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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–

Orioles interested in trading for 1B, DH and LF

The Orioles are telling teams their priority in the trade market is for first base, designated hitter (which could be grouped together, obviously) and left field and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said Tuesday there are several clubs that they match up with. This brings up a few questions, most notably, where does that leave Mark Reynolds?

The team has until Nov. 30 to offer Reynolds –who is arbitration-eligible– a contract or reach another agreement that keeps him in Baltimore. Otherwise, he will become a free agent and be free to sign anywhere. Reynolds lives in Arizona in the offseason  and would likely factor in the allure of living home during Spring Training –and perhaps returning to the National League — if he does land on the open market, which has a pretty weak class of first baseman as it stands right now. If the O’s let him get to free agency, it’d be hard to imagine a scenario where Reynolds would resign in Baltimore. It’s not impossible, I just don’t see it happening if it gets that far.

The O’s being in the market for a left fielder also begs the immediate question about Nolan Reimold, who is recovering from season-ending neck surgery. The sense right now remains that Reimold will be a full-go in Spring Training, and it will be interesting to see how the Orioles go about adding outfielders. The club is still talking to free agent Nate McLouth about a potential return, although nothing is imminent there.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter prefers to rotate the DH-spot in a perfect world and the team hasn’t been in talks with retaining the free-agent Jim Thome, who is still undecided (at least, publicly) as to whether he will play in 2013.

–Brittany Ghiroli

Orioles, Phillies Blanton talks not dead yet

With the Trade Deadline roughly 90 minutes away, the Orioles and Phillies trade talks have picked back up, according to a Major League source. The two sides reached a stalemate of sorts late last night, with Baltimore unwilling to pick up  all of the approximately $3 million remaining on Blanton’s contract, but things have picked up steam and it appears more likely as the day progresses that Blanton will end up with Baltimore.

While the Phillies were reportedly seeking infielder Jonathan Schoop –the Orioles third-best prospect — that was refuted quickly and it seems if a deal is going to get done it will be with Philadelphia picking up some of Blanton’s salary and getting a much lower, less-impact prospect in return. The Orioles, frustrated by how talks were progressed, checked back in with several other available starters this morning, but Blanton remains the cheapest option player-wise and Baltimore’s farm system lacks the depth necessary to make a lot of other options available.

It’s possible they don’t make any moves at all before the Deadline but if the terms can be agreed on, Blanton would give the Orioles the flexibility to move one of their starters to the bullpen. The Orioles are also actively scouring the market for relievers.

 –Brittany Ghiroli & Todd Zolecki

Orioles turn attention to other pitchers

With talks stalling between the Phillies and the Orioles over Joe Blanton –with money being the biggest issue right now– Baltimore has turned its attention back to other available starters, according to several sources. Unfortunately, there’s not much the Orioles can get with limited trade chips and top prospects Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado off the table.

Baltimore does not want to pick up all of the approximately $3 million left on Blanton and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette is aggressively scouring the rest of the market to try to make a deal.  They had initial interest in top-tier arms like Zack Greinke –who has since been traded to the Angels– and tried to get Paul Maholm from the Cubs who dealt the lefty to Atlanta for a better package. The O’s maintain some interest in Arizona’s Joe Saunders, according to a source and have inquired on Seattle’s lefty Jason Vargas in the past. A separate source also indicated they are actively looking on the relief market to possibly flip someone in a second deal.

As of 12:15 ET, nothing is imminent.

The bottom line is there’s not a whole lot out there that the Orioles can get with the trade chips they’re willing to deal, unless teams asking prices fall. But with a big market for starting pitching, that’s unlikely to happen. The non-waiver Trade Deadline is today at 4 p.m. ET.

–Brittany Ghiroli

Blanton there if Orioles want him

The Phillies have made it clear that Joe Blanton is available in a potential trade, and the Orioles –who have shown by far the most interest in the right-hander—are weighing whether the veteran Blanton is worth taking a flier on, multiple sources told MLB.com Monday.

“He’s there if they want him,” a source said of Blanton’s availability to the Orioles, who have actively pursued all available starting pitching options under executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette.

But, so far, that search has come up dry and Baltimore’s best option may be Blanton. The 31-year-old has been heavily scouted by the Orioles and has gone 2-0 with a 2.81 ERA in his last three starts, pitching at least six innings in 10 consecutive games. Acquiring Blanton could help stabilize an Orioles rotation that has been woefully inconsistent. The Orioles are without their best starter, right-hander Jason Hammel, probably until September and Opening Day rotation arms Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz are currently in Triple-A after prolonged struggles at the Major League level.

The asking price for Blanton is less than other available arms and the Orioles –who are telling teams top prospects Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado are off the table – don’t have a lot of other trade chips in a market where numerous clubs are also seeking starting pitching.

The Phillies wouldn’t just give away Blanton, however, with one source saying the team would want a Major League-ready utility player or a prospect who could be a viable middle reliever. Duquette told MLB.com Friday that the club has received the most interest in its pitching depth, and the Orioles could certainly trade some of their bullpen arms, in the Major or Minor Leagues, if they decide on Blanton.

But how much of an upgrade would he be, and would Duquette be willing to trade for a pitcher who is only signed through this season?  Blanton, who will be a free agent next year, is 8-9 with a 4.59 ERA in 20 starts. He has allowed 141 hits, 74 runs, 68 of were earned, over 133 1/3 innings. He is susceptible to the long ball, having allowed 22 homers but has one of the best walk-to-strikeout ratios in the Majors, with 115 strikeouts against 18 walks.

Signed to a three-year extension January 21, 2010, Blanton is making $8.5 million this season and the Orioles would presumably be on the hook for two months of that figure. The Cardinals and Blue Jays have also expressed interest in Blanton, according to an industry source, but the Orioles are the most interested team.

–Brittany Ghiroli

Orioles remain focused on pitching

The Orioles continue to actively look to upgrade their starting pitching staff with executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette saying Friday that the organization has multiple conversations going with other clubs in advance of Tuesday’s Trade Deadline.

“We are more focused on a pitcher,” Duquette said of a rotation that is short on experience and has been inconsistent this season, particularly without right-hander Jason Hammel, who is expected to be sidelined until September.

“We’ve got several conversations going, whether they bear fruit or not, we’ll have to see.”

The Orioles have been rumored in all kinds of negotiations — including seeking a corner outfielder and leadoff hitter — and Duquette didn’t rule out the acquisition of a position player on Friday, calling it a “possibility”. Still it seems Baltimore’s preferred upgrade remains with the pitching, a competitive market around baseball as the extra Wild Card has made the buyers pool bigger with bubble teams still within reach of the postseason.

Without sacrificing top prospects Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado, who the club has already told teams are off the table, the Orioles don’t have enough chips to acquire a top-caliber arm, a market that is all but dried up with the Brewers sending Zack Greinke to the Angels.  Multiple outlets have reported that the Orioles have inquired about Twins pitcher Francisco Liriano and they also have shown interest in Seattle’s Jason Vargas, neither of whom would command close to what getting Greinke would.

But how much of an upgrade would it be?

Chris Tillman has pitched to a 1.66 ERA in four starts since joining the club, Tommy Hunter is coming off consecutive quality outings and Zach Britton –who made his third start Friday night – is also healthy and in the rotation. The Orioles have had trade interest in all their young starters, particularly right-hander Jake Arrieta, and Duquette won’t make moves simply to make them.

“The idea is to add and to be additive. So, anybody that we add we’d like to be an upgrade,” Duquette said.

“I was encouraged with how Tillman threw and Britton coming up from the Minors. Hopefully we can do some good work and [Triple-A Norfolk’s] Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta can work out whatever they need to work out there. And if they’re back here, they can give us a shot in the arm.”

As for what the Orioles could give up, it’s unlikely they would deal any of their young starters without getting back a Major League-ready arm and Duquette said Friday there has been a lot interest in the club’s pitching depth both in the Majors and Minors. It’s far more likely the club parts with relievers and any prospect not named Machado and Bundy in any deals made before the Deadline.

“The important thing to keep in mind is the Trade Deadline, that is when you can add without a waiver,” Duquette said. “There will be some deals made after that. Again, I think we have some solutions already here with some of the people that we have here. And hopefully we can get it going.”

–Brittany Ghiroli

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