January 2011

The Duke Effect

A few quick notes before I fall asleep concerning the O’s late-night signing of Justin Duchscherer. (If you’re wondering about the title, A’s beat reporter Jane Lee informed me that he goes by Duke.)

As it stands now, the rotation looks to be Jeremy Guthrie, Duchscherer , Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen and Jake Arrieta, with Chris Tillman also a possibility. This signing helps the Orioles in that they don’t just give away a rotation spot. It fosters competition with guys like Bergesen, Arrieta, Tillman and top prospect Zach Britton, which is what manager Buck Showalter has been preaching for months.

Right now, I’d speculate –barring an injury — Tillman and Britton start the year in Triple-A. The organization isn’t looking to move them to the bullpen because it’s extremely rare to go through a whole season with just five starters. They need Tillman and Britton to pitch every five days, and if they’re in Norfolk they’re only a phone call away.

Tillman still needs to find a way to translate his Triple-A success into the Majors on a consistent level, while Britton started last year at Double-A, so more seasoning isn’t necessarily a bad thing. To varying degrees, the O’s arms –sans Guthrie — are all still learning.

Also, keep in mind that Duchscherer has been injury prone and there’s no guarantee that he will make it through the season without a trip to the disabled list. This signing helps the O’s in that if he stays healthy and productive he earns his money with escalating clauses. If not, the Orioles have other starters and they really didn’t waste a lot of money, since it’s a small base deal.

Os add Duchscherer to the rotation

All winter the Orioles have remained steadfast that they will acquire another veteran starter despite the thinned market. They accomplished that goal Sunday night, agreeing to a one-year deal with right-hander Justin Duchscherer.

The deal, pending a physical that will take place Tuesday or Wednesday, is a smaller based contract of $700,000 that will increase to $1.1 million if he makes the team. Duchscherer -who is coming off his second hip surgery — can earn up to $4.5 million if he stays healthy and productive.

“The Orioles were very upfront in their interest in Justin, very candid,” Duchscherer’s agent, Damon Lapa said of Baltimore, who came away impressed enough after watching Friday’s bullpen to make Duchscherer an offer.

The 33-year-old Duchscherer told MLB.com last week that it was pretty “black and white” in that he wanted to go to a team that viewed him as a starter and he preferred to pitch on the East Coast, close to his son who lives in New Jersey. That whittled down the finalists to the Nationals and Orioles, both teams who Lapa said offered the opportunity for his client “to contribute at the middle to top end of the starting rotation.”

“Ultimately, to his perspective Baltimore presented the best set of factors as far as where he wants to go and pitch,” Lapa added. “It was an extremely tough decision…both organizations were fantastic throughout the process and in the pursuit.”

Working in the Orioles favor was their slew of offseason acquisitions, a group that includes Derrek Lee, Mark Reynolds, J.J. Hardy and Kevin Gregg, a factor that Lapa said “absolutely” went into his Duchscherer’s decision.

“You look at the way [president of baseball operations] Andy MacPhail and his staff have really remade that club; obviously the [American League East is the] toughest division in baseball,” Lapa said. “But you look at the changes that have been made, I think it’s very suffice to say that at least on paper they are the most improved club in Major League baseball.”

A former 10-game winner, Duchscherer had his 2010 campaign in Oakland cut short, making just five starts before undergoing his second left hip surgery, which involved shaving down some of the bone to make room for cartilage.

He missed nearly all of the 2009 season with after undergoing an arthroscopic procedure on his elbow and being diagnosed with depression, but given that he has spent the winter auditioning for teams, Duchscherer is actually ahead of his typical offseason program.

“Honestly, I feel like I’ve proven [that] when I’m healthy, I’m a very good Major League pitcher,” Duchscherer told MLB.com last week. “The only thing I have to prove is [whether] I can do it over the long term.”

The low-risk signing gives the Orioles an innings-eater to go along with Jeremy Guthrie, taking pressure of the team’s younger starters and creating a logjam of starting pitchers. Guthrie and Duchscherer will be joined by Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen and Jake Arrieta, although Chris Tillman is another possibility. Barring injury or anything unforeseen, Duchscherer’s arrival also means top prospect Zach Britton will likely start the season in Triple-A.

A career 33-25 with a 3.13 ERA, Duchscherer is a two-time All-Star who is known to be a consistent strike-thrower. After coming up as a reliever, he went 14-11 with a 3.01 ERA in 32 career starts, all with Oakland.

The Orioles have not officially commented on Duchscherer’s agreement, although MacPhail said at Saturday’s Fanfest that the team was “pleased” with what they saw from his bullpen. The deal will not be finalized until after a physical, which is important to note given Duchscherer’s injury history.

Guthrie, Roberts and other offseason tidbits

A few tidbits here from FanFest…Thanks to all those who said hello and those who sat in and listened to the media forum….

*Jeremy Guthrie -who is up for arbitration – said the two sides have discussed the possibility of a long-term contract, although as it stands the two parties haven’t agreed on a length and there is still a possibility it could go to a hearing.

“But I love Baltimore,” Guthrie said.  “I love pitching here and anytime you can provide your family with security, it’s a great option. I’m very happy to also play it out year-by-year and have the motivation to go out and do the best that I can. Whatever happens, I’ll be a good spot.”

Guthrie added that he’s in close contact with his agent and seems pretty involved –or at least interested — in the process.

*Brian Roberts said his back feels great and he’s been working out this offseason with no problems. He will be a full go in camp, which is something we’ve heard before, but it’s nice to hear directly from him. 

*Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said the team still has about four active discussions and although they’ve gone above their payroll range, principle owner Peter Angelos has allowed them to still do some things.

As for Vlad, they have no timetable on when he wants to make a decision and MacPhail also confirmed that the O’s watched Justin Duchscherer throw a bullpen on Friday. They are expected to see him again throw –in a bigger, open tryout — next week.

Showalter said he’s talked to Luke Scott about the possibility of the team adding a DH, and Scott’s fine with it. He’d prefer to play left field anyways.

“I don’t really want to project what happens if this happens, but Luke wants to play defense,” Showalter said. “I asked him last night, in a perfect world, what would he want to do. He said, ‘I’d rather play left field.’ A lot of guys in his shoes don’t want to play in the field; he does. That creates some options for us going forward, regardless if we make an addition or not.”  

Talking some Vlad…

ESPN’s Buster Olney just tweeted that Vladimir Guerrero and the Orioles are “making progress” in their talks for a 2011 contract. Olney went on in a subsequent tweet to say the O’s are also being told that Guerrero has an $8 million offer, “which is about $3.5 million (including incentives) more than the O’s range”.

Here’s the update for you…

As for the bit about the two sides drawing closer, I was told tonight that the Orioles situation hasn’t changed since yesterday and those in the organization -who feel they are the only team in on the bidding –  still aren’t overly optimistic they will land Vlad.

One source said they’d “be shocked” if the situation changed drastically enough that there was an announcement of an agreement between the two sides before FanFest.  Sorry, but no one is jumping out from behind a curtain on Saturday morning. Even if the two sides did a 180 and agreed to terms, they’d have to wait a few days for a physical to make it official. But as it stands right now, they aren’t close to an agreement.

As for Guerrero’s camp saying there’s another -much better – offer on the table, I would think this is just a negotiating tactic. If he really had a deal like that on the table, why even wait around? Why not just sign with that team?  Particularly since Vlad didn’t hide his underwhelming response to the Orioles offer, with several outlets saying he wasn’t happy with the proposed offer.

The Orioles aren’t paying him $8 million. They don’t have the money and they don’t feel he’s worth it. As I’ve said before, there’s concern over how much he has left in the tank and how motivated he is to play for another one-year deal.

The Orioles think this is a one-team fight and are hesitant to drive up their offer. They want him, but on their terms.  If there is a mystery team that swoops in, and really only Guerrero’s agents know, they won’t be devastated. They have Luke Scott and Felix Pie/Nolan Reimold as a platoon in left field.

If they do get Vlad, what the organization is leaning toward doing is hanging on to everyone and let them battle it out this spring. So those of you who were asking about signing Guerrero and dangling Pie, Reimold or Scott for a starting pitcher can forget that notion, at least for right now. Pie is coming off an injury that forced him to miss most of last season and Reimold had a disastrous 2010 campaign. At this point, competition would be a welcome thing.

A few more odds and ends…

*The Orioles and Red Sox were turned down by lefty reliever Joe Beimel, who signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates, in a move first reported by the Denver Post. Beimel inked a Minor League deal and will get an invite to Spring Training. According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-review, the deal is for $1.75 million with up to $300,000 in incentives.

The O’s are looking to still add another lefty on a Minor League deal with a camp invite, and Randy Flores , Mark Hendrickson, Ron Mahay, Dennys Reyes, Scott Schoeneweis  and Bobby Seaystill are the guys still on the market. The Orioles could have offers out to a few of them. Should they not add another lefty, Clay Rapada becomes an early favorite to make the bullpen out of camp.

*The O’s, rumored to have reached a Minor League agreement with Nick Green right after the Winter Meetings, have done it for real this time. In a move first reported by the Baltimore Sun, Green will also get an invite to Spring Training, giving the O’s quite a surplus of infielders with Brian Roberts, JJ Hardy, Robert Andino, Brendan Harris and Green.

*FanFest tickets are still available at http://www.orioles.com/fanfest. The event starts at 11 a.m., but season ticket holders get an early entrance.

*I blogged the Minor League staffs for the O’s full season teams, and wanted to add that Mike Bordick will be back as a Minor League instructor. Former interim Triple-A manager Bobby Dickerson will the coordinator of infield instruction.  

Os announce Minor League staffs

Here’s your cheat sheet for the O’s four full season affiliate coaching rosters. The order listed is manager, pitching coach, hitting coach and field coach, with a full story to come on Orioles.com.

Norfolk (AAA)    Gary Allenson         Mike Griffin                 Brad Komminsk         Mark Shires

Bowie (AA)      Gary Kendall           Kennie Steenstra             D. Hocking/E. Diaz    Aaron Scott

Frederick (A)   Orlando Gomez          Blaine Beatty                Mike Devereaux         Pat Wesley

Delmarva (A)   Ryan Minor             Troy Mattes                   Jose Hernandez         Will Lawhorn

Orioles add another lefty in Bierbrodt

The O’s added another low-risk signing on Thursday in left-handed pitcher Nick Bierbrodt, who agreed to a Minor League deal according to FoxSports.com.

A former first-round pick in Arizona in 1996, Bierbrodt has had a rough career that came to a halt when he was shot twice in the arm and missed the entire 2002 season. That story can be found here courtesy of the St. Petersburg Times’ Marc Topkin.

Prior to that, Bierbrodt was in the Diamondbacks’ Minor League system for five years when O’s manager Buck Showalter was there. Showalter had him again in a brief stint in Texas in 2004, which was the last time Bierbrodt was in the Majors.

After playing in the Chinese Professional Baseball League in 2007, he came back to the United States to play independent baseball and spent last year as a reliever in the Colorado Rockies organization.
 
He is a career 6-9 with a 6.66 Major League ERA and split time between Double-A and Triple-A for Colorado in 2010, where he was used solely as a reliever.

This is pretty much a standard signing for Minor League depth, given Bierbrodt’s age, injury concerns etc. But since he’s been at two Showalter stops now, you’d think he’s probably got some of that “want-to” Showalter talks about. And having those guys around , especially in the impressionable affiliates rosters, is never a bad thing.

A few tidbits, the non-Vlad edition

*For the latest on the O’s offer to Vladimir Guerrero, you can look at what I blogged earlier today, or the story on the site. (As always, instant answers to your questions on this are always welcome on Twitter, with any breaking updates I get available on the blog.)

Here’s what else is going on..

*According to my MLB.com colleague Evan Drellich, lefty reliever Joe Beimel has narrowed his choices down to three and could sign as soon as today.  The Baltimore Sun reported that the O’s have a Minor League offer out to Beimel, who would be a near-lock to make the team out of camp.  The Orioles are also optimistic that recent signee Clay Rapada can help a ‘pen, that right now, has just one lefty: Michael Gonzalez.
 
*Alfredo Simon’s appeal of his preventive prison was postponed until February 1st, according to the Associated Press. The postponement’s not a big deal; it was made at his lawyer’s request.  

*Also, I’ve gotten a few weather-related FanFest questions and right now there’s nothing I’ve heard that suggests the Orioles will cancel the event. I know the forecast calls for more snow, but Saturday’s event is still on. For more info you can go to http://www.orioles.com/fanfest.

*It’s been quite a winter in the AL East, as MLB.com’s senior columnist Hal Bodley writes today. Here’s the bit on the Orioles…

“I don’t believe the Orioles will contend for the postseason in 2011, but they’re obviously better.

Baltimore has not had a winning season since 1997, when the Orioles
won the division title. In fact, they haven’t had more than 70 victories
in the past four seasons.

“This is the toughest division in baseball,” said O’s president Andy
MacPhail, who rebuilt the infield with trades for J.J. Hardy and Mark
Reynolds, plus the signing of free-agent first baseman Derrek Lee. He
also added Kevin Gregg to the bullpen.”

Bodley, like many others, has the Red Sox pegged as the early favorites to win the division.

Report: Orioles make Vlad an offer. Is it enough?

Update: 3:52 pm. ESPN Deportes’ Enrique Rojas just tweeted, using an unnamed source, that Vladimir Guerrero is “not excited” about the Orioles offer, and suggests the Rangers may be back in play.  Not a real shocker since the feeling earlier was the O’s aren’t overly optimistic in their chances of signing Guerrero.

*****

In a move first reported by FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, and confirmed by MLB.com, the O’s made an offer to free-agent Vladimir Guerrero on Thursday, although the figures are a far cry than what Guerrero was originally seeking.

According to Rosenthal, who cited a Major Leagur source, the offer is in the $3-5 million range. In comparison, Guerrero started the winter with a price tag of 2 years/$16 million and has remained in that $8 range for one year of his services.

I can confirm only that the O’s offer was a “more reasonable” figure, although there are several reports out there that range from $2-5 million.

Last week’s report that the Orioles had reached a deal with Guerrero proved to be inaccurate, but the team did reignite talks with the veteran slugger. While Guerrero could agree to terms at any time, realistically the organization isn’t overly optimistic he will accept a bargain deal.

Monetary factors aside, the Orioles are also unsure how much Guerrero still has left in the tank and whether playing for another one-year deal will be enough motivation.

It will be interesting to see whether Guerrero –who won’t sit out the season according to Rosenthal — takes the deal or finds a better price elsewhere. The Orioles would be a good fit and it would make sense for both sides, but there always a possibility they get “Soriano’ed” and a team swoops in and overpays, much like what the Yankees did in getting Rafael Soriano for a $35 million commitment.

The Orioles have always wanted Vlad, but at the right price. That’s particularly true now that the team is essentially done spending $. You can break your bank for a Mark Teixeira type, or even Victor Martinez, who the O’s made an early offer to this winter. But you don’t do it for an aging veteran like Guerrero.

I said this earlier, but I’d be shocked if this wasn’t resolved by the end of the week.

I also have a hard time imaging –and this is purely my own speculation — that the O’s will deal Luke Scott if they get Vlad. Scott’s younger, coming off a career year and doesn’t command a huge salary. It’s more likely the O’s will put him in left field, creating a logjam with Nolan Reimold and Felix Pie. They could trade away Pie –which would leave Matt Angle as the only backup in center field — or they could deal Reimold, although the organization still isn’t sure what they have in Reimold. They had several chances to deal him away this winter and didn’t.

Os add Palmer, Erbe to FanFest

Jim Palmer and Brandon Erbe have been added to autograph sessions for FanFest. Palmer has been added to Station #3 at 3:20 and Erbe has been added to Station #1 at 4:40.

Fans should visit www.orioles.com/fanfest for an updated list of autograph session availability.

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