December 2010

Answering 1B, relievers, shortstop

*Carlos Pena and Paul Konerko are officially off the board, and although the Orioles had interest in both it was never expected they would land either. Pena’s price was too high and Konerko was always expected to return to the White Sox. Talks broke down last night, but they were able to agree on a deal that keeps Konerko in Chicago.

Pena told me that there was definite interest from the Orioles and they were in the mix as well as the Nationals and Mariners. His agent,  Scott Boras, sat down with the O’s at least once to discuss the possibility of coming to Baltimore, and he was open if the fit was right.  Pena also said the Blue Jays had some interest, but the Cub’s offer was the best.

Lots of conflicting reports about Adam LaRoche, who is now highly coveted, but as of 2 p.m. ET, he is still very much in play for the Orioles.

*As I reported yesterday, the Orioles are still in the market for a shortstop after the Jason Bartlett deal fell through. J.J. Hardy remains an option, as does Brendan Ryan and Cesar Izturis.  It’s been reported that the Orioles are engaged heavily in talks to acquire Hardy, and while I don’t discount that they are talking, the Twins might chose to wait until they can reach an agreement with Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

The Twins would seek quality bullpen arms in return and the Orioles don’t have too many of those.  Minnesota isn’t going to just give Hardy away, but he’s due to make about $6 million in arbitration and if they sign Nishioka, he becomes expendable.

*The Orioles have offers out to several relievers and could be closing in on locking down some bullpen help. The O’s continue to be very optimistic that they will resign Koji Uehara and have met with his agent several times.

Scott sounds off

Luke Scott stopped by the Winter Meetings yesterday. (Those of you who follow me on Twitter caught the bearded photo I snapped) and he spent some time talking about hunting and the offseason. He also caught up with Yahoo Sports to talk about other topics such as President Obama. The full article is here, but here’s a snippet:

[On the job Obama has done so far]

Obama … hmm … Obama does not represent America. Nor does he represent anything what our forefathers stood for. This country is basically built on an attitude. It’s a way of life. It’s not because you’re born here. It’s not that you’re supposed to take from those who have and give to those who haven’t. That kills a country. It killed Russia.

I have friends of mine who are in the ministry who [work] in churches in Russia. If they can describe [the country] in one [phrase], it’s “messed up beyond repair.”

That’s what communism does. Cuba, Venezuela. People are trying to escape these lands like a plague. What would make a human being swim 90 miles in shark-infested waters on a raft made of tires and planks? To leave their culture, their family, their language, their way of life. Everything they’ve ever known. What would make someone do that?

You don’t see people in America doing that. There’s no one here in America swimming the Pacific Ocean — or the Atlantic, or the Caribbean — to leave this place. The reason why is because of the freedom. Freedom for a man to mark out his own destiny. It’s not, “Hey, you have so much.” Hey, that person worked for that. That’s not to be taken and given to someone who didn’t put in the time, the effort, and do his part.

Obama, he doesn’t represent that. He represents, “Hey, everyone. Give me votes and I’ll give you stuff.” And there’s even people on TV who [are asked], “Hey, who you voting for?” “

I’m voting for Obama.”

“Why?”

“So I can get more free stuff.”

That’s not what makes this country great. That’s what tears down a people, tears down nations. Hence, the problem we’re having in this country, where we’re experiencing unemployment. We’re experiencing all of these negative things that are happening in our land as a direct result of that type of attitude — of too much government involvement, of moral decay, and of people lacking honor and integrity.

Eighty years ago, 50 years ago, a man would walk up to another man and go in for loan. He’d extend his hand, he’d shake it and he’d look at the man and he’d say, “I’ll pay this back.” He would do it. You couldn’t even … to even mention that [scenario] today … is that a cartoon fantasy? That’s how far we are removed.

[Scott also said that he doesn't think Obama was born in the US]

“That’s my belief. I was born here. If someone accuses me of not being born here, I can go — within 10 minutes — to my filing cabinet and I can pick up my real birth certificate and I can go, “See? Look! Here it is. Here it is.” The man has dodged everything. He dodges questions, he doesn’t answer anything. And why? Because he’s hiding something.

You know what? People who have bad intentions, people that are deceivers or are not of honor and integrity — that’s how they act. I’ve seen it in every — it doesn’t matter what level. It can be in politics, it can be in business, it can be in sports, it can be in the construction field. Doesn’t matter. It’s all the same attitude. It’s the same thing.

People who tell the truth, they’re very easy to … their actions prove it. Something as simple providing a birth certificate. Come on. If you’re born here, there’s plenty of documents. But you know what? There’s no documentation of him. No legal documentation of him. There’s been lie after lie after lie exposed, but people put it under the carpet. Hence, the problem we have in this country.”

There needs to be accountability for the truth. I don’t care if you’re the President of the United States, you need to be held accountable. If you’re involved in treacherous acts, or you’re saying things that are against, or are selling out our country, you should be brought to trial.

I mean, no one’s above the law. There’s a lot of people that fought for their country and that’s not something to be taken lightly. They gave their life, everything they had, they gave their lives, to give us what we have. That’s why I’m so passionate about my beliefs — because someone died. They gave their life, their blood was spilled, so I had an opportunity to chase a dream and play baseball for a living.

For me, that’s not something, “Oh, thank you.” No. “THANK YOU.” Let me honor you for that by actions by sticking up for what you fought for and passing it on to the next generation and doing my part.”

Day 2 wrap

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Orioles came close to making
another significant trade on Day 2 of the Winter Meetings, but Tuesday’s deal
with the Rays -which definitely involved Jason Bartlett and was rumored to
include Orioles outfielder Nolan Reimold – fell through, according to a source
close to the situation.

The two sides were rumored to be closing in on a deal
Tuesday afternoon and a report on the Baltimore Sun’s website -which later cited
reliever Alfredo Simon as possible trade bait – said the two sides could have
completed the deal within the day.  A
separate source told MLB.com that “no deal was imminent” and while the two
teams were in serious discussions the names and packages varied.

As long as Bartlett remains with Tampa Bay you can’t
completely rule out the Orioles as a landing spot, however -according to one of
the sources — a trade with the Rays is now significantly less likely to
happen. Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said the team is
not ruling out any option until that player is completely “off the board” and
although he didn’t comment specifically on the rumored Bartlett deal he did confirm
the Orioles are exploring all avenues.

“We are trying to do what we can about shortstops,” MacPhail
said. “And that includes Cesar [Izturis] and that includes others as well. So,
we are just going to have to see how that plays out.”

The Orioles remain in contact with free agent Izturis, who
was the team’s shortstop last season and have also inquired about Twins
shortstop J.J. Hardy. Manager Buck Showalter said in his Tuesday press
conference that while Izturis is still a possibility at shortstop, the team has
had discussions about bringing Izturis back in a utility role. Given Brian
Roberts’ injury-plagued season the Orioles want insurance at second base, and
Izturis’ defense has been praised by Showalter, who is a big believe in run
prevention.

Both MacPhail and
Showalter have hinted that the closest item could be to sign some relief help,
with the Orioles believed to have several offers out to a group that includes Kevin
Gregg, Jesse Crain, Grant Balfour, Scott Downs and Brian Fuentes, among others.
They also feel good about their chances to retain Japanese right-hander Koji
Uehara, and MacPhail said Tuesday night that he felt better about Uehara’s
situation than he had just that morning, making it plausible that the teams are
closing in on an agreement.

“In looking at first base, the Orioles are still believed to
be sifting through free-agent corner infielders Carlos Pena, Adam LaRoche and
Derrek Lee, although reports that the team is close to signing any of those
three are premature.  With Pena’s asking
price to high right now, the Orioles are looking harder at LaRoche and Lee.

“We are trying [to get things done], but you just know what
other people’s timetables are,” MacPhail said.  “If you look at the history of these meetings,
a lot of times these guys will go back, collect all the information, meet with
their clients and make their decision next week after the meetings. So we don’t
really control the time frame.”

Showalter speaks

Orioles manager Buck Showalter held court with the media on
Tuesday afternoon, touching base on a wide variety of topics concerning the
organization’s offseason and where it hopes to be for next spring.

Showalter echoed president of baseball operations Andy
MacPhail’s confidence that the O’s will shore up their bullpen soon, adding
that the organization will place an emphasis on veteran relievers.

“We are trying to attack the bullpen,” Showalter said. “Get
more of a proven area, some guys with good track records and [we] feel like we
are fairly close on some of those things. 
I think hopefully we can get Jimmy Johnson for a full year, if he comes
back for a full year and he’s healthy for the full year, he adds a couple of
track record guys down there.”

The O’s have several offers out and have been linked to
Kevin Gregg, Jesse Crain, Grant Balfour, Scott Downs and Brian Fuentes, among
others. They also feel good about their chances to retain Japanese right-hander
Koji Uehara. MacPhail said Tuesday night that he felt better about Uehara’s
situation than he had just that morning, and the teams could be close to
reaching an agreement.

“We would like to
get him back, if we could get something both parties are comfortable with,”
Showalter said of Uehara, who was highly effective but is injury-prone. “I’m
comfortable with the rate and process that they are moving through.”

Showalter also touched
on a variety of issues involving the Orioles present roster, and said that
there are no indications second baseman Brian Roberts -who missed most of the season
with a back injury – won’t be ready this spring.

Still, the O’s are looking for a utility player
who can play second base, added insurance given the organization’s lack of
positional depth. Showalter said shortstop Cesar Izturis is an option if the
team does not resign the free agent at short, and the O’s are also looking
within at guys like Robert Andino.

As for the
departure of Ty Wigginton, a player Showalter made no secret he held in high
regard, the O’s manager said he was excited to see the utility infielder sign
a favorable two-year deal with Colorado.

“As a baseball
player, I think Ty is really staging his career, he really knows what he needs
to bring and he’s a winning player,” Showalter said.   “He’s
good people, and I’m excited for them.  I
just wish him the best because I hope every guy gets to have guys like
Wiggy.  I know [manager Jim Tracey] will
like him.”

As expected, Showalter
played coy when asked about specific trades or timelines for when the Orioles
might make their next move. In addition to relief help, the team still would
like to add a shortstop and first baseman as well as another veteran starter to
help take the pressure off Jeremy Guthrie. Showalter did confirm that the
Orioles acquisition for third baseman Mark Reynolds doesn’t rule out bringing
on another high-strikeout hitter such as Carlos Pena, so long as that player is
a “run-reducer” and plays good defense.

“It’s a process,”
said Showalter, who is at the Winter Meetings as a manager for the first time since
2005.  “It not a place where you dwell on
something that doesn’t work on.  You have
to have Plan B, C, D, whatever, move on.”

At the end of the
day, all of those things will make you a little bit better but if not – [MacPhail
has] been pretty much right on about how the market and everything was going to
play for the most part.  It’s a moving
target. You know, I like the possibility
of doing some things before we leave here.”

Os closing in on Bartlett?

The Orioles could be closing in on a trade that would net them Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett.

Bartlett has been heavily rumored to be on the O’s radar and a source close to the situation said that while a deal is not immient the two sides are having serious talks discussing a swap.

A report on the Baltimore Sun’s blog Tuesday afternoon speculated the deal could be done within the day and named Nolan Reimold as possible trade bait. According to the source, the names and exact terms have varied in discussions and nothing is agreed up.  The St. Petersburg Times also tweeted that the Rays would want more than just Reimold in return.

Wiggy to the Rockies

The Orioles lost their one and only All-Star this season, as free agent Ty Wigginton signed a two-year, $8 million deal Tuesday morning with Colorado, a contract that also includes an option for 2013.

Wigginton’s deal is $7.5 million for 2011 and 2012 and includes a $500,000 buyout should the club chose to not exercise their option. The 33-year-old Wigginton enjoyed a career year for the Orioles last season, and will join his sixth Major League team next spring.

Tasked as the O’s utility guy this spring, Wigginton stepped in for injured second baseman Brian Roberts and hit .308 with six homers and 12 RBIs the first month of the season. He followed that up with seven homers and 20 RBIs in May and, although he cooled off at the end of the season, was praised by new manager Buck Showalter for his toughness and gritty play.

A hard-nosed player, Wigginton appeared in 154 games for the Orioles, finishing with a .248 batting average, 22 homers and 76 RBIs. While the O’s maintained an interest in retaining Wigginton, Colorado’s two-year offer was too good to pass up.

Wigginton can play three infield positions and figures to help Denver fill the void created by Melvin Mora, another former Oriole, who signed with Arizona on Monday.

Reynolds speaks

Just as I was about to call it a day (and grab dinner) it was announced we would have Mark Reynolds at 9 p.m. ET. So here we are again in the workroom of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel and here’s what Reynolds had to say via a conference call…

[on his initial reaction to the trade]
Initially I was surprised. I obviously I didn’t want to leave. I have my house here, my friends, family, have a pretty good set up with spring training 10 minutes down the road, but I’m looking forward to it. Going back East, I’m from Virginia Beach so it’s a couple hours from my house. It’s going to be a good experience for me. I’m excited to go there and meet the other guys, the coaches, the front office.
 
It’s going to be an adventure and I’m looking forward to it.

[on having a down season last year, including a .198 batting average]
It was borderline embarrassing, as far as my average goes. I know I am a much better hitter than that. I think I pushed myself a little too hard. I am pretty stubborn when it comes to injuries and things like that. I hate missing games, I hate missing at-bats. I think I have learned a lot in that area as far as how to listen to my body and know when I need to maybe take some time off. Looking back, I wish I had done that, but it’s past and you move forward and I think I’ll have a lot better chance for success knowing what I went through this past year

[on how he would describe his game]

No matter what I am going to try and play every day, play every game. I am definitely going to leave the field dirty. I am not afraid to dive into the stands, I am not afraid to take on a catcher at home plate.  I definitely play the game 100 percent, full board, all nine innings, and you’ll never see me loafing out there. If I am loafing, it must mean that I am hurt. I am a hard-nosed player and I’ll go out there every day with all I’ve got. 

[on improving his defense significantly in the last few seasons]
“In 2007, my first year in the big leagues, I played like 30 games in Double-A that year and that was my first year ever playing third base, and then I got the call up and got thrown in the fire. I kind of learned on the job and it definitely showed early on. But I took a lot of time in spring training working with Matt Williams. He really helped out a lot over there, my footwork and things like that, so I think I’m only getting better as time goes on.”


[on his familiarity with the Orioles]

I actually had the roster and I don’t know anyone personally. I’ve maybe said hi in passing. I’m going to go there and get acclimated with all the guys. It’s just like a fresh start. Hopefully, I can put this past year behind me, be smarter with taking care of my body and managing things like that. I’m looking forward to getting to see the guys and getting to know everybody.

[on his injuries last season]
In the spring, I hurt my quad the last day of spring training. I didn’t think too much of it and it really hampered me running the bases and stealing bags. That is kind of part of my game. That bothered me all the way prior to the All-Star game and then when I started to get 100 percent healthy, I got hit in the head with a 96 miles an hour fastball and that kind of set me back. Then in September, I hurt my hand somehow. It was tough to feel the bat. I tried to put a protect on it and play through it. I probably shouldn’t have done that. It was all just nagging stuff. I feel 100 percent now and I’m ready to go.

[on how his power will play at Camden Yards]
As far as the park goes, I don’t know much about it. I hurt it’s pretty hitter friendly…It’s definitely going to be an adjustment moving to the A.L. with the pitching and getting to know everybody. I’m going to rely on the coaches and the players on the team to help me out and give me scouting reports and let me know what he’s got. I don’t expect it to be an adjustment that is going to take me a while hopefully. But it’s definitely going to be something that I’m going to have to get used to.

Winter Meetings wrap: Day 1

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. –  The Orioles made their first major move of the offseason Monday, trading for third baseman Mark Reynolds, in a deal that shipped relievers David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio to Arizona.

For Baltimore, acquiring Reynolds is a big first step in a critical offseason. The organization was rebuffed by both Victor Martinez and Adam Dunn, who signed free-agent deals with the Tigers and White Sox, respectively, and went into this winter with positional holes at third base, first base and shortstop.

With Reynolds penciled in at third, the biggest hole is now at first base and president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said Monday that Reynolds’ acquisition won’t drastically change the Orioles stance.

“It does not necessarily preclude anybody,” MacPhail said.  “But it might change the priority order a little bit.”

Translation: while the Orioles remain confident they will get a first baseman, it’s likely they will shore up their bullpen first. Monday’s trade sent two young arms out West, leaving the Orioles bullpen extremely thin. Currently the O’s have eight relievers on their 40-man roster but six are coming off major injuries in the last two years, Rick VandenHurk is out of options and Pedro Viola spent last season in Double-A.

MacPhail has said the club has “several offers” out to free agents, and a good portion of those figure to be to bullpen guys. The Orioles have been linked to Kevin Gregg, Jesse Crain, Grant Balfour, Scott Downs and Brian Fuentes, among others, and also feel good about their chances to retain Japanese right-hander Koji Uehara.

“You have to take what the market gives you and I think there is a greater supply of [relievers] out there, perhaps, than anything on the market right now,” MacPhail said.

In looking at first base, the Orioles are still believed to be sifting through free-agent corner infielders Carlos Pena, Adam LaRoche and Derrek Lee, although MacPhail said Monday morning reports that the team is close to signing Lee are premature. Even with Reynolds’ high strikeout numbers, the Orioles aren’t backing off of their interest in Pena, although they think agent Scott Boras’ asking price is too high.  Pena comes with a lot of strikeouts but would give the O’s premiere defense, which is something manager Buck Showalter has placed added emphasis on.

The Reynolds acquisition also doesn’t discount the potential return of Ty Wigginton, a right-handed hitting utility guy who is rumored to be high on the Rockies’ priority list.

“I wouldn’t say that eliminates [Wigginton],” MacPhail said of the impact of Reynolds’ trade. “Less playing time at third is a likely possibility but it certainly doesn’t eliminate him.”

Monday’s trade also doesn’t eliminate the Orioles prospects at any more deals, although it would take a substantial trade for MacPhail -who preaches homegrown arms -to move any of the clubs young starters.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations on the trade front as well as the free agent fronts,” MacPhail said.  “Like I said a billion times, you don’t know which ones are going to develop or which ones are going to stall somewhere down the line. We’ll just have to see how the next couple of weeks play out.”

The O’s pursuit to upgrade at shortstop is another story that could come into play at the Winter Meetings, as both MacPhail and Showalter have acknowledged the need to upgrade the offense beyond Reynolds.   The Orioles have asked about Jason Barlett and J.J. Hardy, but are casting a wide net that could lead to some surprise candidates.

“[It] could be [a veteran], MacPhail said. “Whatever foots the bill. We don’t have any box that they have to fill into. We have different discussions, sort of a wide variety of candidates.”

Reynolds rundown w/ Bell and first base info

There will be a full story up later tonight on Orioles.com, but first here a few brief highlights of the O’s press conference to announce this afternoon’s trade for Mark Reynolds.

*Reynolds will be at third base “period” according to MacPhail. He can play first base also, but the O’s have made it clear that he will be at the hot corner.

*So what does this mean for prospect Josh Bell? The O’s said they’ve been fielding lots of calls about Bell, who came up midway through last season and was clearly overmatched at the plate. Showalter was going to call Bell sometime on Monday to talk with him, and MacPhail also didn’t rule out Bell switching positions. But that’s down the line. Right now my guess is, Bell will probably start the season at Triple-A Norfolk. The O’s could eventually plug him in at first base but it won’t be next season because…

*I was told by several people today that the O’s acquiring Reynolds isn’t going to be their only move. They will “get a real first baseman”, and won’t go with a platoon of Ty Wigginton or Luke Scott.

While I speculated that they wouldn’t want Pena because, like Reynolds, he has a high strikeout ratio, that wouldn’t deter Showalter and the Orioles. Both Pena and Reynolds are power guys who bring good defense and exceptional team attitudes.

However, Pena’s asking price right now is high and there’s a reoccurring thought that he could resign a one-year deal in Tampa Bay and hope to have a bounce back year to raise his stock. There are other options such as Adam LaRoche or Derrek Lee.

  *MacPhail said there’s nothing in his “back pocket” for the rest of Monday, but he did acknowledge that the next move will likely involve a reliever. The O’s have several offers out to free agent relievers and given that they just traded away two young arms, they’re going to need to add some back.

*This trade does not spell the end of Wigginton in Baltimore. Although it would clearly mean he would play less third base. The Orioles remain in contact with his agent.

Here’s MacPhail’s opening monologue concerning Reynolds from the just-wrapped press conference…

We are not as productive as we would like to be against left handed starters last year so we wanted to get some right handed bats in.  Mark has definitely demonstrated he is capable against left handed pitching, we are buoyed by the fact that he will start next year at 27, somebody that we have in our control for several years.  He is a young player who is improving his defense, which is a very important part of the equation for us.

And I couldn’t help but be struck by listening to Pat Gillick’s words today when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame; the one thing that he volunteered was when he started as a general manager, I thought the equation for character and talent went about 70 percent talent, 30 percent character, but by the end of his career he figured he had gotten it wrong and it was 70 percent character and 30 percent talent.  And we are delighted and hear nothing but great things about the intensity and character of Mark Reynolds.  So we are delighted to have him.  We hope to make some other changes to augment our offense over the course of the off season prior to Spring Training and are continuing to work towards that end.  

Mickolio on the trade and having a fresh start

David Hernandez referenced Monday morning’s trade to Arizona being a “fresh start” and if there’s anyone who needs a fresh start it’s Kam Mickolio, the other part of the O’s deal with the Diamondbacks.

Mickolio has been traded once before -he was acquired in the Erik Bedard haul from Seattle– and said that this time it’s much different because it all happened so fast. He got a text from his agent on Monday morning and an hour and a half later it was done.

“It definitely moved a lot faster and smooth than the last one I was involved in,” Mickolio said. “It’s definitely a good move for both teams.”

Mickolio was bothered by injuries all season and although he acknowledged it’s never easy to leave an organization, he dubbed the prospect of moving to the National League West “gratifying and exciting”.

“This year was kind of a one nagging thing that just never went away,” Mickolio said of a season in which he appeared in just 33 games, three of which were for the Orioles.  “I was just trying to fight through it all year, but it got to the point where it wasn’t helping.

“The whole time it was kind of hindering me, [my] numbers were going down. And in years past, people think I’ve been injury prone. So to get out of this [organization] and move on to a new organization it does feel like a fresh start. And I’m excited.”

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