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Winter Meetings Day 3

Good afternoon from the Winter Meetings Day 3, the last full day here in San Diego.

Not much buzzing in the lobby regarding Baltimore, but there remains a sense in the Orioles organization that executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette will get a deal done in the next day or so, not including their expected Rule 5 picks. And, no, it won’t be a blockbuster move.

Baltimore’s preference is to sign a free agent, but it may be easier for them to acquire a player via trade given the depth in their Minor League system. Duquette has discussed trades with a handful of teams, including reported interest in Phillies outfielder Marlon Byrd. Adding an outfielder remains their top priority.

Here’s the list again of available free-agent outfielders, via MLB Trade Rumors. The O’s have checked in with a number of these guys as they try to find ways to replace Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz, including meeting yesterday with Delmon Young’s agent.

Norichika Aoki RF
Brennan Boesch RF
Emilio Bonifacio 2B / CF
Melky Cabrera LF
Mike Carp 1B / LF
Ezequiel Carrera LF / CF / RF
Endy Chavez RF
Tyler Colvin LF
Chris Denorfia LF / RF
Andy Dirks LF
Ryan Doumit C / LF / RF
Cole Gillespie LF
Jonny Gomes LF
Tony Gwynn CF
Scott Hairston LF
Corey Hart 1B / RF / DH
Raul Ibanez LF / DH
Kelly Johnson 1B / 2B / 3B / LF
Reed Johnson LF
Jason Kubel LF
Ryan Ludwick LF
Nyjer Morgan CF
Mike Morse 1B / LF
Colby Rasmus CF
Nolan Reimold LF / RF
Alex Rios RF
Nate Schierholtz RF
Alfonso Soriano LF
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Delmon Young LF / DH
Eric Young LF

Buck holds court

SAN DIEGO— No matter what the Orioles do in the next few days at the Winter Meetings, manager Buck Showalter conceded Tuesday that it’s a tough task to keep the clubhouse chemistry following the departure of two key pieces of the 2014 club: Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis

“I think that’s one of my biggest challenges between now and the time we open up is not selling, but making sure our players feel like have the same morale,” Showalter said during Tuesday’s media session. “What comes first, is it winning games or having that? Because there’s nothing that takes the morale out of the team than not playing good baseball or losing a lot of games. Best players in the world, best coaches in the world, best, in some cases, umpires in the world, there’s such a fine line. We saw it last year, such a fine line between success and failure. And we’ve got some work to do.”

Showalter, who admitted losing guys like long-time Oriole Markakis was particularly tough, touched on a host of topics regarding his club and its quest to contend again in 2015. And in his trademark cheeky humor, he also poked fun at some of the free-spending in the American League East, asking “Have those guys run out of money yet?.”

The Orioles have money to spend right now given the losses of Cruz and Markakis and Showalter reminded reporters that the organization isn’t exactly in dire straits.

“The biggest reason we made a leap last year was our pitching,” he said. “And other than Andrew Miller, we haven’t really lost anything. Our starting pitching got a lot better, got us deeper in the game, allowed us to keep our bullpen healthy and matchup a little bit more. If we do that again we’ll have some fun next year.”

Showalter is also counting on a good year from Chris Davis, who will finish out his 25-game suspension on Opening Day.

“I think he’s in a good mindset,” said Showalter, who was with Davis on Saturday. “A lot of things point up with him, some that I won’t make note of, but you can probably figure out, as far as what this year means to him, not only as the future for him but also as a teammate and as somebody that he takes very seriously that his teammates and the fans count on. I can’t really see anything that would point to something being negative towards Chris having a big year and getting back on the saddle, so to speak, of where he was. I’m expecting him to be solid for us. Whether it be first base, right field, whatever. We’ve got a lot of options.”

Another option in the outfield is Steve Pearce, who Showalter said would be the team’s starting right fielder if the season started tomorrow. The Orioles are looking to add another outfielder while they’re here in San Diego, as well as relief help and catching depth. Matt Wieters is coming off Tommy John surgery and won’t be rushed back, though he remains on schedule right now along with third baseman Manny Machado.

Showalter isn’t tied to a schedule for naming his next hitting coach, though he did say he was “closer” to the task on Tuesday. He has three or four strong candidates and is leaning on his existing coaching staff in helping him replace Jim Presley. Having big league experience isn’t a necessary prerequisite, either.

“That’s why I interviewed [Minor League hitting coordinator] Jeff Manto,” Showalter said. “ That [experience] stuff lasts about two weeks, and then you want to know how you’re going to help them to be a good player and win.”

Day 2 quick hits on Byrd, pitching, etc.

Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette didn’t have much for reporters today in his media session, but he did sound pretty optimistic something would get done before he leaves San Diego.

“We should be able to get a couple of players before we leave here,” Duquette said, noting once again that it’s more likely the O’s sign a free agent than make a trade.

It’s also more likely they sign guys to shorter-term deals.

The O’s did have some trade discussions today, however, speaking to 4-5 clubs including the Phillies. Duquette didn’t deny the FoxSports.com report that the Orioles had talks with Philadelphia involving Marlon Byrd and –as evidenced yesterday with Atlanta’s Justin Upton– he has no problem shooting down false rumors.

“That’s interesting,” Duquette said of the report.

The Orioles also discussed some trades that would bring that pitching depth in the bullpen and are looking at both left-handers and right-handers right now. They don’t seem keen on trading to add catching depth, but did have talks with several free agent catchers on Tuesday as they try to add a contingency plan in the event that Matt Wieters isn’t ready to start the season. Right now, Wieters is on schedule in rehabbing back from Tommy John surgery and should be ready.

Duquette thinks the free agent market is starting to take shape and it’ll be interesting to see how the next 24 hours unfold. He was also asked about getting a leadoff hitter and didn’t seem like that was in the cards. He noted that Alejandro De Aza and David Lough are in-house leadoff options.

Quick hits on Upton, Breslow, free agents and other WM talk

I’ll have a full story up later, but here are some of the quick hits from the media session with Orioles EVP Dan Duquette…

*The Orioles have not talked to Atlanta Braves about outfielder Justin Upton, thought it has been widely speculated as a match. In fact, Duquette said it’s more likely that the club signs a free agent than makes a trade right now. The O’s had 4-5 conversations today with free agents with plans for several more before the day is through.

*Despite a lot of interest, Duquette said he would “be reluctant” to trade any of the team’s starters. Given that you typically need more than five starters during the season, it seems like he’d like to hang on to that pitching depth.

*The Orioles would like to add relief help and there’s clearly some interest in left-hander Craig Breslow. Duquette grinned when his name came up and mentioned that Breslow went to Yale and is, in his opinion, capable of several more good years.

*Duquette plans to meet with Delmon Young’s agent this week as the O’s still have interest in bringing him back. They’d also like to bring back catcher Nick Hundley, but the sense is he’d like to wait and see if there’s a full-time job available for him. The O’s need a contingency plan in case Matt Wieters, who had Tommy John surgery, isn’t ready to start the season. Wieters is on track as of right now, however.

*Asked about yesterday’s rumors that he has interest in going to Toronto should the CEO/president spot open up, Duquette reiterated his focus this week is to prepare the 2015 Orioles for the season.

*The Orioles have also extended agreements with all of their affiliates and will be dining with them tonight.

Orioles lose Barnes on waivers

The Orioles announced Monday that left-handed pitcher Scott Barnes has been claimed on waivers by the Texas Rangers.

Barnes was acquired for cash considerations from the Indians on November 26 and his departure puts the O’s 40-man roster at 39.

Barnes, 27, went 3-2 with a 3.69 ERA (13 ER/31.2 IP) over 25 games/one start with Triple-A Columbus in the Cleveland organization in 2014. The left-hander was designated for assignment by Cleveland on November 23 and was traded to Baltimore in exchange for cash considerations on November 26. In 2014, Barnes held opponents to a .193 (22-114), including .191 (9-47) with just 2 extra-base hits by left-handed batters.

He made his major league debut with the Indians in 2012 and was 0-1 with a 5.20 ERA (16 ER/27.2 IP) in 22 relief appearances with Cleveland in 2012-13. Barnes was originally selected by San Francisco in the 2008 MLB First Year Player Draft and was traded to Cleveland in July 2009.

Duquette on MLB Network Radio

Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette isn’t scheduled to meet with the media until Monday, but he did address a few things on MLB Network Radio regarding the rumors that he’s a top candidate of Toronto’s for the rumored president/CEO vacancy.

“I’m with the Orioles. I’m here to represent the Orioles at the meetings. Other than that, I have nothing to add,” Duquette said. “I do have a contract and I’ve always honored my contract.”

Asked if he was unhappy in Baltimore Duquette said: “We have a good thing going in Baltimore. I enjoy working with Buck [Showalter].”

Addressing the report, owner Peter Angelos told reporters that he fully expects Duquette to stay with the O’s, telling MASN: “We’re not relinquishing him, period.”

Duquette reportedly a “top candidate” in Blue Jays’ president search

Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, who has won two Executive of the Year Awards this winter, is a candidate to become the Blue Jays next CEO and team president according to a report from ESPN.com Sunday morning.

FOXSports.com followed the report and noted that Duquette is “a strong candidate” for the vacancy.

Duquette, who helped engineer the Orioles run to the American League Championship Series this year, was hired by Baltimore in November 2011 and has done a fantastic job. Under his time, the O’s have posted three consecutive winning seasons and both he and manager Buck Showalter signed extensions to keep them in Baltimore through the 2018 season.

Duquette, who started his baseball ops career as a scout for Milwaukee, got his first big gig with the Montreal Expos, serving as player development director. He was later named general manager from 1991-’93 before leaving for the Red Sox GM job the following season, a post he help until 2002.

The Blue Jays vacancy, as FoxSports.com noted, would be considered a promotion for Duquette and it will be interesting to see how this plays out as Toronto tries to replace longtime team president and CEO Paul Beeston.

Markakis on leaving the Orioles, his neck, and his new team

As expected, Nick Markakis had his physical in Atlanta today and his four-year deal with the Braves should be made official at some point this weekend. He held court with reporters in Atlanta in the clubhouse afterward and will wear No. 22 for the Braves.

Markakis is expected to undergo surgery to repair a herniated disc in his cervical spine, with a recovery time of 8-12 weeks that would keep him in line to start the season.

“Everything, I hear about it, it’s not going to be an issue,” Markakis said of his neck, which is what caused the Orioles to become wary of offering him a four-year deal. I don’t have anything now. It’s just a precautionary thing. We’ll get it taken care of and it shouldn’t be a problem.”

Of leaving a Baltimore organization where he spent his entire career, including the last nine big league seasons, Markakis told reporters: “[The Orioles] gave me an opportunity early in life. I can’t take that away from them. That is where I started learning and establishing a foundation for this occupation. They were great to me. I have a lot of great memories there and a lot of great friends. That’s something that will never be taken away from me in my career.

Teammates are taken away from you. But your friendship that you develop with other players over the years is something that won’t be forgotten. Everything I did over there is in my past now. I don’t hold any grudge. I don’t think there is anything I could have done different. In this job, things like happen.”

Markakis went to high school in Georgia, about 30 miles outside of Atlanta and didn’t think he’d end up having a hometown reunion.

“It’s not something I was really looking at, it’s just something that kind of happened,” he said. “The way I look at it is this is a business, anything can happen at any given moment. Things just didn’t work out. I couldn’t be happier being here than anywhere else.”

Markakis reportedly leaning toward neck surgery

Nick Markakis got his physical from the Braves on Friday, with the signing to become official after that, and he is learning toward having surgery to repair a herniated disc in his cervical spine according to multiple outlets.

FOXSports.com first reported the news that Markakis was leaning toward surgery and the Braves newest outfielder told reporters in Atlanta that he is considering it so he can start the season healthy. The latest development helps explain why the Orioles became hesitant to go a fourth year on Markakis, though Atlanta had Markakis evaluated by an independent specialist and had no issue with giving Markakis a four-year contract.

I’ll have more Markakis quotes from Atlanta to pass along shortly.

More on the Orioles losing Markakis to the Braves

BALTIMORE— The Orioles lost a key cornerstone of their organization on Wednesday night, as Nick Markakis —who had been the longest-tenured active Oriole— agreed to a four-year, $44 million deal with the Atlanta Braves.

Markakis, who had spent the past nine years with the O’s, was a quiet team leader who had made his year-round home in nearby Monkton, Md. Together with wife Christina, the Markakis’ were a huge part of the Baltimore community and the departure of the popular 31-year-old —who was the Orioles’ first-round pick in 2003— leaves quite a hole in right field.

“U don’t want my opinion!!!!!!!!,” Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones, a close friend of Markakis, said minutes after the news broke on Twitter.

“Say it ain’t so,” echoed closer Zach Britton.

But indeed it is, as Markakis —slated for a physical on Friday— is returning home to Georgia and playing for a Braves club located roughly 30 miles from his hometown. He will be reunited with longtime Oriole Jim Johnson, who signed with Atlanta on Wednesday afternoon, and for the first time suit up against Baltimore at Camden Yards in July.

The Markakis news comes on the heels of the Orioles losing outfielder/designated hitter Nelson Cruz earlier this week, as Cruz signed a four-year pact with Seattle. Unlike Cruz, however, the O’s appeared to be on the same page with Markakis’ camp early and the two sides reaching a deal seemed to be nearly a foregone conclusion. But talks stalled over the length of the deal, with Baltimore growing wary of offering four years, and other teams expressing interest in the right fielder.

Still, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette refuted that the O’s were out of the Markakis race as recently as Tuesday, saying, “Rumors of our demise are largely exaggerated.”

Perhaps not. Atlanta reportedly made a strong push on Wednesday in adding Markakis, after several members of the organization had dinner with Markakis in Monkton on Tuesday night. In Markakis, the Braves get a steady fixture on the field and in the clubhouse as Atlanta continues its winter overhaul. Markakis batted .276 this season with a .342 on-base percentage and .386 slugging percentage in 155 games, winning his second career Gold Glove Award in the process.

For the Orioles, his departure only intensifies the need to add outfield help. To borrow a popular phrase from manager Buck Showalter Markakis “spoiled” the Orioles with his level of play in right field and —coupled with Cruz— his absence puts the O’s outfield in a precarious state. Alejandro de Aza slots in right now in a corner spot beside Jones with the O’s also returning David Lough, but Duquette had already planned on adding outfield help even before losing Markakis.

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