December 2012

Os sign RHP Russell to Minors deal

The Orioles have signed right-handed relief pitcher Adam Russell to a Minor League contract and he will be in big league Spring Training as a non-roster invitee.

The 29-year-old Russell last played in the Majors in 2011, as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, and went 1-2 with a 3.03 ERA in 36 appearances. He was signed to a Minor League deal by Atlanta last winter and was picked up by the Angels after his release in July, going 3-3 with a 7.02 ERA across two levels.

A former Chicago White Sox farmhand, Russell also spent two years with the San Diego Padres and is 8-3 with a 3.95 ERA in parts of four big league seasons. Russell announced the signing on his Facebook page Wednesday afternoon.

Os agree to terms on one-year deal with McLouth

The Orioles have agreed to terms on a one-year deal for outfielder Nate McLouth, according to an industry source.

Baltimore had steady dialogue with McLouth’s agent, Mike Nicotera, and manager Buck Showalter spoke on the phone with the 31-year-old outfielder on Tuesday as he was the organization’s top choice in adding a corner outfielder.

McLouth had a .268/.342/.435 line in 55 games for Baltimore last season, emerging as the club’s starting left fielder and providing a spark from the leadoff spot with Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis on the disabled list. Signed to a Minor League contract after being released by the Pirates, McLouth had said all along that he would like to return to Baltimore. It was a mutual feeling.

“I think Nate liked Baltimore, he played very well there, and we liked him in Baltimore,
executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said Tuesday night. “He did a good job for us when he came up … there’s a natural interest in re-signing him to the team.”

McLouth, a former Gold Glove winner, joins Nolan Reimold as an option for the O’s in left field. The team is still seeking a middle-of-the-order bat which, with McLouth’s signing, will now come from either first base or designated hitter.

The Baltimore Sun first reported the two sides were closer to a deal.

Day Three early morning rumblings: O’s & the OF

The Orioles are doing their due diligence in searching the free-agent market for another outfielder, checking in on Nick Swisher and Ryan Sweeney -among others –  as they continue to negotiate with Nate McLouth’s camp.

The overwhelming sense is McLouth is the Orioles’ first choice and he is reportedly seeking only a one-year deal to re-establish himself in the market, although executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette declined to discuss the length of any potential contract.

Swisher, 32, is an interesting name, but with the deals secured by Angel Pagan (Giants) and Shane Victorino (Red Sox) it’s tough to imagine the Orioles being able to work out a deal that works in their current payroll constraints. And even if they could, it doesn’t seem Baltimore is all that enticed by a high-energy, theatrical player such as Swisher, with a source noting that the meeting was “very preliminary” in nature.

Manager Buck Showalter has done an admirable job turning around the clubhouse atmosphere and the team’s chemistry was a big part of what they did last year. I’m not saying that Swisher’s a bad guy, but any addition will be weighed carefully in the front office, particularly when you look at the sizeable chunk signing Swisher would almost certainly demand.

Sweeney was non-tendered by Boston on Friday, and could be a potential depth signing or insurance if the club doesn’t land McLouth. The 27-year-old  made three trips to the disabled list last season, ending 2012 when he broke his hand punching a door in the clubhouse following a bad at-bat on July 30.  A left-handed hitter, Sweeney played in 63 games for the Red Sox and he hit .260 with 18 doubles, two triples, no homers and 16 RBIs.  He has a career.293/.347/.402 line against right-handed pitching.

The Orioles also reportedly checked in with Nate Schierholtz, as the 28-year-old was non-tendered by the Phillies last month, although ESPN reported Wednesday morning that the Yankees are considered a frontrunner for his services.

Duquette Day 2

Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette met with the media again this evening, with a group of men exiting his hotel suite before reporters were allowed in. The meeting was about a potential agreement between Baltimore and the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, who play in Japan’s Pacific League. Derrek White, the head international scout for Rakuten, played in Montreal when Duquette was part of that front office and Duquette said the two sides were meeting about having some cooperative agreement and exchange between the two organizations.

I’m not entirely sure what the agreement would involve and it seems the details of that are still being sorted through, but it’s interesting to note. Duquette has made it a point to improve the club’s international efforts and this appears to be another step in that direction.

Here’s some of the highlights and quotes from Duquette as the Orioles head into Day 3 without a move here in Nashville…

*The team met with about a half-dozen agents today, including those representing Joe Saunders and Nate McLouth. Duquette called Saunders talks “preliminary” and said that the club has other plans in the event that they can’t strike a deal with McLouth. Baltimore is pushing to sign an outfielder by the end of the week. The Orioles have not had any discussions with Mark Reynolds’ reps since non-tendering him, as they are going to let the market on him play out a little bit first.

FOXSports.com tweeted McLouth is seeking a one-year deal only, but Duquette wouldn’t confirm or deny the report saying, “I’m not sure how that’s going to shake out.”

“[We met with a] couple free agents, along with Nate McLouth, obviously who we would like to have come back,” Duquette said. “But we want to be prepared in the event that we can’t reach an agreement with Nate.  So, we want to make sure that while there are other people on the market that we avail ourselves to the whole market and hopefully we come home with a signed player.

I think Nate liked Baltimore, he played very well there, and we liked him in Baltimore. He did a good job for us when he came up…there’s a natural interest in resigning him to the team.”

Is McLouth –along with Nolan Reimold– Plan A for left field?

“We are going to hopefully come home with a signed player at the end of the week,” Duquette said. “I wouldn’t say that there’s a Plan A, Plan B, Plan C. We are going to try to get it done so we have another contributing player for our team.”

*Asked about movement on potential trades, Duquette said the Orioles touched base with five teams on Tuesday, with some of those trade talks continued from the previous day.

“We will have to see where it goes,” Duquette said. “But, they do like our young pitchers. We have gotten considerable interested in a number of our young pitchers.”

Was the interest in the O’s young arms as expected?

“It was a little slow, but yesterday and today it kind of picked up. So, I was heartened by the fact that people do like our pitchers, because we have some good ones and they are young and we can bring them back.”

*As some of the big fish in the free agent market circle around, some second-tier players are cashing in on deals that aren’t exactly team-friendly. Don’t expect the Orioles to get involved in that.

“Adding the pitching to our roster that we added, we put on Zach Clark, we put on [Mike] Belfiore, that was to protect the talent and add players we already had in the system that we thought could help the team,” Duquette said. “Adding Yamaico Navarro and keeping [outfielder] Steve Pearce after we claimed him, those are moves we made so we had those players on our roster so we had certainty that we had them and certainty of the cost.

Those are little things that we did to try to improve our team. Because I don’t really like the mid-level market. Teams pay a lot of money for mediocre talent and it’s not the market we want to be in.”

Showalter holds court (w. WBC note)

Today was manager Buck Showalter’s day to meet with the media at the Winter Meetings in Nashville, and I’ll have a full story up on Orioles.com later, but here are some quick hits for you of the highlights…

*Asked if he was getting antsy that they hadn’t made any moves, Showalter said it was actually the opposite. It appears that the Orioles value for their players in higher than other clubs and so far Baltimore won’t budge.

*Nate McLouth and Showalter spoke on the phone earlier today and the expectation is McLouth’s agent will meet with executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette at some point today. The Orioles want McLouth back and he wants to come back, assuming the two sides can work out a fair deal.

*Speaking of returns, Showalter said the club has not ruled out a return for Mark Reynolds, who was  non-tendered on Friday. Reynolds is a free agent along with Omar Quintanilla –who was also non-tendered– and the O’s aren’t eliminating either player as an option for next season.

*Pedro Strop will pitch in the World Baseball Classic, with Wei-Yin Chen not officially decline yet according to Showalter –although Chen took to his Facebook page earlier this winter to say he wasn’t going to pitch– and Jim Johnson not likely to participate either. Speaking of Chen, he is one of about eight guys working out in California with special assistant Brady Anderson.

*Manny Machado was hospitalized with meningitis earlier this offseason and gave the club a pretty good scare, but is fine now and all recovered.

*Two guys who are progressing well this winter in particular: Nolan Reimold and Tsuyoshi Wada. Showalter says he feels really good about Reimold (who I caught up with recently here) and ideally the club would have like to have him and McLouth for next season. As for Wada, he is progressing quicker than expected from Tommy John on his left elbow and he could be available sooner than expected. Originally the Orioles had thought he would miss at least the first month of the regular season.

*The vacant third base coach position is expected to be filled by the end of the week. There’s a lot going on at these meetings and Showalter said he wants to sit down with Duquette back in Baltimore and iron this out. He’s down to a few candidates for a job that has gotten a lot of interest. DeMarlo Hale, who left the job to become Toronto’s bench coach, even put forth a suggestion.

*The Orioles have announced that their exhibition game on Wednesday, March 6 will be played against Team Spain at 1:05 p.m. at Ed Smith Stadium, as opposed to Team Brazil as originally listed. Season ticket holders at Ed Smith Stadium will receive complimentary tickets as part of their season package to the World Baseball Classic exhibition game, while all single game tickets will go on sale January 26.  Prices for the WBC exhibition will be $15 for Infield and Lower Box (regularly $24 and $22), $10 for Reserved Grandstand (regularly $18) and $5 for the Left Field Pavilion (regularly $16). For more information on the World Baseball Classic fans may visit http://www.worldbaseballclassic.com. Fans interested in season plans, five-game flex packs or group tickets at Ed Smith Stadium may call 941-893-6300.

Duquette holds court

Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette just held court with the media about Day 1 of the Winter Meetings and said the club met with four teams on potential trades and 3-4 agents to discuss free agent possibilities.

The focus remains on adding a position player to bolster the lineup, which is where they have been directing almost all their efforts.

The club did not meet with the agents of Nate McLouth or Joe Saunders, two free agents they want to bring back, and they’ve had some discussions about adding a reliever –touching base with both left-handers and right-handers– although that’s clearly secondary to adding a bat right now.

The Orioles had a strong showing at this afternoon’s luncheon, where Fred Ferreira was named International Scout of the Year. Duquette said the club also spent some time today going over next year’s contracts and what they anticipate having to pay in arbitration.

We have to fund an additional $22 million in salary raises,” Duquette said.  “The good news is those players are going to be on our roster and they earned the money by having good years. So I think it’s important for people to focus on, the team is paying the players the money that are producing for the ballclub.”

Asked about possible payroll constraints, Duquette declined to discuss a specific payroll number although it’s believed the Orioles will stay in the $85-90 million range.

“We have enough money to field a competitive team,” he said. “We have a foundation for a competitive team and I also know that this past year’s team connected with the fans so people have more interest in the team, which will allow us to be a little bit more aggressive as we put our team together. Be a little bit more aggressive in terms of the amount of money that we can put toward our Major League payroll.”

It was mentioned that the Orioles were ranked in the middle in terms of payroll last season, but Duquette corrected that.

“We are closer to the bottom 10,” he said, “and I don’t think we are going to get in the top 10 anytime soon.”

“Our market is our market. Our market hasn’t really changed dramatically, but we have connected with the fans so there’s more interest in our market. But the market size, and what’s available to field the team, that hasn’t really changed. What has changed is that our ballclub was good on the field and we’ve connected with the fans so there’s more interest. To focus on a number of where we’re at, that is not going to help us meet our goals. And I don’t think, frankly, I don’t think our fans are that focused on it. we have to compete with teams in the American League East and talking about what we have to put towards it is not going to get that job done.”

O’s going hard for LaRoche? Not exactly

Are the Orioles in pursuit of Adam LaRoche? Not exactly, according to multiple sources, one who called reports otherwise “wildly” inaccurate.

The Orioles, in need of a first baseman and power hitter to bolster the lineup, were linked to free agent LaRoche on Monday afternoon, with ESPN.com reporting –citing a rival team executive — that Baltimore was in “hard” in bidding for his services.  But, right now, that interest seems minimal at best as the O’s remain focused on trading to add a middle-of-the-lineup bat. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette indicated Sunday night that making a deal was the most logical scenario and it continues to be where the organization is concentrating most of its efforts.

Baltimore isn’t in a position to add a lot of payroll and the Orioles have had preliminary discussions with several teams, dating back to last month’s general manager meetings, about trade possibilities. At this point, there seems to be a fairly good chance something gets done here in Nashville.

The O’s could find a power bat elsewhere –at the corner infield spots or designated hitter — and put Chris Davis at first base, with Duquette saying Sunday night that they don’t have a preference, at least publicly, as to where they acquire the middle-of-the-order bat.

Greetings from Nashville

winter meetings

Greetings from Nashville, where baseball’s Winter Meetings officially kicked off this morning.

In case you missed it, I wrote a primer on the Orioles’ needs here, and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette held court with the O’s beat reporter crew last night (which you can read here).

There’s going to be a lot of rumors and speculation floating around the vast lobbies here, so check back frequently on the blog and follow along on Twitter to stay up to speed in what’s sure to be a hectic few days.

The question I’m asked the most is what do I think the Orioles will do here and Duquette hinted again last night about a potential trade getting done. He was confident last year at the meeting the Orioles would make a move and they did on the final day in trading for pitcher Dana Eveland. This year, the hope is Baltimore is able to make a much bigger acquisition and get a bat for the middle of the lineup.

I’ve said it again but it bears repeating: It’s far more likely that the Orioles make a trade than sign a free agent bat.

Duquette has said numerous times the payroll will stay around the same as it was last year –figure in the $85 million range– and while non-tendering Mark Reynolds frees up some money it still doesn’t give the Orioles a lot of wiggle room. (Or room for premiere free agent Josh Hamilton, who will probably be linked with the Orioles up until he signs elsewhere).

The Orioles main goal last year was to build pitching depth and that’s the area where they’ll deal from to acquire a bat. Duquette said again last night that their pitching is what interests other teams the most and they’re in a spot right now where there’s a logjam for the starting rotation. Adding lefty starter Joe Saunders, who the club remains in talks with resigning, would further that issue.

With top prospects Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman not far away –and off the board to other clubs– the Orioles could package one or two of their young arms to bring back a bat. But who would they part with? Outside of Bundy/Gausman, I don’t think any of those young arms are off the table, although there’s more of a sell-high factor with Chris Tillman or Brian Matusz than there would be with Zach Britton or Jake Arrieta at this point. Arrieta and Matusz got a lot of interest leading up to July’s Trade Deadline and the O’s didn’t bite. There are some in the organization who still believe Arrieta can be a solid Major League starting pitcher, although it doesn’t mean he can’t be had in the right deal, for the right player.

Stay tuned throughout the day as it’s sure to get interesting around baseball these next few days….
*Quick Spring Training note: Spain will now be playing their first round games in Puerto Rico and training in Florida which will make them the new opponent for the Orioles on March 6 in Sarasota.

The Brazil WBC team will now be playing their first round games in Japan (instead of Puerto Rico) and will train there (they have several Japanese players and a strong connection to Japan).

Duquette on Winter Meetings: I believe we’ll able to do some good here

Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette held court briefly with reporters today, on the eve of the start of baseball’s Winter Meetings. He reiterated that the organization’s top priority remains adding a middle-of-the-order bat, an acquisition which will most likely come though a trade.

“Our agenda at the Winter Meetings is to try to find a hitter,” Duquette said. “We’ll keep working on that. It’s a possibility that may happen in the trade market.”

What would the Orioles part with in return?

“We also have more qualified Major League pitchers than we have slots,” said Duquette, who also indicated top prospects Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy could be in Baltimore at some point next season. “All those things are good things, right? So, we have a surplus as perceived by other teams that we can make a trade that could help us in other areas.

“I believe we’ll be able to do some good here.”

The Orioles still have interest in resigning free agents Joe Saunders and Nate McLouth and have not gotten word about whether designated hitter Jim Thome will continue his baseball career.

Duquette seemed content with the organization’s additions in terms of speed and defense and it doesn’t look like they’ll add anyone else at this point.

“The player we added, (Yamaico) Navarro, is a pretty good ballplayer, and if you take a look at what he did at Triple-A when he went back to Indianapolis, he has the offensive capability to be an everyday ballplayer in the big leagues,” Duquette said. “It just hasn’t translated so far with his production in the big leagues, but he’s had less than 200 at-bats. He does have the tools and capabilities to be an everyday ballplayer. And he’s versatile to where he can play a number of different positions. So, it’ll be interesting to see where that comes out. But I think we have plenty of candidates for second base.”

The Orioles –who non-tendered first baseman Mark Reynolds and infielder Omar Quintanilla — will also take a close look at other clubs non-tenders.

Manager Buck Showalter, who was hanging out as well, said that he has narrowed the third base coaching job to “two or three” candidates and could have a final decision before the meetings end in Nashville.

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