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Os, Red Sox Lester talks fizzle

BALTIMORE — Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette had a decidedly different stance in trade discussions when speaking with reporters on Wednesday afternoon.

While rumors swirled about the club’s heavy involvement in trying to acquire Red Sox ace Jon Lester, Duquette, who said on Tuesday that he was focused on pitching depth, didn’t disagree that it was on his radar.

“We’d be interested in adding pitchers that could help us at the top of our rotation,” he said. “Who wouldn’t be?”

However, as of Wednesday evening, talks on that front seemed a long ways off with the New York Daily news reporting talks between the two sides had tailed off and become much more of a long shot.

Duquette, who maintained that he wants to hang on to his top pitching prospects, also confirmed that Hunter Harvey has a right flexor mass injury — as first reported by MLB.com — and will miss the rest of the season. Asked how much the news changed trade talks, Duquette wouldn’t elaborate nor would he comment on any specific negotiations.

Still, losing Harvey for the remainder of the season certainly weakens the Orioles’ farm system, particularly for a big deal, considerably. Even if the team had taken Harvey off the table in trade talks, it’s still a stark reminder of how thin the Orioles Minor League system can get.

“We have a couple of active discussions,” he said. “We have some discussions that are no longer active from yesterday, so we’ve been able to see where we can make a trade and help our ballclub. Some of the long-term prospects for our pitching, we think are very valuable for the long-term sustainability of the organization and I think that’s a real important component to have a good team year-in and year-out. I think with our young pitchers, we would be conservative and we would try and give them a prolonged trial in the big leagues before we would trade them.”

Hunter joins Dylan Bundy, who is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, leaving 23-year-old Kevin Gausman as the only healthy member of the club’s top three pitching prospects. Gausman is currently part of the Orioles’ rotation and it’s highly unlikely he would be dealt.

Os, Rangers have discussed Cotts

The Rangers are open to dealing left-handed reliever Neal Cotts and Baltimore is one of the teams interested. The Orioles are trying to add a reliever, preferably one who can get both lefties and righties out to upgrade their team in advance of Thursday’s Trade Deadline. Cotts has gone 2-5 with a 3.52 ERA in 50 games, pitching in 46 innings and allowing 18 earned runs on 46 hits and 18 walks, with 50 strikeouts.

Cotts, 34, has pretty even splits and has held right-handed hitters to a .252/.325/.342 line with lefties hitting .277/.347/.431. The Orioles would prefer to add a reliever who is versatile enough so that they don’t have to play match ups and they are trying to upgrade their sixth and seventh-inning spots to help bridge to Darren O’Day and closer Zach Britton.

 

Os in serious talks for Lester

The Orioles have stepped up in the Jon Lester sweepstakes, with the two teams in serious talks involving Boston’s starting pitcher as of Wednesday afternoon.

There is no deal done, nor is there a preliminary one in place, but multiple sources told MLB.com on Wednesday that the talks between the O’s and Boston have stepped up considerably in the past 24 hours. The news comes as a shock given that executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said Tuesday that he was concentrated on adding pitching depth and Lester –a frontline arm– certainly wouldn’t be that.

The Red Sox, like most clubs, covet the Orioles top young pitchers including Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman and Hunter Harvey and are rumored to also favor outfield help. Gausman is currently part of the team’s rotation and the Orioles are highly unlikely to deal the 23-year-old for a two-month rental in Lester. Right-hander Miguel Gonzalez, who the Orioles have dangled as trade bait to several National League clubs already this season, could potentially be involved with the Red Sox potentially getting a pitcher in part of a return for Lester. Obviously, it would take more than just that to get Lester –the Red Sox ace scratched from his Wednesday start– to Baltimore.

It’s important to note, the O’s aren’t the only team in on Lester with about a half-dozen rumors teams of interest. But they are certainly making a considerate run at the lefty, who is one of three aces considered “available” at this year’s Trade Deadline.

–Brittany Ghiroli

Os looking to add pitching depth, hesitant to trade top prospects

Last year, the Orioles successfully added to their pitching staff, upgrading the rotation with right-hander Bud Norris in a last-minute midseason deal with the Houston Astros. And while Baltimore is looking once again to add pitching, there’s a lot less certainty that it will be able to acquire an arm that’s significantly better than what the team already has.

“The starters, the way they’ve been pitching the last six weeks, that’s encouraging,” Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said of a rotation that has chopped a half-run off its collective ERA in pitching to a low 3 ERA since June 9. “So I guess I don’t know if we would acquire a top starter, but we would be looking for pitching depth.”

The O’s have been incredibly active in trade discussions in the weeks leading up to Thursday’s non-waiver Trade Deadline, and there’s been no shortage of names linked in Baltimore’s pursuit of pitching.Ian Kennedy, Cliff Lee, A.J. Burnett and Jorge De La Rosa are among the names the club has kicked around. There’s also been a wealth of interest in the young arms Duquette and Co. have accumulated, a high cost that likely takes any kind of marquee trade for a starter off the table.

“We have some really talented young prospects, [like] Kevin Gausman, who is now pitching for the big leagues. Obviously other teams are interested in having a pitcher like Kevin Gausman on their team,” Duquette said of the 23-year-old righty, who is on several opposing teams’ radar, including Colorado. “[There's] a lot of interest in Hunter Harvey, Eduardo Rodgriguez is pitching pretty well, and of course Dylan Bundy. There’s a lot of interest in our young pitching from other teams.”

Duquette has been hesitant to part with the team’s top pitching prospects in the past, and by all indications, that continues to be the case, as the Orioles — who are in first place in the American League East — know the importance of building from within. They also know how fleeting success can be, and Duquette wants to get something done in the next few days. If the club can’t land a starter, there’s also the need for bullpen help in the sixth and seventh innings — preferably left-handed — and potential offensive upgrades at catcher and second base.

“The way I look at it is we have an opportunity to add to our team and continue our path to the postseason,” Duquette said. “So it’s a little bit more challenging to add to your team after the first [of August].”

Phillies second baseman Chase Utley is an interesting name that figures to command a nice haul, while Twins veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki has been linked to the club in recent days. The O’s had interest in Padres outfielder Seth Smith, but his recent contract extension makes the chances of acquiring the lefty pretty slim. There’s also the case of how to fit in another left-handed bat on the team’s roster with David Lough currently serving as Baltimore’s backup center fielder.

Duquette, like most GMs, is waiting for the asking prices to drop as Thursday’s Trade Deadline inches nearer. The Orioles have already made a minor move in adding outfielder Jimmy Paredes from the Padres last week — and sending him to Triple-A — but they could be poised to add someone to the big league roster in the next few days.

“We’ve had some active discussions with a lot of clubs, that have been ongoing for the last couple weeks,” Duquette said. “We’ve been maintaing dialogue for a number of things.”

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

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