December 2013

Paul Blair’s funeral information

Fans wishing to pay their respects to Paul Blair can do so on Friday, January 3, from 2 to 8 p.m. at Ruck’s Funeral Home, 1050 York Road in Towson where Blair’s family will be greeting family and friends. 
Memorial Contributions may be sent in his name to St. Jude Children’s Hospital, 262 Danny Thomas Place, Memphis, TN 38105.
Blair died at the age of 69 on Thursday and he played 17 years in the Majors, 13 with the Orioles. The outfielder is a member of the Orioles Hall of Fame and had lived in the Baltimore area since his playing days. Blair was active in numerous community and charitable events, many on behalf of the Orioles and the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association.

Happy Holidays

I’m using up a few vacation days the rest of the week, so this blog and my Twitter account will be pretty slow. (Insert your own joke about the Orioles’ offseason being the same here.)

As usual, any news will still be on Orioles.com –including the  recent reports that Brian Roberts is a Yankee– and I’ll have some holiday/year-end content closer to the end of the month.

Happy Holidays, everyone! Thank for reading and following along this year.

Os sign Marrero, Balfour note

The Orioles signed first baseman Chris Marrero to a Minor League contract, according to a report by Baseball America on Tuesday afternoon.

A right-handed hitter, he was 2-for-16 in eight games with the Nationals last season and hit .270 at Triple-A Syracuse with 11 home runs and 59 RBIs. He played 31 games for the Nationals in 2011, hitting .248 with 10 RBIs, but missed a large chunk of the following season after suffering a hamstring injury in winter ball.

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Also, the Orioles have continued interest in free agent Grant Balfour. They have a two-year deal on the table, but the sticking point remains years. He wants three and the O’s haven’t budged, despite reports.

 

Markakis on leading off, his power numbers & the Johnson trade

Nick Markakis, Orioles leadoff hitter?

It could happen in 2014, with manager Buck Showalter saying at last week’s Winter Meetings that Markakis is the club’s leading in-house option should the organization not sign or trade for a leadoff hitter.

“That’s the first time I’ve heard of it,” Markakis said on Tuesday at the OriolesREACH Holiday Party for Kids at Dave & Busters in Hanover. “No mention of it, but if that’s what’s got to happen, that’s what’s got to happen to make the team better and the organization better. It is what it is and we’ll address that situation if it comes up.”

“I like it because, nine times out of 10 on the road, you’re going to get five at-bats. I like the extra at-bats, especially when you’re feeling good. Getting that extra at-bat helps. It’s a different position, but I liked it. I enjoyed it.”

Markakis has spent time in the leadoff spot before, posting  a career 329/.375/.441 line in 88 games. Ideally, the Orioles would like to add a leadoff man, but they’ve got a lengthy to-do list and there’s no guarantee. As for Markakis, he was able to start working out earlier than in winters past and said he’s about a “couple extra weeks to a month” ahead of where he’s been.

“I feel good, I feel healthy,” Markakis said, coming off a 2013 season in which he posted career-lows in numerous offense categories including a 685 OPS (on base percentage plus slugging) in 160 games. Markakis spent the winter prior to that season recovering from a broken thumb, his third surgery in the 2012 calendar, and was slowed with a neck issue in Spring Training.

“A lot went on the past year as far as injuries and stuff,” he said. “I got myself in as best of shape as I could in the time I was given. It was a tough year for me, but I was able to make it through healthy. That’s your main goal at the beginning of every season. It was productive to some points, and some points it wasn’t productive.”

Markakis’ declining power numbers have been a hot topic among Orioles fans and it’s a facet of his game he was asked about again Tuesday.

“I guess going back to it, yeah, you can say it [needs to improve], but my main thing is I want to be healthy and I want to get stronger,” Markakis said. “I’m on my way to doing what I want to do right now. So, I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing.”

Is Markakis motivated to put the 2013 season behind him?

“I don’t necessarily need the motivation,” he said. “I do this because I love doing it, and the love and appreciation I have for the game. That’s enough for me to, I guess you could say, be motivated. I’m always excited to work and get better at the game any way you can.”

The Orioles haven’t done much to get better so far this winter, with a few smaller moves and the trading away of closer Jim Johnson, a deal that shocked Markakis

“Jim’s a guy who’s been here his whole career, ,e was drafted by this team. I played through the Minors with him and my whole career with him,” Markakis said.  “We had something a little more special than a lot of the players.

“Speaking for all the players, yeah, Jim was a great guy to have in the clubhouse. His work ethic and what he does translates on the field. If you’re an Oriole fan, you saw what he did the past two years. It’s a tough one to bite, but this is baseball and anything can happen. That’s the business aspect of it.”

The Orioles are still looking for a replacement for Johnson, with nothing new on the club’s quest to land free agent Grant Balfour on Monday afternoon as negotiations continue to drag on. The O’s have been viewed as the favorite to land the fiery right-hander and are also in need of a designated hitter, left fielder and rotation help.

They’re also kicking around the idea of resigning Brian Roberts.

“I’ve talked to him here and there, but no talk about his future or anything,” Markakis said of Roberts. “I’m sure they’ll get that worked out.”

As the longest-tenured active Oriole, Markakis said he isn’t worried about the team’s slow offseason and preached patience.

“There’s still a lot of time left between now and the beginning of the season,” he said. “That’s why Buck and Dan [Duquette] and those guys up there do what they do. Those are the things we don’t have to worry about. We’ll get it done and we’ll be talking differently probably in April.”

Balfour update

Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said earlier this week the organizations would be willing to go multiple years on a free agent pitcher in the right scenario.

And while the club has extended a two-year contract to Grant Balfour, the sticking point in negotiations regarding the free agent closer —who will turn 36 at the end of the month— so far has been the length of the deal.

Industry sources confirmed to MLB.com on Thursday that Balfour has several offers on the table and the Orioles, who have been heavily rumored to land the right-hander all week, still believe they are in a favorable position to land him.

Duquette acknowledged on Wednesday that the organization had made several offers to free agents, including starters, relievers and at least one left-handed hitter and the O’s remain optimistic they can start to address those needs quickly following an uneventful Winter Meetings.

Balfour went 1-3 with a 2.59 ERA in 65 games for the A’s last season, pitching 62 2/3 innings and compiling 38 saves. The Orioles, in need of a closer after trading Jim Johnson earlier this month —because they were unwilling to pay a salary of more than $10 million to him— would try to reallocate that money with a deal that comes in at an average annual rate less than that.

The Australian native has 10 years of big league experience, the past three with Oakland and the four prior to that with Tampa Bay. Balfour made his debut with Minnesota in ’01 and owns a career 28-17 record with a 3.27 ERA in 463 games, over 473 innings.

Os take Borbon and Almanzar in Rule 5

Seeking to add to their roster for the third consecutive year, the Orioles selected third baseman Michael Almanzar and Julio Borbon in Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft.

Borbon, who was taken in the Minor League portion of the Draft from the Cubs Double-A roster,  has Major League experience and the Orioles had interest in claiming him off of waivers during the 2013 season.

“Borbon believe it or not is a left-handed hitter outfielder that fills a need that we were looking for in our big league team,” executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said. “He’s had some good contribution in the Major League[s], getting on base with his bat, playing defense and also with his legs. So we like these players, they grew up around baseball. They have tools, one is a left-handed hitter one is a right-handed hitter. We think they can both help our team.”

Borbon is a former first-round Draft pick who is a .272/.318/.347 lifetime hitter in 288 big league games. He played in one game for the Rangers and 72 for the Cubs last season, batting .200/.282/.276 and has dropped off the last few years. The Orioles, who could possibly invite the 27-year-old to Major League camp, will try to help Borbon capture his old form.

“Sometimes just a change of scenery, new environment new atmosphere, sometimes guys flourish when they kind of get that second opportunity,” director of Minor League operations Kent Qualls said. “So, we are excited to bring him into spring training and let our staff work with him and see what we got.”

Almanzar, who has also played first base, is from the Red Sox organization and spent the 2013 season with Double-A Portland. He played in 131 games and posted a .268/.328/.432 line including 16 homers and 81 RBIs.

The 23-year-old was signed by Boston as an undrafted free agent in ’08 and hails from Santo Domingo. Almanzar, a right-handed hitter, was one of nine selections in the Major League portion of Thursday’s draft and will cost the Orioles $50,000 and a 40-man roster spot.

“I’m kind of excited that we added two players today who have the capability and skill to help our Major League team,” Duquette said.

“[Almanzar] has had a lot of experience having signed young, he got a healthy bonus when he signed and he has made good progress in all areas of his game the last two years. [20]12 and ’13, so we will see how he does. It’s a challenge for him to go to the big leagues and perform. But he performed all year in Double-A with the bat.”

The Orioles have been able to keep their last two Rule 5 Draft picks on their Major League roster, in Ryan Flaherty and T.J. McFarland.

Webb speaks

The Orioles haven’t done anything of note in Orlando, but reliever Ryan Webb did pass his physical in Baltimore and spoke with the media on a conference call last night.

Here is what Webb had to say…

[on choosing to sign with Baltimore] “They were one of the first ones to reach out to me and my agent. That’s always a good sign. And it was literally hours after I was non-tendered by the Marlins. It’s a good feeling when somebody’s on you that quick. They’ve paid attention to me and probably wanted me for a while. Obviously, the defense there is amazing and that was a big part of my decision in the end. You always want to play behind a very good defense like the Oriole have. Their lineup is incredible. I think they’re going to compete in that division and I want to help make them a playoff team.

Looking at Jim Johnson obviously leaving and the type of pitcher he was, it’s always good to see sinker ball guys like that that are kind of looked upon favorably by the front office and the manager. He was obviously an excellent closer there for the last few years, and there’s lots of similarities with the types of pitchers we are. I think going  into an atmosphere where the manager looks at sinkerballers as a positive, good thing, made me more comfortable with my decision.”

[on his role with the Orioles:] “I haven’t really thought of it. I’m going to go into Spring Training and I’m going to work as hard as I can. That kind of decision is up to Buck. I’m just going to go in with an open mind and whatever role they want me to paly, I’m going to compete my best and I’m going to be happy with whatever role that is because I want to play on a winning team. I don’t want to go in and be the best guy on the worst bullpen. I want to be a guy in one of the best bullpens in the league. I learned that a long time ago. It’s a lot more fun to win and have a good bullpen and a good group of guys behind you than stick out for being one good guy in a bullpen that falters. So, I’m just looking forward to having guys around me who are competing just as hard.”

[on playing at Camden Yards and in the American League East:] “I hear it’s a beautiful ballpark. I’ve never been there. I’ve been to a few of the stadiums in that league. I know it’s a tough division, but that kind of stuff really excites me. I want to pitch against the best, I want to pitch in games that matter. I want to pitch when every pitch counts. That kind of stuff really gets me going. So, I’m excited to come to a team where every inning is going to matter. I think as long as I keep the ball down in the zone and do what I’ve done, I don’t have to worry about the ballpark so much.”

[on if he was surprised about the non-tender:] “I was surprised at the non-tender. It was definitely not expected. Before I had time to even process what happened, I got calls from 14 or 15 teams, according to my agent, and Baltimore was one of the first and they were one of the  most successful, so I was real comfortable with making that decision kind of early. The timing is right, I think, and I was very happy with my decision and I’m really excited to be with the Orioles.”

Os take Almanzar in Rule 5

Seeking to add to their roster for the third consecutive year, the Orioles selected third baseman Michael Almanzar in Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft.

Almanzar, who has also played first base, is from the Red Sox organization and spent the 2013 season with Double-A Portland. He played in 131 games and posted a .268/.328/.432 line including 16 homers and 81 RBIs.<p>

The 23-year-old was signed by Boston as an undrafted free agent in ’08 and hails from Santo Domingo. Almanzar, a right-handed hitter, was one of nine selections in the Major League portion of Thursday’s draft.

The Orioles have been able to keep their last two Rule 5 Draft picks on their Major League roster, in Ryan Flaherty and T.J. McFarland.

Almanzar will have to stay on the Orioles 25-man roster the entire season in order for them to keep him. He costs the organization $50,000 and is now part of the 40-man roster.

Duquette Day 3

The Orioles are ramping up efforts to make a move, extending several offers to free agents on Wednesday and continuing trade discussions, although it remains to be seen if they will have anything to show for it when they board a plane back north on Thursday afternoon.

“We’ve got offers out to hitters, we’ve got offers out to pitchers that are both starters and relievers,” executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said. “Our effort is there, we just haven’t closed a deal yet.”

The Orioles watched several pieces come off the board that they liked in the third full day of the Winter Meetings, including pitcher Bartolo Colon –who signed a to-year, $20-million pact with the Mets– and first baseman/outfielder Logan Morrison who was traded to Seattle.

Is Duquette, who was confident earlier in the week the club would add players, feeling any pressure to make a move as the meetings wind down?

“We are gong to try to get something done,” he said. “Sometimes you can lay the groundwork [at the Winter Meetings] and make a deal a day or two after. That would be good. But we would certainly like to get something done here this week.”

Duquette said the market has pretty much set itself and he expected some trades around baseball later on Wednesday and the rest of the week. Whether any of those moves involve the Orioles –who have prioritized pitching and a left-handed bat– remains to be seen.

Other notes…

*The club has been busy preparing for the Rule 5 Draft and will take a player in the Major League portion on Thursday morning. They’ve kept their last two picks in T.J. McFarland and Ryan Flaherty.

*Director of player development Brian Graham will be honored by the industry as this year’s Sheldon “Chief” Bender Award winner at a dinner tonight. More on the award and Graham can be found here.

*New reliever Ryan Webb spoke to the media today on a conference call and said one of the reasons he signed with the O’s was that they were the first team to contact him after he was non tendered by Miami. I’ll have more from Webb up later on Orioles.com.

Orioles considering extending J.J. Hardy

The Orioles have taken under consideration extending shortstop J.J. Hardy, who is signed through 2014.

“J.J. has had a couple really good years for the team,” executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said Wednesday, “and I think the interest is mutual between he and the Orioles and extending that relationship.”

It would be Hardy’s second extension with Baltimore as the Gold Glover heads into the final season of a three-year $22.5 million deal in July 2011, a deal that includes an eight-team no-trade clause. He is represented by LSW Baseball.

Hardy, one of the most well-liked Orioles in the clubhouse, was also an All-Star and Silver Slugger this year and hit .263 with 25 homers and 76 RBIs in 159 games.

Hardy was the subject of trade rumors earlier this winter, along with catcher Matt Wieters, although it’s highly unlikely the club moves either player. The Orioles have had extension talks regarding Wieters the past two springs and Duquette said they will touch base with his agent Scott Boras –who also represented Chris Davis– when they go through the arbitration process next month.

Boras held court with the media at the Winter Meetings on Wednesday afternoon and was asked about possible extension talks for Wieters and Davis.

“I’m sure that conversation will be with Peter [Angelos] and I some day, but certainly welcome to entertain it and look at it and talk,” he said.

As for the notoriously difficult Boras’ relationship with the Orioles?

“Dan [Duquette] and I talk frequently, if not two, three times a month. Had a meeting in September. We have a good working relationship and had one when he was in Boston,” Boras said. “He’s got great hair, too.”

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