Corner infielders top O's shopping list
Club will be looking for starting pitcher in tough market
The Orioles haven't been shy about what's on their offseason list: corner infielders and starting pitchers.
Beginning on Friday, Andy MacPhail, the Orioles' president of baseball operations, and his staff can begin the process of bringing that plan into fruition.
On Thursday, the exclusive negotiating window between eligible free agents and their previous clubs ends, and at 12:01 a.m. ET on Friday, those players are free to talk with any other team.
By declining their $8 million option on veteran third baseman Melvin Mora's contract, the Orioles' only experienced corner infielder is Ty Wigginton, who can play first and third base.
"We've made no secret of the fact that we are looking for corner infielders," MacPhail said in a phone interview on Wednesday. "We feel like we have some young kids that can play there in the future, but probably aren't quite ready yet. So one of our targets is to improve our team on the corner infield for 2010, and then whatever pitching we can accumulate, we definitely will look at that."
There are plenty of options at third and first base, like Adrian Beltre, Pedro Feliz, Chone Figgins, Hank Blalock, Russell Branyan and Troy Glaus, among others.
But two guys who likely won't be considered are two of the best prospects within the Orioles' organization: Brandon Snyder and Josh Bell.
Baltimore selected the contracts of Snyder and Bell on Wednesday, thus adding them to the 40-man roster to protect them from being picked up by another club in the Rule 5 Draft in December. But MacPhail thinks they may still need another year of seasoning in the Minors before they're ready to be everyday players in the big leagues.
"I'd like to give them a chance when they get here to be as successful as possible, so it would not be my first choice to force-feed them into that situation," MacPhail said. "If they show that they're capable of playing at that level, they'll get there sooner, anyway. But I'd rather build in a little protection, ideally, if I could."
If it's a stopgap option the Orioles need, perhaps they can look into a player like Carlos Delgado.
The 37-year-old lefty power hitter would probably come at an affordable price after being limited to just 26 games last year, and he averaged 33 homers and 105 RBIs in 147 games each season from 2006-08.
MacPhail wouldn't state specifically what type of corner infielder he's looking for, saying, "I think we would just make that evaluation on a case-by-case basis in terms of what we felt we were getting and what we thought we might be giving up."
But one thing's almost certain: He won't part ways with his best prospects.
"I think we'll be judicious about giving up any of those guys we think are part of our core future," MacPhail said.
"I would think it unlikely that we would get seduced in a deal where we gave up a young, key part of our future and just got something back that would be a short-term answer for us."
Last year, the Orioles went into the free-agent market aggressively, going after the likes of Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett before they were scooped up by the division-rival Yankees. This time around, though, Baltimore likely won't be going after the best arm in free agency, John Lackey, despite its need for front-line starting pitching.
MacPhail wouldn't comment on Lackey specifically, but the Orioles would likely be tentative to give the Type A free agent top dollar in a multiyear contract, which is probably what it will take to ink him to a deal.
"Unfortunately, pitching history is not quite as durable as position players," MacPhail said when asked about going after Lackey.
But there are some names out there, like Jason Marquis, Joel Pineiro, Erik Bedard, Jon Garland, Brett Myers, Vicente Padilla and Carl Pavano, among many others.
"We'll be looking at any pitching alternative that we think makes us better, and generally in pitching -- and this year will be no exception -- the supply never meets the demand," MacPhail said. "It's a tough market, but we'll be trying to make improvements in that area, as well, and give our young starters hopefully some veterans that will take some of the pressure and some of the weight off them."
The Orioles also have their own free-agent starter/reliever in Mark Hendrickson, who, through his agent, has expressed a desire to return.
Considering the 6-foot-9, 35-year-old left-hander pitched well out of the bullpen and in September starts, Baltimore could be interested in bringing him back. But a deal likely won't be struck within the exclusive negotiating window.
"We've talked with his representative," MacPhail said, "and I think we both have a pretty good understanding of where we are, and we'll just see how events unfold as we go forward."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.