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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

Orioles remain buyers, but at what cost?

With baseball’s Trade Deadline a week away, the Baltimore Orioles find themselves involved in a firestorm of rumors that support executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette’s statements that the organization remains in buyer mode.

But at what cost? The Orioles –who have made it known that top prospects Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado are virtually untouchable — have also drawn significant interest in their young starters, particularly Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz.  Both Arrieta and Matusz were part of the team’s Opening Day rotation and have struggled this season, — resulting in separate demotions to Triple-A Norfolk — but the club remains encouraged the pair of young pitchers can get on track and, according to two industry sources, is unlikely to deal either pitcher.

Duquette has made it no secret that the club would like to acquire a starting pitcher, but he told MLB.com last week that that the team there’s a lot of competition in that regard with the extra Wild Card team in each division making some teams reluctant to go into sell-mode.  The team does appear satisfied with its middle infield depth, acquiring Omar Quintanilla from the New York Mets Friday, particularly given that Robert Andino’s injury isn’t expected to sideline him more than 3-4 weeks.

They would like to shore up the defense– a facet of the team that manager Buck Showalter singled out as the most disappointing part of the first half — and with that comes the obvious questions and availability of other players at the corner infield spots.

“I know the names that are probably floating around there like they do every year,” Showalter said of the trade talk.  “I’d love for somebody to keep a tally sheet what they’re right about [in the media]. I keep in mind the old, throw it up against the wall, and if one sticks then ‘I told you, so’ [mentality].

It’s good for the fans [the Trade Deadline excitement]. That’s the bottom line. They like it, it keeps them engaged, and everybody plays fantasy swap. The old would you do this for him? Well of course I would, but they won’t do it.”

Kevin Gregg and Mark Reynolds have been heavily speculated as potential players to trade, but neither figure to command a return that would significantly help the Orioles. Baltimore is willing to move parts of the bullpen –the team’s strength for most of the first half –given its depth at Triple-A and ,outside of Bundy and Machado, Duquette hasn’t eliminated any of the organization’s other prospects in the right deal. The sense remains that the Orioles will make a trade before the deadline, although it’s highly unlikely it involves a marquee name.

Showalter was mum on any options and potential avenues on Tuesday and he spoke with his team the day after the All-Star Break to prepare them for the barrage of rumors and speculation involving their future.

“That’s another good thing about having a guy like [Jim] Thome and other [veteran] guys around,” Showalter said. “Obviously to get somebody, somebody leaves. Not only in your organization, but in that locker room. I think the last things players need to hear is the manager weighing in on that. Because I’ve ask them to keep their focus on [playing].”

-Brittany Ghiroli

Duquette: O’s still plan to add pieces

Despite a stretch in which the team has lost 17 of its last 24 games, including six of seven, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said Wednesday that the Orioles are still buyers on the trade market.

“We really need to stabilize our pitching, which is what we are looking for,” Duquette said in a phone interview with MLB.com. “We still want to have another pitcher.”

Duquette said he doesn’t think “it’s feasible” for the club to add more than one starter, given that there are too many other teams looking for pitching. The Orioles, who will not part with top prospects Manny Machado or Dylan Bundy, probably don’t have enough in their system to acquire more than one effective rotation guy.

The Orioles hope that their young starters, who have all struggled mightily this season, can improve enough to help get the team back on the right track. Despite rumors to the contrary, the Orioles are not trying to trade any of those pitchers.

Brian Matusz and Opening Day starter Jake Arrieta are currently in Triple-A, while Zach Britton struggled in his season debut and Chris Tillman was unable to get out of the first inning in his second start this year.

“My hope is that they establish themselves with the Orioles,” Duquette said. “That’s what they are trying to accomplish.

“I think they should be competitive. They all have the skills, they have all the equipment to be Major League pitchers. I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t be. We’ve got a lot of baseball left to go, but … I don’t see anything holding them back from being competitive Major Leaguers.”

Duquette said middle infield depth also remains a focus, but the Orioles are optimistic Robert Andino (left shoulder strain) will return in a few weeks, and the O’s going with a platoon of Ryan Flaherty and Steve Tolleson until then. While adding a bat atop the order is on the wish list, nothing takes priority over finding another starting pitcher.

“If we got one starter and got a little bit better performance from who we have, we’d be OK,” Duquette said. “We need to be in contention, or we need to have the idea that what we are going to do will improve the team enough to make the playoffs.

“And you never know that for sure, but I think it’s important for us to have a good year. It’s important for us to finish strong and win more games than we lose, and try to go for the pennant.”

Duquette has previously said that he has the ownership’s backing to improve at the deadline and add pieces as he sees fit, and he didn’t back off that stance on Wednesday.

“Anything that we do, we would do with the idea to strengthen the team for this year,” he said.

Even if the current club continues to falter?

“I hope we are in contention until the end of the month, so we are adding,” Duquette said. “That’s the direction we are working on, and working toward.”

–Brittany Ghiroli

Orioles looking for pitching, Greinke a possibility

The Orioles need starting pitching and Brewers righty Zack Greinke is reportedly on the club’s radar. The Baltimore Sun reported Friday that Baltimore has serious interest in the 28-year-old Greinke who is 9-2 with a 3.08 ERA this year.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has said that he has ownership backing to add the pieces he sees fit, and it’s no secret that Baltimore is looking to add some stability to a rotation that –outside of Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen– has been anything but. The Orioles optioned Opening Day starter Jake Arrieta to the Minors after Thursday’s loss, the third starting pitcher they have demoted in the past week.

But would it take to get Greinke? The Orioles remain firm on keeping top prospects Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado and beyond those two they don’t have much else to command an arm like Greinke. Left-handed starter Brian Matusz, who was one of the three sent to Triple-A, could be trade bait and benefit from a change of scenery.

–Brittany Ghiroli

Orioles Opening Day lineups & pregame tidbits

*How relaxed is Opening Day starter Jake Arrieta? He was on the field pregame with socks and sandals and a camera strapped around his neck. “I’m testing out my photography skills,” said Arrieta, who was taking in the moment like a fan, snapping shots of his teammates during batting practice. Arrieta has 12 people here for his first Opening Day starter, and second consecutive home opener.

*Manager Buck Showalter confirmed the obvious in naming Jim Johnson closer. As for Kevin Gregg, Showalter said he could be used in a variety of roles. Not exactly a ringing endorsement. Here’s what Gregg had to say..

“I knew that [Johnson would be the closer],” said Gregg, who said he spoke with Showalter this spring about it. “I’m going to be political; I’m here to help the team. I’ll pitch whenever Buck needs me to pitch.” More

Orioles remain interested in Manny

Are the Orioles in on Manny Ramirez? Well, they have some interest, especially given that they’d like to add a veteran bat before Spring Training and the free agency pool has all but dried up.

Enrique Rojas of ESPNDeportesLosAngeles.com reported earlier Friday that Ramirez is deciding between the O’s, Athletics and Blue Jays. But how serious is the Orioles’ interest in Manny? I don’t know, and it’s tough for anyone to say accurately at this point. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette –who had Ramirez while GM in Boston– hasn’t ruled out the scenario all offseason, which is why I’m hesitant to do so now.

To recap, Ramirez will face a 50-game suspension for violating the MLB drug policy should he sign a new contract and play in 2012.  Working in his favor is he would come at a cheaper cost than any other older DH-type on the market, such as Johnny Damon.  But he also comes with significant drawbacks. In addition to the suspension, Ramirez typically brings a media circus, and I’m not sure how that style (the whole “Manny being Manny” mantra) would play out with manager Buck Showalter. And then there’s the question of performance: how much does Manny have left in the tank? The Orioles saw firsthand last year with Vladimir Guerrero that a veteran past his prime isn’t exactly the exciting cleanup hitter they need.

With just about two weeks before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, all signs point to Ramirez making a decision soon.

–Brittany Ghiroli

O’s interested in Crisp?

Free-agent outfielder Coco Crisp caused a stir late Monday night when he changed his Twitter photo to one of him wearing an Orioles uniform as a child, furthering rumors that he has decided to sign with Baltimore. CBS Sports reported earlier on Monday that Crisp could be headed to a “mystery team” that possibly was the Orioles, although the report was unconfirmed.

On Tuesday morning, CBS’ Jon Heyman tweeted that the O’s are unlikely to be Crisp’s next team: “While Orioles talked to Crisp’s agent, it sounds like it’s not them (I need a new crystal ball). Not a perfect fit for Baltimore.”

Crisp’s agent, Steve Comte, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the outfielder had already made his decision on Monday evening and just had to inform the team.

If Crisp had decided on Baltimore, it would be an interesting choice given that Adam Jones is the O’s current center fielder. The move could free up a trade for Jones, considered one of the Orioles’ prized players, or could mean a position change for either player. Jones has been involved in several trade rumors this winter, most recently with the Atlanta Braves, and the Orioles would almost definitely need to get a haul of high-quality pitching as a return in any deal.

– Brittany Ghiroli

Os acquire Eveland from Dodgers

The Orioles have acquired left-handed pitcher Dana Eveland from the Los Angeles Dodgers, a source confirmed to MLB.com.

Fox Sports was the first to report there was a deal in place, and details are still emerging as to what the Orioles are sending the Dodgers way. Eveland, a non-tender candidate, likely wouldn’t command much –probably a Minor Leaguer or two — and he helps bolster an Orioles pitching staff that is in dire need of some upgrades and depth.

–Brittany Ghiroli

Orioles hope talks lead to Thursday trades

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette just met with the Orioles media and seemed pretty certain he’d be able to pull off “a deal or two” before leaving Dallas Thursday night.

Duquette, who said the team “didn’t get much feedback” on their free-agent offers (they met with several more agents Wednesday and have offers out to pitchers and positions players),  also said the club has been discussing several trades that would net them pitching. He didn’t anticipate a trade occurring until at least tomorrow morning, saying only that these things take time and it’s a process that involves putting a considerable amount at stake.

Given that Duquette has said the last few days that there are more relievers on the trade market than starters, my guess is they upgrade the bullpen following Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft.

As for the payroll –and the perceived notion that Baltimore can’t compete in the American League East with their financial constraints– Duquette said the organization’s budget doesn’t matter.

“There’s appropriate funding to field a competitive team here, but we have to make good choices,” Duquette said.

“It doesn’t matter what the budget is. It doesn’t matter to the fans. They are interested in seeing the product, they are interested in seeing the players. And our job is to put the best team we can, within the constraints of the market. So, you are not going to hear me talk about the budget or numbers. Because it’s, to me, it’s not important to the fans. They want to see a good product.”

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