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Duquette pleased with Orioles' progress in Nashville

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- There is more work to be done and plenty of offseason left, but as executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette got ready to exit the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center on Thursday morning, he was pleased with the progress the Orioles made over the course of three-plus days at baseball's Winter Meetings.

"This is a pretty good ballclub with the people we have on it right now," Duquette said of improving a 2012 club that made it to the American League Division Series.

"We have a very competitive club as it's currently constituted. We are going to continue to look and try to add a few things to our ballclub, but if we were to break today, we got everybody returning except [Mark] Reynolds and [Joe] Saunders. But I think we got some capable people that can do the job they did for us."

Reynolds and Saunders are both free agents, and while the Orioles haven't had any formal discussions about retaining Reynolds, Duquette said Thursday morning that re-signing Saunders is still "an option" and the club met with the veteran lefty's representatives in Nashville earlier this week.

The Orioles did reach an agreement to bring back outfielder Nate McLouth, and they selected left-handed starter T.J. McFarland from Cleveland's Triple-A Columbus affiliate in Thursday morning's Rule 5 Draft. McLouth adds another leadoff option and strengthens left field, while McFarland is viewed as a potential rotation addition, something Duquette said the club had targeted adding -- in a cost-effective way -- to the organization.

The Orioles had numerous trade talks in Nashville, and they will continue some of those discussions in the coming days and weeks as they try to add another bat. However, whether Duquette would be willing to trade away his young starters -- a group that includes Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton and Steve Johnson -- and get good value for them remains to be seen.

The club was able to retain McLouth for just $2 million, and with double-digit players arbitration-eligible, the 2013 payroll will increase approximately $22 million due to raises.

"They had good years, but that money has got to come out of our payroll," said Duquette, who is working with very little wiggle room in a 2013 budget already about even with last year's mark. "It's not like our market has expanded. We can field a good competitive team within the market. And we have a lot more depth to our pitching staff, which to me, is the No. 1 key to being competitive. And then we have some young pitchers on the horizon.

"So we have something to talk about with our team as it's constituted. It's still a young, hungry, aggressive ballclub. We got good leadership, too. Our manager [in Buck Showalter] is tops."

Deals done: The Orioles made their biggest move of the winter Wednesday afternoon in bringing back McLouth -- pending the completion of a physical -- on a one-year deal.

They also announced the signing of eight players to Minor League contracts with an invitation to Spring Training: outfielders Lew Ford, Conor Jackson and Jason Pridie; right-handed pitchers Daniel McCutchen and Adam Russell; and catchers Allan De San Miguel, Jose Gil and Chris Robinson. They also signed their first Czech player, 18-year-old lefty Jan Novak.

Rule 5 Draft activity: The Orioles selected McFarland with the 23rd pick. McFarland was the Tribe's fourth-round pick out of Amos Alonso Stagg High School in Palos Hills, Ill., in the fourth round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 209 pounds, McFarland went 8-6 with a 4.82 ERA in 17 starts at Columbus, allowing 55 earned runs on 112 hits and 33 walks in 102 2/3 innings pitched.

Goals accomplished: McLouth gives the Orioles' outfield a boost, adding a solid bat and Gold Glove in left field to go along with Nolan Reimold. The ballclub's outfield is set, according to Duquette, and its Minor League signings will provide depth and help fill out the organization's Minor League affiliates and strengthen its options from within during the season. Novak's signing is important to note because Duquette made it clear that one of this winter's goals was to expand international efforts into Europe, while McFarland adds another left-handed option in big league camp.

Unfinished business: The Orioles would still like to acquire a middle-of-the-order bat -- which is more likely to come via trade -- to help solidify their lineup. With McLouth coming back, the O's will look to add that power bat and fill their holes at first base and/or designated hitter. The question in any potential trade remains how much Baltimore will have to give up in terms of its young pitching to get that bat. The club will also look to add another reliever or two and continue to build up depth with Minor League signings.

Team's bottom line: "So far we have been able to sign several players for our club. They are not high-level free agents, but the core of our ballclub is essentially coming back from this year, where we had a good year. And I'm heartened by the fact that teams like our pitching and our pitching depth. That should be very helpful for us to have a good year." -- Duquette

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli.
Read More: Baltimore Orioles, Nate McLouth