be posted

According to ESPN.com’s Tim Kurkjian –who cited an unnamed source close to the situation — middle infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka will be posted to MLB teams this week. The whole story can be read here.

Nishioka is 26-year-old middle infielder for the Chiba Lotte Marines of the Pacific League in Japan who the Orioles have scouted. Should the report be true and he actually is posted, the O’s will add him to their list of middle infield candidates to take under consideration.

Shortstop Cesar Izturis is one of seven players who filed for free agency and there’s a chance he returns to Baltimore, particularly if the O’s get what they covet most: a corner infield power bat.

What about Juan?

Amid speculation that former Orioles interim manager Juan Samuel would stay in Baltimore and return to his third-base post, multiple sources confirmed on Monday night that Samuel’s future with the O’s is far from certain.

Samuel was not present at the Orioles mini-organizational meetings in Arizona that took place last week, and the sentiment is Samuel is leaning toward other options, which include joining Charlie Manuel’s staff as Phillies first-base coach. Samuel is one of several candidates being considered for the position vacated by Davey Lopes, and given his ties to the Phillies organization as a player — as well as his experience as an outfield/baserunning instructor – it makes sense.   

The Phillies have had conversations with Samuel, who is currently in the Dominican Republic, but no formal offer has been extended. A highly-respected baseball man, Samuel is a candidate to join several organizations as a coach, including the Mets, whose staff is still in a state of flux while they conduct a managerial search.

Following Brian Butterfield’s decision to stay in Toronto, Samuel was thought to be the Orioles leading candidate to return to his third base role, a position he held until manager Dave Trembley’s dismissal in June.

And while there is still a chance he ends up in Baltimore, the organization has yet to reach an agreement contractually with Samuel as they have with pitching coach Mark Connor, hitting coach Jim Presley, bullpen coach Rick Adair and first base coach Wayne Kirby.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter and president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail have both declined to comment on the coaching staff until it is complete and official. Showalter did acknowledge on Monday night that there are still some “moving parts” regarding his staff, which would be a third-base coach and a bench coach.

Connor official

There’s a few graphs up on the Orioles site, but I wanted to take a quick break from my NFL-watching to update you all on Mark Connor, who has agreed to terms with the O’s and will be the team’s pitching coach.

Multiple sources confirmed the long-speculated move this afternoon and the Baltimore Sun first reported that there was an agreement in place on its website.

I’ve heard nothing but good things from industry sources regarding Connor, who has a wealth of experience and has worked closely with manager Buck Showalter in each of his previous stops. For more on Connor, you can follow this link to my story from last week regarding Rick Kranitz’s departure.

The move leaves two spots still up for grabs, with bench coach the big hole. Former interim manager Juan Samuel is still the leading candidate to be third base coach although he has yet to agree contractually with the team.

The organization just wrapped organizational meetings and are preparing for several different scenarios –both at the Major and Minor League level — depending on how the coaching staff shakes out. For example, there’s a chance a guy like Gary Allenson stays at the Major League level as third base coach if Samuel falls through, or he could return to manage Triple-A Norfolk. Showalter, who has not commented on any member of his staff during this process, calls the constant state of flux “moving parts”. Locking up Connor erases one of those parts.

While the O’s are understandably keeping the topics in Arizona under wraps, it’s safe to say it was more than merely evaluating last season and their system. The Os are in full offseason mode and as expected have been geared toward next season for quite a while. 

Datz rejoins Wedge

In a move that was rumored for a while, Jeff Datz has rejoined new Mariners manager Eric Wedge to serve as his bench coach for 2011. The move was made official on Saturday evening and the full story is up on the Mariners site here. Datz served under Wedge in Cleveland and last year was his first year with the O’s.

On a professional note, Datz did great work defensively with catcher Matt Wieters. On a personal note, he was always cheerful and accommodating in my limited dealings with him.

The Orioles have yet to finalize their 2011 coaching staff, and as has been written before there are still several roles that need to be filled –namely bench coach. There are a couple other spots that, although likely, still aren’t final. Mark Connor and Juan Samuel, presumed to be pitching coach and third base coach, respectively, fall into that category.

Hoey to the 40-man

The Orioles just announced that they have selected right-handed reliever Jim Hoey to the 40-man roster. Had they not made the move Hoey would have been eligible to become a Minor League free agent.

Hoey, who appeared in 12 games for the Os in 2006, missed the entire ’08 season with arthroscopic shoulder surgery. This season he started at Double-A Bowie and was late promoted to Triple-A Norfolk, where he went 4-0 with a 3.38 ERA in 18 outings. The 27-year-old Hoey was the Orioles 13th-round pick in the 2003 Draft.

The O’s have seven free agents so this move puts their 40-man roster at 34.

Let the Free Agency begin

With free agency set to kick off officially at midnight, here’s a  refresher to get things going.

Unless something drastically changes in the next few hours, the Orioles will not negotiate to keep any of their seven free agents -Kevin Millwood, Corey Patterson, Koji Uehara, Ty Wigginton, Cesar Izturis, Julio Lugo and Mark Hendrickson– in the five-day exclusivity period. I’d imagine they will keep in contact with several of them, including the agents for Wigginton, Izturis and Uehara, all of whom could factor into the organization’s plans for next spring.

Here are a few quotes from my end-of-season interview with president of baseball operations  Andy MacPhail  followed by a list of players I think the Orioles should target. The list is more of an educated guess at this point and it should grow shorter as things get clearer throughout the winter. It’s not a wish list, which is why you won’t find a player like Cliff Lee on here. The Orioles are not signing Lee. Not only will he be engaged in a bidding war that the O’s will have a hard time keeping pace with (particularly with the Yankees in the mix) but it’s highly unlikely a guy like Lee -who is 32 years old–will commit to an organization that has had 13 consecutive losing seasons and is just moving out of the rebuilding phase.  

Also, MacPhail has made it pretty clear that priority No. 1 is the big bat, and that’s where the O’s will use their resources, whether it’s by a trade or free agency. Here are a few pertinent snippets from that interview, which I did as the season was winding down.

On their No. 1 goal…. “Well a middle of the lineup presence, probably is the easy to say, not so easy to do, I think that is going to be our chief goal in the offseason. Wherever that position is, that’s something we need to try to augment because I think it would have a beneficial effect up and down the lineup for some of our existing guys.”
Would the O’s look at another Garett Atkins-type gamble?” I think our preference always is the more established guy. Sometimes you have to deal with what the market makes available to you. But I think it’s always, sometimes you have to take a gamble when that looks like your best option. Hopefully there will be options available that are less risk than that one was.”
So what’s priority No. 2?… “You can always use more pitching. We will never turn down pitching. We made it no secret that pitching most likely is going to have to come up through our system because it is fragile and expensive through free agency and through trades. …So that’s something we continue to focus on in terms of our player procurement and development areas from amateurs on up. The pitching.”
The O’s did trade to get a pitcher in veteran right-hander Kevin Millwood. Could they pull a similar move again? … “We certainly could use [a Millwood-type]. You want to have an innings eater because you never know what to expect from the youngsters. So someone like that would certainly be attractive to us…Jeremy [Guthrie] has really, after having a rugged year last year, really pitched solid this year. And I do think not having to bear the No. 1 starter [label helped].”
On the disappointing development of prospects Brandon Snyder and Josh Bell enhancing the Os need to fill the corners from outside the organization“That’s something that’s going to be determined by the market as well. Who’s out there.  And how good do we think, and how much of an upgrade do you think it represents.
Again, we will see. We will see how that evolves. It’s a function of the market that’s available to us out there, and how those guys [in Bell and Snyder] perform. I don’t think we are in the business of just giving away jobs. We have to have some indication that they are capable of contributing.

*To recap, here is what we know: the Orioles need a bat. One who plays a corner infield spot would be even better. They’ll try to stay away from an Atkins-type gamble and they could use another Millwood-type starter, although it won’t be Millwood, who has made it no secret he will not be back, although his final few performances should be enough to land him a deal elsewhere.  Bell and Snyder, by most indications, will not be in the Orioles 2011 starting lineup, if with the big-league club at all. With just $28.7 million committed to next season, the O’s have money to spend.
*Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth are considered the other two prizes of this winter, and both will command serious money.  Werth has more pop as a middle-of-the-order bat, making him more of what the O’s need, but there is long list of teams that demand his services. Could either of them land in Baltimore?  There’s always a chance, but it’s far more likely the O’s will devote their time pursuing players such as Victor Martinez, Paul Konerko and Derrek Lee -all first base options along with Adam LaRoche, Lance Berkman and Carlos Pena. Adam Dunn has made it clear he would like to play the field and that’s another name to take into account. Beyond Adrian Beltre the third base market is thinner, which also makes resigning Wigginton an attractive possibility if the Orioles find a power bat at first.
*Predicting who might fill the veteran starter spot is trickier, particularly since the O’s acquired Millwood via trade and could pull of a similar move this winter.  Jon Garland and Brandon Webb are potential starters who could be nice fits in a thin class that drops off significantly after Lee. Veterans Hiroki Kuroda, Jake Westbrook and Javier Vazquez are also available. And yes, I’m aware of Vazquez’s flop in New York. The Orioles, like most Major League teams, could use some bullpen arms as well.
*Who will come to Baltimore? I’ve gotten a lot of questions about whether this guy or that guy would consider the Orioles and I think most free agents (particularly those who aren’t the top tier trio of Lee, Crawford and Werth) would come to Baltimore. Money talks and if the Orioles make a better offer than anyone else, it’d be hard for an agent to turn down for his client.
*Showalter said before the season ended that he had been approached by players on other teams who wanted to play for him. He has respect around the League and the O’s lack of depth should also be enticing in luring veterans here on Minor League deals because they know they have an easier path to the Majors than on team with deeper systems.
*Finally, there will be a lot of rumors flying around 24/7. For more instant updates, follow me on Twitter and keep checking back the blog. MLB.com also has a blog for all the Hot Stove action if you want to check that out as well.

Mata to Triple-A, Berken reinstated

The Orioles made a pair of roster moves official on Thursday, reinstating reliever Jason Berken from the 60-day disabled list and outrighting reliever Frank Mata to Triple-A Norfolk.

The club announced the 26-year-old Mata cleared waivers, thus removing him from the team’s 40-man spot and adding Berken. Mata made his Major League debut on May 26 and pitched to a 7.79 ERA (17.1IP, 15ER) in 15 games with the Orioles.
 
A pleasant surprise for the Os, Berken posted a 1.95 ERA before the All-Star break, holding opponents to a .235 average in his first 32 career games out of the bullpen. But he posted a 7.71 ERA in nine games after the break, prompting the Orioles to check out his right shoulder, where they discovered a labrum tear.

Berken chose to forgo surgery and is optimistic that his offseason rehab regimen will get him back on track in time for Spring Training.

***
And in a sad bit of baseball news, Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson passed away earlier this afternoon. Keep his family in your thoughts.

Samuel reportedly in the mix to return

Juan Samuel will be back coaching third base for the Orioles
next season.

According to a report on the Baltimore Sun’s website on
Tuesday afternoon, Samuel has yet to discuss contractual specifics, but has
given manager Buck Showalter his word that he wants to return.  Samuel, who is home in the Dominican
Republic, told the paper that he spoke with Showalter on Monday and he’s had “good
conversations”, prompting his return.

The 49-year-old Samuel , who took over as interim manager
when the Orioles dismissed Dave Trembley, was thought to be in the mix for the
wealth of managerial jobs this winter, but his name never surfaced as a legitimate
candidate anywhere.

Samuel was the only member of Trembley’s staff to decline
Showalter’s offer to stay on and finish the 2010 season, and ironically enough,
could be the only member who returns next spring. Pitching coach Rick Kranitz
accepted a deal with the Houston Astros Minor League system on Monday, while
hitting coach Terry Crowley will move into a new role as a hitting evaluator,
clearing space for Jim Presley who is expected to be officially unveiled in the
next week.  Rick Adair will fill the role
of bullpen coach and, if the Sun’s report is true, Samuel’s return will relieve
Gary Allenson of third-base duties.

Allenson started the season in Triple-A Norfolk and was
promoted to the Orioles staff when Samuel was named interim June 4. Allenson was
not aware of Samuel’s interest in coaching third base again, and told MLB.com
on Tuesday that he would head to Phoenix -where the Orioles are preparing to
hold organization meetings – on Wednesday and speak with the front office
before deciding his future. Given the economy and unprecedented amount of
movement at the major League level, Allenson didn’t rule out leaving the
Orioles organization but said he would also consider returning to manage at
Norfolk next spring.

A well-liked coach, Samuel was also tasked with working with
the infielders last spring, and most notably helped Miguel Tejada transition
from shortstop to third base.  He managed
the Orioles to a 17-34 record before stepping down with Showalter’s hire and
after declining to return to third base, Samuel spent the rest of the season
evaluating the Orioles Dominican Republic operations, which includes a baseball
academy.

In the days leading up to Samuel’s final game at the helm, the popular
skipper garnered raves from the players as a shrewd baseball man with a steady,
even-keeled approach.

“I just think the players relate to him,” outfielder Nick Markakis
said of Samuel, the first Latin-born manager in franchise history. “He
played the game, he knows what it’s like to go out there every day and grind it
out. I think we related to him good, and he related to us.”

Added pitcher Jeremy Guthrie: “[Samuel] just showed a real good
presence in the dugout, and a real good ability to read and feel the flow of
the game.”

The Orioles have yet to name their first base coach, with John “T-Bone”
Shelby holding that post last season, but there’s no question the job will come
with expertise in the outfield. The O’s were granted permission to speak with
Rangers Minor League outfield/baserunning coordinator Wayne Kirby during Texas’
World Series run, and Kirby remains a candidate to join the staff. The
46-year-old Kirby spent parts of eight seasons in the Majors as a right
fielder.

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