December 2011

Early morning musings

Ok, it’s more like afternoon musings.  But it’s been relatively quiet at the Winter Meetings for the Orioles so far.

The team wants to make a trade and upgrade a woeful pitching staff. But ideally, it’s tough to get back some good Major League arms when you don’t have a lot of trade chips to work with.

Sure, the Orioles can dangle Robert Andino and see if  team will overpay. But they also need an Andino-type on the team, not just as a utility infielder, but as a possible starting second baseman. No one knows if Brian Roberts will be ready to start the season, and –even if he is — it’s impossible to predict if he’ll be able to stay healthy and productive over a 162-game grind.

As you know by now, Jeremy Guthrie is the Orioles best trade chip, with the Rockies and Angels among the interested parties. But, keep in mind he’s thrown 200 innings in the last three seasons and guys like that don’t exactly grow on trees. Given the current state of the Orioles rotation, it’s hard to justify trading away Guthrie unless you get a few arms back. I’m not talking about one reliever.

Rockies reporter Thomas Harding offers more insight on that possible trade here.

Positionally, there aren’t as many holes. While the team could use another outfielder and a DH-type, neither item is viewed with the pressing need of pitching.

So, if the Orioles are short on trade chips why not buy a starter? Duquette said yesterday the team has interest in several free agent arms that they think fit their market and needs. While you can rule out top tier arms C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle, you are probably looking at a group that includes Edwin Jackson, Paul Maholm and John Garland, to name a few.

Teams are reluctant to trade away starting pitching, and Duquette noted yesterday that there appears to be more relievers available.

*Also, a Cubs official yesterday said there was “no truth” to the rumor the Orioles were in on Alfonso Soriano, who is owed  a lot of money over the next years by Chicago.

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.

Duquette on Day 1 of the Winter Meetings

Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette just met with the media and while the organization hasn’t made any moves, Duquette seemed pretty confident something will get done over the next day or two.

Given the way the free agent market is progressing, Duquette expects that some names will come off the board –either in free agency or trade — in the next 36 hours and he said the Orioles are in play for several free agents. Given the way the Orioles have chosen to proceed –they will allocate most of their resources toward pitching — it’s fair to speculate that most of those offers are for arms.

He also squelched the exaggerated reports the Orioles are in on free agent slugger Prince Fielder, by basically saying upgrading the pitching remains first and foremost. The organization doesn’t have the funds to do that and make a serious play at Fielder.

On the trade front, Duquette said he met with about 12 teams and talked to six or seven more on Monday, with plans to touch base with a few more times before the night ends. Roughly 65 percent of those talks revolved around pitching, a market that seems –right now — to have more available relievers than starters.

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. There’s been heavy interest in reliever Jim Johnson and infielder Robert Andino, but neither are likely to be moved given their value to the team. Johnson could be used as a starter or the team’s closer while Andino is insurance given second baseman Brian Roberts’ uncertain health.

Here are a few highlights from Duquette’s session. Be sure to check Orioles.com later for a full story.

[on what type of reliever the Orioles are looking for]

“Good ones. We are looking for good ones that can get out both leftie and righties. And then if we have some good ones then the manager can decide when to employ them. If they can get out righties and lefties than the manager doesn’t have to work that hard on the timing. So, that’s the kind of pitchers we are looking for.”

[On Jim Johnson’s future being up in the air, in terms of being a starter or reliever]

“Either way, we have a lot of work to do to add to our pitching staff.  That’s the challenge that we have. We are really trying to address that.”

[if you can’t find any late-inning arms is Johnson the team’s closer?]

“You have to talk to Buck [Showalter]. 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.”

[on if the team needs to definitely sign a DH]

“I think Buck’s preference is to have more than one option to DH, right? So that he can use some of his everyday players. And that’s fine. So, we are going to address the DH, but it’s not front and center right now.”

[the Orioles stance on Prince Fielder]

“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, right? 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.”

[On if the Orioles are interested in any big-name free agent pitchers]

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

[On Brian Roberts]

“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.”

Orioles lose Florimon, outright Viola

The Orioles announced on Monday that left-handed pitcher Pedro Viola has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk. Additionally, infielder Pedro Florimon, Jr. has been claimed on waivers by the Minnesota Twins.

Viola, 28, appeared in four games for the Orioles in 2011, pitching to a 9.82 ERA (3.2IP, 4ER).  He owns a 7.50 ERA (12.0IP, 10ER) in 15 career major league games.

Florimon, 25 on Saturday, went 1-for-8 for the Orioles in 2011, making his major league debut on September 10 at Toronto.

With these moves, the Orioles now have 39 players on their 40-man roster, meaning they have a spot for Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft.

Showalter speaks

Orioles manager Buck Showalter just met with the media here in Dallas, and here are some of the most interesting tidbits from that…

*Asked jokingly if the club had already signed Prince Fielder, Showalter quipped they’d leave that to the “big boys”. As I blogged earlier today, that’s not a likely landing spot for Fielder.

*There isn’t necessarily a need for the Orioles to go out and sign a big name DH, as they could always use more bench depth and rotate guys like Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters and Adam Jones in the position to give them a day off of sorts.

*Speaking of Markakis, he is nearly 100 percent and Showalter said the team has plans for him to a specialist just to make sure they are taking all the proper precautions. Markakis was dealing with a pelvic/lower abdomen injury the last few weeks of the season that’s being described as a deep bone bruise.

*The Orioles aren’t actively pursuing other second base options and the hope remains that Brian Roberts will be able to stay healthy and on the field. Showalter said Roberts is progressing by doing baseball activities “on and off” and there have been very little, if any setbacks, in that regard.

*The need for another outfielder to back up Adam Jones in center field and possibly platoon in left field is another club need although not on the front burner since the Orioles are actively pursuing pitching. Given Showalter’s remarks, it seems they would prefer to have a platoon with Reimold –who could still win the left field job outright — and the most obtainable pitching will come in relief.

It’s much easier to build a bullpen than a starting rotation in the winter, and the Orioles could always shift Jim Johnson to the rotation to help bolster that area.  Johnson’s role for next season is still undecided.

Early interest on JJ, Os likely not in on Fielder

Here’s your latest roundup of Orioles rumors from this morning…

*While executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette didn’t shoot down interest in Prince Fielder in talking to MASN today, it’s not believed to be on the Orioles’ immediate agenda. The team needs pitching badly, and Fielder –while an enticing free-agent for the O’s – isn’t someone they are pursuing heavily. I’m told his name didn’t even come up at this morning’s briefing.

*What name is coming up all around baseball is Jim Johnson, who is a highly coveted reliever. Right now, the Orioles –who got a lot of activity on Johnson around the Trade Deadline – don’t seem intent on moving him although there’s plenty of interest already. Given the struggles of Kevin Gregg, Johnson is viewed as their closer if they can upgrade in the starting rotation.

*Former Orioles player Brady Anderson, who has been around the club as a special advisor of sorts, will be taking on an increased organizational role. There’s no official word yet on what his duties will cover, but it figures to include some scouting and some conditioning-type work.

*Also, I  noted the other day in a blog post that there were rumblings over medical issues with Koren reliever Chong Tae-Hyon. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweeted earlier that the Orioles remain confident a deal will get down once they work through some medical issues. So, sounds like that’s heading in the right direction.

The calm before the storm

Welcome to baseball’s Winter Meetings where the Hot Stove season usually starts to heat up (and hopefully the Dallas weather will along with it).

I wrote earlier today about what’s on the horizon over the four-day meetings, and you can read the details — as well as give your input on what you would do to upgrade the Orioles– here.

I had some flight issues today and wasn’t able to touch down in Texas in time for the pre-meetings media session with executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette. But MLB.com’s Detroit Tigers reporter Jason Beck was kind enough to sit in and relay the info, which I have below.

Also, in case you missed it earlier, the Orioles announced two front-office hires today in special assistant Lee Thomas and Fred Ferreria, who will serve as executive director of international recruiting. You can read more on those hires here.

While it’s no secret the Orioles need pitching, it didn’t stop Manny Ramirez’s name from coming up. Duquette, who signed Ramirez in Boston, laughed when posed the question about being interested in the free-agent slugger, who has plans to come out of retirement.

“Manny’s always interesting and he’s never predictable,” Duquette said. “But I don’t know too much about the mechanics of what we would have to do or if we could do it. But Manny’s always a lot of fun to be around, and he’s very entertaining.

Duquette said they’ve been in touch with a couple of teams on Sunday on the trade front, which is where they are expected to be the most active in Dallas.

Asked if the Orioles would bite on a  veteran designated-hitter, not just Manny, Duquette deferred to Showalter.

“Depends on who the player is,” Showalter said. “You’re always open to all those things. I don’t think we’re in a position to not examine everything, see what might be a fit. You’d like to be able to move some guys in and out of that role, but if the right guy presented himself, that’s not a problem.”

So what does Duquette want to get done here in Dallas?

“We’d like to support our pitching staff, and then we’d also like to add a bat in the outfield and add some depth to our roster,” he said. “I don’t know how quickly this market’s going to develop. I have a feeling that some of these signings are going to go on beyond the winter meetings. But we’re looking forward to the hunt of the week. But I don’t want people to be disappointed if we don’t come home, because there’s going to be other opportunities at the end of the week, after the week is over. But we have our shopping list. We’re also mindful to upgrade our defense.”

Jones on Ortiz & his contract situation

This note is courtesy of the Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham, who had a chance to chat with Orioles center fielder Adam Jones while in the Dominican Republic for David Ortiz’s annual charity golf tournament.

***

If the Red Sox fail to retain David Ortiz, Adam Jones is sure the Baltimore Orioles would welcome the big DH on their roster.
   “I see him 18 times a year on the other side. I’d love to have him with us for 162,” the center fielder said. “It would be good. He adds that punch to your lineup.”
   Jones, 26, said Ortiz is one of the players he admires.
   “He has that personality and that good temperament. When he invited me here for his event, I said yes in a second,” Jones said. “People have no idea the things he does.”
   Two years ago, Jones said, Ortiz sent him a bottle of Ace of Spades champagne for his birthday and signed the label.
   “It was a $1,000 bottle of champagne. I still have it,” Jones said. “The next time I have something to celebrate, I’m going to pop it open.”
   Jones has run across a few Red Sox fans since the Orioles knocked the Sox out of the playoffs in the final game of last season.
   “The were giving me a hard time. But the game is the game and people understand how it works,” he said.
   Jones, in his second year of arbitration, is hopeful of signing a long-term extension with the Orioles.
  “That part is not up to me,” he said. “That’s one thing I’ve learned. You can’t control everything. The ball is in their court.”
   Jones has yet to speak to new Orioles general manager Dan Duquette.

Free stuff!

OK, now that I have your attention, here are the details on the Orioles 20 prizes in 20 days giveaway in January. Per a team release….

To help celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Camden Yards, the ballpark that forever changed baseball, the Orioles, in partnership with Delaware North Sportservice, are giving away 20 prizes in 20 days in January, 2012 to fans who purchase or renew season ticket plans for the upcoming season.  Some of the prizes include:

·         Your season tickets are free for the 2012 season

·         Opportunity to throw out a ceremonial first pitch

·         Spring Training getaway for two to Sarasota

·         Personalized jersey and cartoon bird cap

·         $250 gift card to use at Oriole Park

·         Private catered suite for 14 people

·         Free parking for the season

·         Autographed memorabilia

Fans are automatically entered in the “20 Prizes in 20 Days” Sweepstakes by visiting www.orioles.com/20in20 and renewing their full or partial season plan or purchasing a new season plan for 2012 prior to January 19. Fans are encouraged to act early to have more chances to win. A winner will be chosen each day from January 6 through January 25. Winners will be notified by the Orioles and have their names posted daily at www.orioles.com/20in20.

No purchase is necessary to enter or win. A purchase will not increase the chance of winning. For a complete list of prizes and the official Sweepstakes rules, please visit www.orioles.com/20in20

Orioles focus shifts to pitching & other notes

The Winter Meetings are set to kick off on Monday, and as the front office starts to take shape and with more personnel announcements expected in the coming weeks, the Orioles’ priority remains upgrading wherever they can, and most importantly, with the pitching staff.

While  executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette declined to name any player in the organization as untouchable — the club will at least listen to most trade offers — it’s a safe bet that young players like catcher Matt Wieters and outfielder Adam Jones aren’t going anywhere.

“I try to build around the players that we have,” Duquette said in terms of potential trades. “And not offer up our best players.”

With the Orioles expected to be more active in the trade market, as well as internationally, that doesn’t mean they won’t pursue Major League free agents at all. It’s entirely possible they use some of their payroll –with the 2012 budget still being worked out – to make upgrades to their bullpen and starting staff, although landing top-tier starters like C.J. Wilson or Mark Buehrle isn’t going to happen.

“We need to let the big sharks feed first,” Duquette said of the club’s approach to the free agent pitching market. “We are going to go into all the markets, we will be looking everywhere… At this point we are really trying to upgrade our pitching staff anyway we can. If we can add a good reliever, if we can add a good starter, we’ll do it.”

*Duquette will be doing a  GM video from the Winter Meetings and Orioles fans will have a chance to have their questions answered exclusively on Orioles.com by writing in to my inbox (brittany.ghiroli@mlb.com). For now, I get the honors of digging through and answering some of your offseason questions, so be sure to check Orioles.com later for the latest installment.

A few things I didn’t answer in the inbox that I’ll address briefly…

*The Orioles are not replacing the direct roles of directer of baseball operations Matt Klentak and director of pro scouting Lee MacPhail. MacPhail was reassigned to a still-undetermined Major League scouting position while Klentak accepted the Angels’ assistant GM job.

Asked if he felt like the club was working short-handed right now, Duquette said: “We’ve got some capable people on board and if you count up the numbers, we’re not really [far behind other clubs]. I’m learing what the people here can do and I’ve also got some people that I’m talking to [to fill the current holes].”

One of those is reportedly Lee Thomas, who was Duquette’s special assistant in Boston and who is on board in Baltimore, several outlets reported Thursday. Duquette has declined comment on the matter and Thomas, when reached for comment, said it’s not official yet. Like Duquette, Thomas has been out of baseball for a few years, and was last with Milwaukee after a scouting job with the Astros fell through.

“We will have appropriate staffing at all levels,” Duquette said. “We will the best people I can get to do the job that they are passionate about in helping the Orioles.”

Look for most of the changes to be announced in the next few weeks, although Duquette cautioned it could take until the end of the calendar year for everything to be sorted out.

*Reliever Tae-Hyon Chong, the agreement that has been pending seemingly forever, remains in limbo. The Baltimore Sun reported a few days ago that Chong is still deciding between Korea and the United States (he would be the first player to make the jump from the KBO right to the Major Leagues) as the source of the holdup, but there’s some rumblings it’s also a medical issue. There remains no new movement on that front as of Friday morning, although I’d expect the Orioles to have that resolved one way or another in the next few days.

*Jeremy Guthrie remains the Orioles most actively shopped player and he’s drawn serious interest from  a handful of teams. The Rockies and Angels look to be the best fits on paper, and Baltimore would almost definitely look for pitching in return. Guthrie’s durability is a huge plus for opposing teams; pitchers that post 200-plus innings –as he has in consecutive seasons — are enticing.

*With all the Rangers ties, here’s another name to keep an eye on –and another reason to monitor the Prince Fielder sweepstakes — Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak. If the M’s make a play and get Fielder, it’s being reported that Smoak would be shopped and, in that hypothetical case, the Orioles would almost certainly have interest.

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