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Orioles seeking starters and bullpen help, casting wide net

ANAHEIM— The Orioles are casting a wide net leading up to this year’s Trade Deadline and it’s no secret that the club is looking for both rotation and bullpen help. They’re exploring some interesting ways to get there.

According to industry sources, Baltimore has dangled right-hander Miguel Gonzalez in potential trade talks  with at least three clubs, including San Diego, with the thinking that the Orioles could potentially land a starter in return. One interesting name that has come up in preliminary talks is Padres starter Ian Kennedy. Kennedy’s stock has never been higher as he’s pitched to a 3.26 ERA in 21 games and he’s under team control —as an arbitration eligible— in 2015.

The uncertainty in dealing with San Diego, who traded closer Huston Street to the Angels over the weekend, is that the front office is undergoing massive changes. However, it’s believed that assistant general manager A.J. Hinch is itching to get a few deals done before the organization officially hires a new GM.  Gonzalez, who is coming off back-to-back eight-inning starts, isn’t a guy the Orioles necessarily want to part with but he could be moved to the bullpen when injured Ubaldo Jimenez is deemed ready to return.

Baltimore is also one of several clubs with interest in A.J. Burnett, a potential fit that would make sense given that the O’s expressed interest in Burnett this winter.  While Burnett has a no-trade clause it does not include Baltimore, sources confirmed to MLB.com, and he lives in nearby Monkton, Md.    The O’s were linked to Rockies starter Jorge De La Rosa earlier this month, although reports were that Colorado was asking for a steep price tag that includes right-hander Kevin Gausman and hasn’t come down much.

The Orioles are also seeking a sixth or seventh-inning reliever type to help bridge to Darren O’Day and closer Zach Britton along with a left-handed hitter. Orioles manager Buck Showalter said Monday that he’s been in contact with executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette regarding trade scenarios but typically Duquette doesn’t bring up specifics until talks become serious.

“He’s brought up one player’s name to me,” Showalter said of Duquette’s conversations with him regarding trade possibilities. “But I know, I think Dan is in tune and wired to everything that may be out there. And more importantly the cost to get it. What price? not only financially but what we look at is what it takes away from us. Not only here but below.  Everybody’s price right now compared to what it would be two hours beforehand. [Now], it’s like “we would never do that.” Two hours before the deadline, it’s “Oh, we did do that.” There’s a bit of poker being played.  I don’t dwell on it to much because I like our people and I don’t like, I know Dan doesn’t either, giving someone away that fits where we are and where we are going.”

Duquette has been hesitant in the past to deal any of the organization’s top prospects, and by all accounts it doesn’t look like his stance has changed. The Orioles have been able to acquire some attractive pitching depth in the lower levels of the Minor Leagues however, which make a trade or two more plausible.

Showalter said despite the down year for the American League East, and the O’s current first-place status, the organization isn’t tempted to go all-in at the expense of its future.

“There’s two thoughts of that [thinking]..how did we get there?,” Showalter said of his current group, which entered Monday with a three-game lead over the Yankees and Blue Jays. “I think we got a pretty good grip of who we are and who we are not.”

 

–Brittany Ghiroli

O’s: Hardy on the trading block?

With the General Managers’ meetings going on this week, the buzz on Wednesday morning around the Orioles was a rejected trade proposal by the St. Louis Cardinals involving Baltimore shortstop J.J. Hardy. The report by CBSSports.com involved Cards pitcher Shelby Miller, and has spawned some reaction over whether the Orioles could –and should– trade Hardy.

First, I don’t doubt the validity of the Orioles checking in with the Cardinals, who have a wealth of pitching. The O’s badly need to upgrade in that area and it’s no secret that St. Louis would like a shortstop, which is why Hardy’s name would come up. But the Orioles aren’t actively shopping Hardy, who is in the last year of a very affordable contract extension, and would have to be blown away by a deal to move him. A Silver Slugger and Gold Glove winner this year, Hardy is a huge part of what the Orioles are trying to do and moving him creates a huge hole in the infield.

Even IF the Orioles long-term plan is to move Manny Machado to third base, the 21-year-old is coming off knee surgery and that would create another vacancy at third. The jury is still out as to what Jonathan Schoop and Ryan Flaherty can do and the O’s already have one hole in the infield with the departure of second baseman Brian Roberts, who is a free agent.

Hardy’s combination of power and defense –plus his contract status–makes him prime to come up in offseason rumors this winter. But, as evidenced by the Cardinals’ rejection of the trade, it’s probably not enough for an impact pitcher and it would create a glaring hole in the infield. The anchor of the O’s defense, Hardy is one of manager Buck Showalter’s favorites, and I’ve written before that the organization looking into another extension –signing Hardy for another year or two– could be wise given that there’s no help on the horizon in the Minors and Hardy  –who has already committed to staying in Baltimore once before– has made it well-known how much he likes playing here.

The Orioles best avenue to upgrade this winter is to make a trade and they’ll explore a lot of the same names and available arms that they kicked the tires on around the July deadline, when they acquired Bud Norris. As was the case last year, don’t expect executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette to put any of the club’s top pitching prospects on the table including Kevin Gausman and Eduardo Rodriguez. Dylan Bundy would be a sell-low coming off Tommy John surgery and would be tough to justify as well.

–Brittany Ghiroli

 

Orioles still in on Norris

With less than 24 hours until Wednesday’s non-waiver Trade Deadline, manager Buck Showalter was twenty minutes late to his pregame session with reporters on Tuesday as he met with executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette to discuss potential scenarios.

The Orioles are in need of a starter and a designated hitter and are one of two teams thought to be the frontrunner for Houston’s Bud Norris, who was scratched from Tuesday’s start, along with Arizona.

“I think [the deadline is] always been significant because fans think it’s some deadline if we don’t do something this is what we are stuck with,” Showalter said of the perception around Wednesday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline. “I like what we got, ok? And if Dan walks in and says, ‘I don’t like anything’…I can tell you about a couple of trades that have been proposed and you would go, ‘God, you are not going to do that are you? So, you got to know who you are and where you are going and how you are going to do it.”

The Orioles have already made a pair of moves in July in trading for starter Scott Feldman and reliever Francisco Rodriguez but Duquette is aggressively pursuing upgrades and Baltimore has been linked to numerous rumors for both a bat and another starting pitcher.  Last year, the club didn’t do anything prior to the deadline and then traded for Joe Saunders in August.

Os acquire Rodriguez for Delmonico

The Orioles acquired veteran pitcher Francisco Rodriguez from the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday, adding the right-handed reliever they coveted in exchange for promising infield prospect Nick Delmonico.

“We like Franky Rodriguez’s experience, especially in pitching in the seventh, eighth and ninth inning,” executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said of the move. “And he’s done it well.  He gives us a little more depth to our bullpen. We really like his changeup, his signature pitch that has had success against left-handed hitters. And he’s a Major League veteran. He has got experience and he’s a competitor.”

The 31-year-old Rodriguez is 1-1 with 10 saves, a 1.09 ERA (24 2/3 IP, 3ER), 26 strikeouts and nine walks in 25 appearances. He has recorded double-digit saves in nine of the last 10 seasons — including a Major League record 62 while with the Angels in ’08– and his 304 career saves are third-most among active players.

He will presumably take over a late-inning role in the Orioles’ bullpen, giving manager Buck Showalter another option in close games, which Baltimore plays on a near-nightly basis. Closer Jim Johnson is on pace to record more save opportunities than last year and even with the team’s rotation –bolstered by the recent trade for starter Scott Feldman – looking improved, the O’s never filled the spot vacated by power arm Pedro Strop.

“We are pretty solid defensively and we’ve got some pretty solid players in the lineup,” Duquette said of an Orioles club that entered Tuesday’s game on a season-high five-game winning streak and a season-high 14 games over .500.  “We were trying to upgrade the pitching to give us a chance   to make the run for the AL [East] title and the pennant. So, we did what we had to do to help the team now and we have enough players having good years at the plate. It’s my hope that we can have a steady stream of prospects going through the system so we can have some that we can trade to supplement the Major League team.”

Delmonico, ranked as the Orioles fifth-best prospect by MLB.com entering the season, hit .244/.351/.471 in 60 games for Class-A Advanced Frederick. The organization’s sixth-round pick out of Farragut (Tenn.) High School, Delmonico played 43 games at third base, 13 at designated hitter and one at first.

“Nick Delmonico shows a lot of promise as a hitter,” Duquette said, “but the Major League club needed a little more depth for our pitching staff to accomplish what we want to accomplish this year.”

–Brittany Ghiroli

Reynolds agrees to terms with Indians

The Cleveland Indians have agreed to a one-year contract with infielder Mark Reynolds for 2013, as the two sides reached a deal on Sunday evening, according to a source.

Reynolds, who was non-tendered by the Orioles last month, will get a base salary of $6 million with another $1.5 million in incentives and is expected to play first base for the Tribe .The 29-year-old made 7.5 million with Baltimore last season and amid a thin free-agent class of first basemen, Reynolds — who would have made around $9 million in arbitration — was willing to return to the O’s, but not at a significantly reduced salary.

The Orioles never offered Reynolds any type of deal, preferring to “let the market play out” for his services instead and several teams expressed interest in Reynolds at last week’s Winter Meetings. One of them was Cleveland, which has its Spring Training facility in Arizona and will allow Reynolds to live home during big league camp. While Baltimore is still looking to add a middle-of-the-order bat, the club’s top internal choice at first base for 2013 is now Chris Davis.

After starting the 2012 season at third base, Reynolds — who committed six errors in 40 chances — was moved across the diamond and worked hard to turn himself into an above-average first baseman. Frequently taking some good-natured ribbing for his tendency to never stay on his feet, he became adept at picking balls in the dirt and making excellent scoops, resulting in a .995 fielding percentage in 108 games at the position.

Offensively, Reynolds recovered from a poor first half to post a .221 batting average with a .335 on-base percentage and a .429 slugging percentage, collecting 23 homers and 69 RBIs in 135 games. Sixteen of his homers came in the final two months of the season after he got past the most prolonged slump of his career. Through Reynolds’ first 85 games, he hit .211 with eight homers and 33 RBIs and struck out 104 times. He did draw walks throughout the season, leading the team in free passes for a second straight year, with 73, and he helped the Orioles reach their first postseason in 15 years by hitting 15 homers and posting a .517 slugging percentage in his final 50 games.

A well-liked player in the clubhouse, Reynolds played through numerous injuries during the season. He was hit by a pitch six times during the regular season and twice in six postseason games. Health was a question to everyone but Reynolds, who deflected any notion that he might need to miss time. The Orioles acquired from the D-backs on Dec. 6, 2010, in exchange for right-handers David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio. The signing is still pending a physical, with CBSports.com first reporting the two sides were closing in on a deal.

Orioles agree to terms with McLouth

The Orioles have agreed to terms on a one-year deal for outfielder Nate McLouth, according to an industry source.

Baltimore had steady dialogue with McLouth’s agent, Mike Nicotera, and manager Buck Showalter spoke on the phone with the 31-year-old outfielder on Tuesday as he was the organization’s top choice in adding a corner outfielder.

McLouth had a .268/.342/.435 line in 55 games for Baltimore last season, emerging as the club’s starting left fielder and providing a spark from the leadoff spot with Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis on the disabled list. Signed to a Minor League contract after being released by the Pirates, McLouth had said all along that he would like to return to Baltimore. It was a mutual feeling.

“I think Nate liked Baltimore, he played very well there, and we liked him in Baltimore,” executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said Tuesday night. “He did a good job for us when he came up … there’s a natural interest in re-signing him to the team.”

McLouth, a former Gold Glove Award winner, joins Nolan Reimold as an option for the O’s in left field. The team is still seeking a middle-of-the-order bat which, with McLouth’s signing, will now come from either first base or designated hitter.

The Baltimore Sun first reported the two sides were close to a deal.

–Brittany Ghiroli

Orioles outfield search

The Orioles are doing their due diligence in searching the free-agent market for another outfielder, checking in on Nick Swisher and Ryan Sweeney -among others –  as they continue to negotiate with Nate McLouth’s camp.

The overwhelming sense is McLouth is the Orioles’ first choice and he is reportedly seeking only a one-year deal to re-establish himself in the market, although executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette declined to discuss the length of any potential contract.

Swisher, 32, is an interesting name, but with the deals secured by Angel Pagan (Giants) and Shane Victorino (Red Sox) it’s tough to imagine the Orioles being able to work out a deal that works in their current payroll constraints. And even if they could, it doesn’t seem Baltimore is all that enticed by a high-energy, theatrical player such as Swisher, with a source noting that the meeting was “very preliminary” in nature.

Manager Buck Showalter has done an admirable job turning around the clubhouse atmosphere and the team’s chemistry was a big part of what they did last year. I’m not saying that Swisher’s a bad guy, but any addition will be weighed carefully in the front office, particularly when you look at the sizeable chunk signing Swisher would almost certainly demand.

Sweeney was non-tendered by Boston on Friday, and could be a potential depth signing or insurance if the club doesn’t land McLouth. The 27-year-old  made three trips to the disabled list last season, ending 2012 when he broke his hand punching a door in the clubhouse following a bad at-bat on July 30.  A left-handed hitter, Sweeney played in 63 games for the Red Sox and he hit .260 with 18 doubles, two triples, no homers and 16 RBIs.  He has a career.293/.347/.402 line against right-handed pitching.

The Orioles also reportedly checked in with Nate Schierholtz –the 28-year-old was non-tendered by the Phillies — although ESPN reported Wednesday morning that the Yankees are considered a frontrunner for his services.

–Brittany Ghiroli

Showalter on McLouth, Reynolds, trades

Today was manager Buck Showalter’s day to meet with the media at the Winter Meetings in Nashville, and here the Hot Stove highlights…

*Asked if he was getting antsy that they hadn’t made any moves, Showalter said it was actually the opposite. It appears that the Orioles value for their players in higher than other clubs and so far Baltimore won’t budge.

*Free agent outfielder Nate McLouth and Showalter spoke on the phone earlier today and the expectation is McLouth’s agent will meet with executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette at some point today. The Orioles want McLouth back and he wants to come back, assuming the two sides can work out a fair deal.

*Speaking of returns, Showalter said the club has not ruled out a return for first baseman Mark Reynolds, who was non-tendered on Friday. Reynolds is a free agent along with Omar Quintanilla –who was also non-tendered– and the O’s aren’t eliminating either player as an option for next season.

–Brittany Ghiroli

Orioles going “hard” on LaRoche? Not exactly

Are the Orioles in pursuit of Adam LaRoche? Not exactly, according to multiple sources, one who called reports otherwise “wildly” inaccurate.

The Orioles, in need of a first baseman and power hitter to bolster the lineup, were linked to free agent LaRoche on Monday afternoon, with ESPN.com reporting –citing a rival team executive — that Baltimore was in “hard” in bidding for his services.  But, right now, that interest seems minimal at best as the O’s remain focused on trading to add a middle-of-the-lineup bat. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette indicated Sunday night that making a deal was the most logical scenario and it continues to be where the organization is concentrating most of its efforts.

Baltimore isn’t in a position to add a lot of payroll and the Orioles have had preliminary discussions with several teams, dating back to last month’s general manager meetings, about trade possibilities. At this point, there seems to be a fairly good chance something gets done here in Nashville.

The O’s could find a power bat elsewhere –at the corner infield spots or designated hitter — and put Chris Davis at first base, with Duquette saying Sunday night that they don’t have a preference, at least publicly, as to where they acquire the middle-of-the-order bat.

–Brittany Ghiroli

Duquette: We’ll be able to do some good here.

Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette held court briefly with reporters today, on the eve of the start of baseball’s Winter Meetings. He reiterated that the organization’s top priority remains adding a middle-of-the-order bat, an acquisition which will most likely come though a trade.

“Our agenda at the Winter Meetings is to try to find a hitter,” Duquette said. “We’ll keep working on that. It’s a possibility that may happen in the trade market.”

What would the Orioles part with in return?

“We also have more qualified Major League pitchers than we have slots,” said Duquette, who also indicated top prospects Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy could be in Baltimore at some point next season. “All those things are good things, right? So, we have a surplus as perceived by other teams that we can make a trade that could help us in other areas.

“I believe we’ll be able to do some good here.”

The Orioles still have interest in resigning free agents Joe Saunders and Nate McLouth and have not gotten word about whether designated hitter Jim Thome will continue his baseball career.

Duquette seemed content with the organization’s additions in terms of speed and defense and it doesn’t look like they’ll add anyone else at this point.

“The player we added, [Yamaico] Navarro, is a pretty good ballplayer, and if you take a look at what he did at Triple-A when he went back to Indianapolis, he has the offensive capability to be an everyday ballplayer in the big leagues,” Duquette said. “It just hasn’t translated so far with his production in the big leagues, but he’s had less than 200 at-bats. He does have the tools and capabilities to be an everyday ballplayer. And he’s versatile to where he can play a number of different positions. So, it’ll be interesting to see where that comes out. But I think we have plenty of candidates for second base.”

The Orioles –who non-tendered first baseman Mark Reynolds and infielder Omar Quintanilla — will also take a close look at other clubs non-tenders.

Manager Buck Showalter, who was hanging out as well, said that he has narrowed the third base coaching job to “two or three” candidates and could have a final decision before the meetings end in Nashville.

–Brittany Ghiroli–

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