Key dates ahead in O's rebuilding project
Decisions must be made on free agents, options, arbitration
The Orioles finished the 2009 season 34 games below .500, 39 games back of first place in their division and losers of 13 consecutive games in September. So, moving forward with the upcoming campaign is a welcome mind-set for the organization.
And conveniently, that's really all there's left to do.
For the 12th consecutive season, O's players found themselves home for the playoffs. And now, as the American League Championship Series winds down and the World Series gets started on Wednesday, all the players and front-office members can do is prepare for 2010.
"I think we're out of Phase 1," O's president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said upon announcing his decision to pick up the '10 option on manager Dave Trembley's contract on Oct. 14. "And that's the most destructive and the toughest phase, where you're essentially tearing down, and you've got the road construction in front of you, and you've dealt off your more attractive players to other clubs ... [and] you've brought in a nucleus of young talent."
Now, as the Orioles move forward with Phase 2, here are some key dates coming up in the offseason.
Free agency: The day after the end of the World Series marks the beginning of a 15-day period when eligible players may elect free agency or demand a trade. This is the only time when that player's previous club retains exclusive negotiating rights.
After that 15-day window closes, players with at least six years of Major League service time and not under contract are free to sign with any club.
Also, the deadline for clubs to offer '10 contracts to unsigned players is Dec. 12.
This year, the Orioles will have two free agents to worry about: right-hander Danys Baez and lefty Mark Hendrickson.
After missing the entire '08 season because of elbow surgery, Baez returned in '09 to post a 4.02 ERA in 59 relief appearances. The 32-year-old is at the end of a three-year, $19-million deal that paid him $5.5 million this past season.
Hendrickson was signed to a $1.5 million contract as a free agent last offseason. The 35-year-old finished '09 with a 6-5 record and a 4.37 ERA in 53 games (11 starts).
The Orioles also have club options for third baseman Melvin Mora ($8 million) and catcher Chad Moeller ($850,000) they can pick up at any time.
Considering Mora is 37 and saw significant drops in batting average (.260), home runs (eight) and RBIs (48), his option likely won't be exercised, and a corner infielder could be a priority in the offseason.
Baltimore will also be in search of a new bench coach after Dave Jauss was relieved of his duties last week.
Rule 5 Draft: Dec. 8 is the deadline for clubs to outright a player off the 40-man roster prior to the Rule 5 Draft, which gets under way two days later. A player is eligible if he has not been placed on the 40-man roster three or four years after signing his first pro contract.
The Rule 5 Draft brought the Orioles Jay Gibbons in '00. More recently, Baltimore acquired catcher Lou Palmisano with the fifth pick last year, then traded him to the Astros for cash considerations.
Winter Meetings: The Winter Meetings will be Dec. 7-10 in Indianapolis.
Last year's Winter Meetings brought disappointment to the Orioles, who went hard after big names like A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira but both chose the Yankees instead.
Baltimore did trade catcher Ramon Hernandez to the Reds for Ryan Freel, plus prospects Brandon Waring and Justin Turner; signed shortstop Cesar Izturis; and opened up the lines of communication with Japanese right-hander Koji Uehara, who eventually signed with the team.
When the Winter Meetings roll around this year, the Orioles will likely be taking yet another crack at an experienced starting pitcher and a big bat, and perhaps a piece or two for their shaky bullpen.
Salary arbitration: Midnight ET on Dec. 1 is the deadline for clubs to offer salary arbitration to free agents in order to be eligible for compensation if they sign elsewhere. The player has until Dec. 7 to accept the offer.
The arbitration-filing period is Jan. 5-15, and on Jan. 19, clubs will exchange salary-arbitration figures with their players. The next step is to attend hearings -- scheduled for Feb. 1-21 -- where a panel will select either the club's offer or the player's for the '10 season.
A player under club control is guaranteed to make at least 80 percent of what he made the previous year in arbitration.
This year, the Orioles have five players eligible for arbitration: right-handers Jeremy Guthrie, Chris Ray and Cla Meredith, lefty Rich Hill and designated hitter Luke Scott. Right-hander Matt Albers and center fielder Adam Jones could also be eligible with Super-Two status, based on their days of service.
Last year, Baltimore had four arbitration-eligible players -- Scott, Ray, reliever George Sherrill and outfielder Nick Markakis -- but signed all of them without needing to go in front of a three-person panel.
Other key dates:
The fourth day after the World Series is the last day for clubs to request waivers on players excluded from the First-Year Player Draft until 25 days prior to the opening of the '10 season.
The general managers' meetings will take place Nov. 9-11 in Chicago.
The waiver period ends on Nov. 10, and a new one starts the following day, lasting until Feb. 15.
And Nov. 20 is the deadline for organizations to file reserve lists for their Major League clubs and Minor League affiliates. It's also the last day to make an offseason outright assignment of an injured player to the Minor Leagues.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.