Duquette looks to unearth 'value' in offseason
Left-handed bat, DH, pitching upgrades atop wish list entering Winter Meetings
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- On the heels of a week that included trading closer Jim Johnson and watching two coveted players -- pitcher Scott Feldman and outfielder Nate McLouth -- sign elsewhere, Baltimore finds itself in a precarious position at this week's Winter Meetings.
"Our goal is still the same, to find value," said executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette on Sunday night, when asked about any pressure to strike quick given the flurry of activity around baseball already this winter.
It will be a tough task, considering the early activity and competition for free agents, and what appears to be a limited payroll for the Orioles, with Duquette calling the trade of Johnson "resource reallocation."
The team's top priority this week at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort is to add a left-handed hitter, and the club also hopes to find a designated hitter and upgrade the pitching staff. The O's made several offers over the weekend to relievers and starting pitchers, although Duquette cautioned that the team might not be seeking an expensive arm in free agency.
"If people are expecting the Orioles to go out and sign a significant pitcher, I think it's more realistic to look for good pitchers to come up through the farm system," Duquette said.
A lot of opposing teams have expressed interest in prospect Mike Wright, and the Orioles are also enthusiastic about the potential of Tim Berry and Eduardo Rodriguez to help the big league club.
"Frankly, I think we have more starting-pitching depth going into this year than we've had the last couple of years," Duquette said. "We have some qualified starters already on the team and some pitchers in the Minors ready to supplement our team. That wasn't the case last year."
As for second base, it appears Ryan Flaherty is the club's top option internally.
"We got really good work out of Flaherty at second base, not only defensively but he hit the ball well the second half of the season," Duquette said. "He made better contact, he made more consistent contact, and he also played pretty good defense."
Does that close the door on a possible return for free agent Brian Roberts?
"No, not necessarily," Duquette said. "But I think we have some good options with the people we have."
The additions of Cord Phelps and Jemile Weeks, both switch-hitters who have spent time at second base, also addressed that vacancy, according to Duquette. Top prospect Jonathan Schoop is an option, but the organization feels he would benefit from more Minor League time.
As for the money freed up by the Johnson trade, which Duquette said would be "reallocated elsewhere" at the time, that will go toward adding pitching depth.
"There's a lot of pitchers that are closers on the market, and I think some of them will sign for significantly less than $10 million a year," Duquette said.
The Orioles have interest in Chris Perez and John Axford, among others, as potential options, and Duquette hinted at another in new reliever Ryan Webb. Webb, who will take his physical early this week to finalize a two-year deal, has a power sinker and keeps the ball down.
"That sound like another pitcher the Orioles have had recently?" Duquette said, coyly comparing Webb with Johnson. "Same type of profile, doesn't have the experience."
The O's will touch base with several trade partners this week and could make a deal, although Duquette has been hesitant to break up the farm system and preached about being "cautious" with that again Sunday night.