January 2011

Revisiting Rapada & Os reportedly in on Beimel

*This seemed to have gotten lost because I got a few emails about it, but the Orioles have signed LHP Clay Rapada to a Minor League deal
with an invite to Spring Training.

Rapada was part of the Rangers World
Series team last season and should compete for a spot in the O’s pen,
possibly as their situational lefty. The O’s should have a bunch of
these types of signings made official in the next few days as they
continue to fill out their Spring Training invitees and fill their last
two voids: a lefty reliever and a veteran starter.

Rapada has bounced around, but the 29-year-old has had considerably success against left-handed hitters. A
hat tip to my colleague and Twins beat reporter Kelly Thesier, who
informed me the deal was done with Rapada earlier today. Must be that strong
secondary education she got.

*Also, according to the Baltimore Sun, the O’s have an offer on the table to Joe Beimel. The report says Beimel’s offer is a Minor League deal and that the reliever is choosing between a number of teams, with the Red Sox also in the mix.

I have no way of handicapping who he picks, but if it’s the O’s, the competition just got much tougher for Rapada and the other lefties invited to camp.

Vlad still out there…Rapada inked to Minors deal

The Blue Jays just dealt catcher Mike Napoli to the Texas Rangers for reliever Frank Francisco, a move that should matter to Orioles fans because it changes the market for Vladimir Guerrero.

First, it takes Texas out of the running to resign the slugger. With Napoli’s bat, the Rangers will use him as a third catcher and to fill-in at first base, meaning Vlad wouldn’t get any at bats. While he still wouldn’t have been assured a full-time role prior to this swap, now Texas simply doesn’t have the room at all.

It’s unknown if the Orioles will intensify any talks with Guerrero or if he will opt to take a part-time role and return to Anaheim, where he is still beloved by the Angels fanbase.

The Blue Jays –who traded Vernon Wells and his salary to the Angels last week — could take a look at Vlad as well. Money isn’t as big of an issue for Toronto, who is shedding payroll at an impressive clip. Meanwhile you’ve heard the Orioles are low on funds, which is true. They were pretty maxed out after signing Derrek Lee to be honest with you and now have to prepare to go to arbitration with Jeremy Guthrie and Luke Scott, as well as to sign a starting pitcher, (although by all indications that signing won’t break the bank.)

They need Vlad to be a bargain and they need a plan to use him. Do they trade Nolan Reimold or Felix Pie? Do they dangle Luke Scott and see what he nets them? President of baseball operations Andy MacPhail is very deliberate and has also proven to be pretty shrewd at trades. It will be interesting to see how this plays out given that most agents will try to get this done before Feb. 1.

*Also, the team has signed LHP Clay Rapada to a Minor League deal with an invite to Spring Training. Rapada was part of the Rangers World Series team last season and should compete for a spot in the O’s pen, possibly as their situational lefty. The O’s should have a bunch of these types of signings made official in the next few days as they continue to fill out their Spring Training invitees and fill their last two voids: a lefty reliever and a veteran starter.

Rapada has bounced around, but the 29-year-old has had considerably success against left-handed hitters. While the O’s are reportedly saving their last spot on the 40-man roster for a starting pitcher, there is still considerable roster flexibility that would make adding Rapada –or another lefty — out of camp not a big deal. Basically, the O’s are looking for last year’s Will Ohman.   

Tidbits on Cal, B-Rob, prospects..

A few quick notes this morning..

*First Facebook and now Twitter. O’s second baseman Brian Roberts is all over the social media landscape these days. You can follow him @1brianroberts (and while you’re at it, follow me @britt_ghiroli)

*MLB.com will unveil its 50 Top Prospects in tonight’s show on MLB Network. Tune in to see where the Orioles top duo —Zach Britton and Manny Machado — rank among baseball’s budding stars. The show starts at 9 p.m. ET.

*The (Triple-A) International League announced today that Steve Balboni, Wade Boggs, and Cal Ripken, Jr., will be inducted into the circuit’s Hall of Fame as members of the Class of 2011. All three players starred in the International League during the early 1980’s, and they now comprise the first Class elected to the IL Hall by a vote of current Hall of Fame members, along with longtime executives, broadcasters, and members of the media.

A National Baseball Hall of Famer, Cal Ripken, Jr., who went to be baseball’s “Iron Man”, enjoyed a stellar season playing third base for the Rochester Red Wings in 1981.

He slammed 23 home runs, and of course did not miss any of the team’s 114 games prior to an August call to Baltimore. In 1982 Ripken joined the Orioles full-time, following up his IL Rookie of the Year Award with American League Rookie of the Year honors. He played in every game from May 30, 1982 to September 20, 1998, establishing an all-time record of 2,632 consecutive games played.

The three inductees have been added to the International League Hall of Fame plaque display. The inductees will be presented with “The Curtain Call” statue during individual enshrinement ceremonies to place during the coming season. The IL Hall of Fame plaque display does not have a permanent home, but rather serves as a traveling testament to the storied legacy of the International League.

Triple-A Norfolk Tides general manager, Dave Rosenfield, and former Tides manager Frank Verdi were both enshrined into the IL Hall of Fame in 2008. Former Tides first baseman, Roberto Petagine was enshrined in 2009.

MacPhail shoots down the latest Vlad rumor..

The Orioles remain interested in Vladimir Guerrero although reports that they are close to reaching an agreement with the veteran slugger are premature.

MLB Network Radio reported Friday night that the two sides were closing in on a one-year deal, a story which usually tight-lipped president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail refuted in an email to MLB.com. 

“[The] report is not accurate,” MacPhail said.

MacPhail and the Orioles front office have met with Guerrero’s representatives earlier this winter, and with Manny Ramirez off the board it’s not out of the question that Guerrero could sign somewhere soon. The Angels also have reported interest.

Having already added Derrek Lee, Mark Reynolds and J.J. Hardy to their lineup, the O’s are most focused on adding a veteran starter and a lefty reliever before heading to Spring Training. They could use another bat for their bench, but it wouldn’t be a Guerrero-type; if he signed with Baltimore, it would be as a full-time designated hitter, a move that would likely shift Luke Scott to left field and crowd the current platoon of Nolan Reimold and Felix Pie. One of the three, most likely Pie under that scenario, would be traded.

The 35-year-old Guerrero is coming off a strong season with the Rangers in which he was named an All-Star for the ninth time in his career. The 35-year-old won his eighth Silver Slugger Award by hitting .300/.345/.496 with 29 home runs and 115 RBIs.

Guerrero struggled in the second half of the season, hitting .278 with nine homers and 40 RBIs, batting just .220 with no homers in 15 postseason games as the Rangers advanced to their first World Series appearance.

The 2004 American League MVP while with the Angels, Guerrero is a career .320 hitter with 436 home runs and 1,433 RBIs over 15 seasons with the Expos, Angels and Rangers.

Is Vlad coming here? (and other offseason updates)

So let’s address the report that the Orioles have the inside track on signing free-agent outfielder Vladimir Guerrero, shall we?

(In case you missed it here’s the blurb  courtesy of the fabulous website, MLBTradeRumors: “A person close to Guerrero told ESPNDeportes.com Enrique Rojas that the Orioles have the inside track on signing him, but the Angels are another possibility.”)

I’ve written, as have others, that the Orioles have some interest in Vlad. They’ve met with his reps. But they do NOT have the inside track on signing him. In fact someone close to negotiations seemed rather surprised when I put that one out there. Used the word “shocked” when I quoted the above.

So, why does Baltimore not have the edge? First, where do you put him? Well, the O’s would likely move Luke Scott to left field in that scenario and trade away either Felix Pie or Nolan Reimold (one of several Orioles working out with Brady Anderson this winter). Most teams have shored up most of their glaring holes so it’s really not a good time to be trading, and the early word on Reimold is that he looks really good this winter. 

Second, Vlad’s price needs to drop. How much? I don’t know exactly, but enough to make it a deal the Orioles can’t pass up. And thirdly, the organization’s main focus remains on adding arms, specifically a lefty reliever and a veteran starter. It’s not to say they’ve given up on the offense, but they have made some upgrades there and want to try to not rely solely on the young pitching staff.

Again, I’m not saying to rule out Vlad coming here completely. But it’s not a track I’d bet on. 

As for a veteran starter update, the Orioles are looking for a guy that should he not perform up to expectations, they have an out clause and aren’t saddled with an unperforming veteran.

Could it be Kevin Millwood, who told MASNSports.com that Baltimore’s still an option? Again, I wouldn’t rule it out (that’s the No. 1 offseason cliche: “anything can happen”), but it’s doubtful.

Millwood made a pretty substantial amount of money last year and his agent is Scott Boras, meaning the “Boras factor” must be accounted for in trying to get him on a cheaper deal.  His options could run dry, or the Orioles could go with a guy with a lesser pedigree that they can bring on a deal that makes more sense.

It’s important to note that they haven’t penciled in Zach Britton and Chris Tilllman in Triple-A Norfolk’s rotation. But you do want to a) foster competition and b) have starting pitching depth to cover injury/underperformance.

All the top free agent pitchers are off the board and the Orioles aren’t looking at anything sexy in filling their last two spots. They’re clearance shopping.   

Britton added to FanFest

Top pitching prospect Zach Britton has been added to the list of players attending FanFest next Saturday. He has also been added to the 12:40 time slot at Autograph Station #2, taking the place of Troy Patton, who is now unable to attend. Fans can purchase autograph vouchers for this session at www.orioles.com/fanfest.


Minor matters

According to Baseball America, the Orioles have resigned right-handed pitcher Armando Gabino to a Minor League contract. He will likely get a Spring Training invite as well.

I’ve gotten a few questions as to why the O’s haven’t signed more Minor League deals and since I had no idea myself, I asked. Turns out the team likes to announce those signings all at once. So, here’s hoping I’m by my computer when that press release hits.

Jones: Long term deal never discussed

While there was a thought that perhaps the Orioles would discuss a multi-year contract with Adam Jones, the outfielder said Wednesday night that that possibility never came up in negotiations between the team and Jones’ agent.

“Not that I know of, to be honest with you,” said Jones in a phone interview from Atlanta, where he’s filming a commercial for Nike. “If [the Orioles] came to the table [with a long term offer], you will obviously listen to whatever they are talking about because it’s your career. And if they are trying to do something like that, well it’s not that I know of.”

Jones who calls Baltimore a “good place to play baseball” said the thought of the Orioles offering more than a one-year deal never really crossed his mind.  Arbitration-eligible for the first time in his career, the two sides settled on a one-year salary of $3.25 million on Monday night, avoiding exchanging figures and a potentially contentious arbitration hearing.

“To me, I was thinking that I know I’m going to make more money than I made last year,” Jones said of the $465,000 he made in 2010 when the team unilaterally renewed his contract after he barely missed “Super Two” status. “That was the only thought. I had no idea what [principle owner] Mr. Angelos or [president of baseball operations Andy] MacPhail want to do with me personally long term.

“I think [arbitration] is an interesting part of baseball because the team can do whatever they want to do…Right now I’m under [the] team’s control for three years so they basically have the upper hand on what they want to do. If it comes to where I’m a free agent in three years and that’s the scenario you go with the scenario.”

For now, Jones’ focus remains on the field and in picking up where he left off at the end of 2010. Despite a slow start, the 25-year-old had a strong season, hitting .284 with 19 home runs and 69 RBIs in 149 games.

“The first two months last year, ugh, it was frustrating. But it turned around, ” Jones said. “The last three, four months of the season I did me. I didn’t try to do too much.

“I think the other guys [in the lineup] with the added protection of [Derrek] Lee, [J.J.] Hardy, [Mark] Reynolds, [Luke] Scott, I think it will take a lot of pressure off.  Personally I put a lot of pressure on myself, and if there’s any pressure [Nick] Markakis puts on himself, I don’t know if there is, but it will take some off.”

And Jones isn’t the only one that believes the new additions are a step in the right direction. Count fellow Major Leaguers Torii Hunter, Ken Griffey Jr., Ryan Braun and Andrew McCutchen as fans as well.

“They are all excited about our team,” Jones said of the group, whom he’s sharing the Nike spot with. “They’re like ‘You guys have made some real good moves for the first team in a few years.'”

“Griffey Jr. and Hunter were letting me know how good of a teammates Lee is and how he’s going to try, well not try, he’s going to change our team.”

Machado named MLB Top Prospect

The Orioles top pick in last year’s Draft, and third overall, high school shortstop Manny Machado topped MLB.com’s list of prospects at his position.

These stories always beg the inevitable question: When will he be ready for Baltimore? It’s pure speculation on my part, but I don’t think you see Machado before 2012. Remember, this is a kid that signed late and has yet to play a full season in the Minors.

If you want to know a little more about Machado, here’s the link to the feature I did earlier this season. What struck me was how mature and humble he seemed, despite being young and being surrounded by hype. It’s still very early, but it looks like the Orioles picked a good one.

Back on the beat…

I’m back on the Orioles beat and rejuvenated after a week of vacation. So, let’s catch up and look ahead…

*If you missed it, top prospect Zach Britton talked to MLB.com about his 2010 season as part of the 2011 MLB Rookie Career Development Program. You can find that link here.

*The Orioles avoided arbitration with Adam Jones Monday night and followed suit by agreeing to figures with Felix Pie, Jim Johnson and J.J. Hardy on Tuesday.

They’ve exchanged figures with Jeremy Guthrie and Luke Scott, which means if the two sides can’t agree they will go to an arbitration hearing. Last year, both Scott and Guthrie avoided the always-contentious hearing, although Guthrie’s case went right up to the wire. 

In his second year of being arbitration-eligible, Guthrie went 11-14 with a 3.83 ERA in 32 starts in 2010, and he — like Scott — will command another pay raise for this season. Guthrie proposed a salary of $6.5 million for 2011, while the O’s countered with a $5 million offer. The 31-year-old was the ace who anchored the Orioles’ rotation, particularly in the second half, when he went 8-4 with a 2.76 ERA in his final 14 starts.

Meanwhile, Scott, voted the Most Valuable Oriole by the local media, hit a career-high 27 home runs and totaled 72 RBIs in 131 games. He proposed a salary of $6.85 million, with Baltimore offering $5.7 million. A streaky hitter most of his career, Scott put together a solid 4 1/2-month stretch and finished with a .284 batting average and a .535 slugging percentage.

*Kevin Gregg officially signed a two-year deal with an option for 2013 that kicks in automatically. I’ve had a lot of questions and outrage over handing a reliever “all this money” but it’s important to note that Gregg’s option hinges on him not only being the team’s closer, but a pretty effective one. I blogged this briefly before I left, but here it is again: The fine print on the option is if he finishes 50 games in 2012 or 100 between ’11 and ’12.

The Orioles’ back half of the bullpen, which now has Gregg, Koji Uehara, Jim Johnson and Michael Gonzalez will be an interesting storyline this spring and for most of the season. Assuming they all stay healthy –and that’s a big “if” — manager Buck Showalter can either name a closer or piece together a game depending on how he sees fits. With four guys with closing experience, that’s a rare luxury.

*Ready for Spring Training? Here’s all you need to know about the Orioles season at the newly-revamped Ed Smith Stadium. If you’re a golfer or would just like to help a good cause and meet some past and present players, check out the inaugural OriolesREACH Birdland Golf Classic at The Founders Club in Sarasota on Thursday, February 17.

*A quick reminder that FanFest details, including autograph sessions and times, are available on orioles.com. The event is Saturday Jan. 29 at the Baltimore Convention Center.

I’ll be there as part of the media forum, so if you see me wandering around and looking lost (it is my first FanFest), direct me that way, please.

*Finally, what better way to catch up on things than to answer some questions? Got something you want answered or looked into? Wondering about the Orioles rotation or what the projected 25-man roster looks like? You can email me  or ask me on Twitter, just be sure to include your name and city.

26 days til pitchers and catchers report. Let the countdown begin.