Duquette: we need more and better pitchers

The first day of baseball’s Winter Meetings was relatively quiet for all 30 clubs, although Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette doesn’t expect it to stay that way.

Duquette, who met with a dozen clubs on Monday and talked to six or seven more, said the Orioles have a lot of “irons in the fire” and seemed fairly optimistic that the club will get at least one deal done while at the four-day meetings in Dallas. Given the way things are progressing Duquette said Monday evening that a good number of deals will likely be made around baseball in the next 36 hours, and the Orioles are in play on several fronts.

One of the names you can almost assuredly cross off the list is free-agent slugger Prince Fielder. While Duquette said earlier in the day that he wouldn’t completely rule out Fielder, manager Buck Showalter flat-out said no in his media session Monday afternoon, stating that the Orioles would prefer to leave that kind of high-priced signing to “the big boys”. Duquette seemed to echo more of that sentiment a few hours later, stressing that the Orioles will allocate most of their resources to upgrade their pitching staff.

“People want to talk about Fielder because they think he’s a good matchup with the city, ‘cause of his left-handed swing and short porch beneath the Warehouse [at Camden Yards], right?,” Duquette said. “So, they’re talking about it. We do have some interest in a number of free agents. I’m not sure why it keeps coming back to Prince Fielder.

We got a lot of work to do to build our pitching staff. We were in the middle of the pack this past year with runs scored. If we are going to be championship team, we are going to have to increase our offense. But I’ll tell you right now, we are probably going to direct more of our resources into pitching this time around then we are at other positions, because of the need of the team.”

The Orioles aren’t expected to make the financial commitment to top-tier starters like Mark Buehrle or C.J. Wilson, but that doesn’t mean Duquette –who is a firm believer in not doling out deals longer than three years to free agent arms – hasn’t been active in scouring other options.

“We are in play on a couple of players that we think can help our team and fit into our market,” Duquette said. “So, we are trying to make value-based investment decisions to improve the team.”

Of the Orioles’ trade talks –which dominated most of Monday’s conversations – roughly 65 percent revolved around pitching, a commodity that could be easier to get in building the team’s bullpen rather than acquiring starters.  Asked whether he views reliever Jim Johnson as the team’s closer or starter, Duquette didn’t give a definitive answer, but said the team needs to upgrade their pitching regardless.

“You have to talk to Buck,” Duquette on the possibility of Johnson taking over as closer if he remains in the bullpen. “I know we need more and better pitchers to be competitive, and that’s really what we are trying. We are trying to address that need.”

As for who the Orioles could deal in return, Duquette said he views Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Nick Markakis as players “to build around”, so it would probably have to take a ridiculously favorable deal to move any of that trio. There’s been heavy interest in Johnson and infielder Robert Andino, but Johnson’s value to the team is too high to be moved, and moving Andino would be risky given his versatility and the uncertainty of second baseman Brian Roberts.

“If Roberts isn’t ready Andino becomes more valuable to us,” Duquette said. “I hope Brian Roberts Is healthy and ready to go. We are encouraged by some of the recent reports. But we’ll have to wait and see on that.”

The Orioles are also in a wait-and-see mode of sorts with Korean reliever Chong Tae-Hyon. While the two sides had appeared to be closing in on a deal, the agreement has stalled and Duquette said the submariner is still deciding between playing in Korea or in the United States. Asked if he had been cleared physically –there have been rumors of some medical issues – Duquette would only say that Chong has been checked out by the team’s doctors and continue to have ongoing discussions.

“We are going to try to get something done over the next week or so,” Duquette said of Chong.

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