By Eduardo A. Encina
The Baltimore Sun
8:29 AM EST, January 4, 2014
With less than six weeks remaining until spring training, the Orioles are still trying to upgrade the team they will bring to Sarasota, Fla., in mid-February.
The shopping list hasn’t changed much in recent weeks, and executive vice president Dan Duquette said Friday that the priority remains pitching — namely acquiring an additional starter and a closer.
“We’re going to still try to do some things to help our pitching staff,” Duquette said Friday night, after attending a memorial service for former Orioles great Paul Blair.
Adding a starter appears to be the more pressing need. In the wake of the Grant Balfour fallout, the Orioles remain interested in free-agent right-hander Fernando Rodney, but unless his price comes down, the club is OK with filling the closer role internally.
There are plenty of starting pitchers who remain on the free-agent market, former Cincinnati Reds right-hander Bronson Arroyo amomg them. Veteran right-hander A.J. Burnett is another possibility, if he chooses to pitch this season. The Orioles seem to be more focused on those two than on other big-ticket starting pitchers.
It will be interesting to see where, and when, the five remaining free agents tied to draft-pick compensation land. Teams signing pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana, outfielder Nelson Cruz, shortstop Stephen Drew and first baseman-designated hitter Kendrys Morales must give up a draft pick.
The one player out of that pool who most fits the Orioles’ needs is Morales, a switch-hitter who would nicely fill the void the club had at designated hitter last season. And while the Orioles are interested in the 30-year-old, the market value on Morales is unclear and could remain that way for weeks.
Duquette said early in the offseason that he was open to signing free agents who would require the release of a draft pick, depending on the situation. That’s still the case, but there tend to be some bad deals made this time of year, and the Orioles definitely won’t haphazardly jump into that kind of deal.
After all, this is just the second year of this current draft-pick compensation process. Teams are still trying to feel out whether and how it works for them.
Eventually, though, the Orioles need to evaluate whether money for the Cuban-born Morales could be better spent better elsewhere, like in the Latin American scouting department.
The trade market seems to have slowed down, as it typically does in the new year once teams have a better idea of what other teams are willing to deal.
The Orioles recently spoke with the New York Mets about possibly acquiring second baseman Daniel Murphy, first baseman Ike Davis and outfielder Lucas Duda, according to a source, but discussions didn’t progress very far because the Mets coveted a top pitching prospect, like Eduardo Rodriguez.
So it looks like both sides will stick with who they’ve got, for now. The Orioles are not looking to move Rodriguez, barring an offer that blows them away.
Friday’s addition of outfielder Quintin Berry was met with collective groans from fans still waiting for an impact move. But keep in mind that the team signed the 29-year-old to a minor league deal. It’s nothing to get upset over.
If anything, Berry adds an option on the basepaths. He made an impact in the postseason over the past two years with his speed, going 5-for-5 on stolen-base attempts with the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox.
The outfield mix in left field is getting crowded and, honestly, if the Orioles have to depend on Berry for anything more than pinch-running opportunities, they have bigger problems. For now, they will have David Lough, Nolan Reimold, Steve Pearce, Henry Urrutia and Francisco Peguero all competing for time in left.
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