12/04/09 12:01 AM EST
Bullpen among Orioles' top priorities
Team looks to add closer; corner infield also a focus
By Spencer Fordin / MLB.com
CLOSER: Baltimore saw its bullpen collapse after the midseason trade of closer George Sherrill last year and would prefer to slot setup man Jim Johnson right back into an eighth-inning role. The Orioles could try to use deposed starter Koji Uehara as a relief ace but will likely scour the market for alternative options. Mike Gonzalez and Jose Valverde could be interesting free-agent targets, and Baltimore could go in a variety of directions here.
CORNER INFIELDER: In an ideal world, the Orioles would find a right-handed-hitting first baseman and a stopgap third baseman on the open market. In this one, things may not fall into place quite so neatly. The Orioles are trying to give prospects Brandon Snyder and Josh Bell a little more room to grow and want to acquire a corner infielder on a short-term deal. And if they had their choice, they'd prefer that player to hit in the middle of the order. Ty Wigginton returns, allowing the Orioles to hedge their bets at either corner if they're only able to find one player.
VETERAN STARTER: The Orioles had the least experienced starting rotation in the league by a wide margin last year and want to add at least one veteran to aid Jeremy Guthrie in mentoring the staff. Baltimore saw high-profile prospects Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz graduate to the Majors last season, and fellow rookie Brad Bergesen more than held his own in his debut. That trio will get every opportunity to progress this season, and Baltimore thinks it can help take the pressure off them by adding another veteran who knows what to do every fifth day.
SHORTSTOP: The Orioles saw Cesar Izturis stabilize the position last season, but may need to begin looking for someone to nail down the position on a long-term basis. Izturis is more than capable defensively but doesn't bring much on offense, and he's entering the final season of a two-year deal inked last winter. The Orioles would love to add a shortstop who would send Izturis to a reserve role, but can make do if one isn't available.
Who they can or need to trade:
DH Luke Scott: Scott has been phased out of the outfield by the emergence of left fielders Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold, and he may even begin to lose at-bats at designated hitter if that trend continues. Scott, who turned 30 years old last season, could provide an inexpensive left-handed power source to the right team. The Orioles will likely explore trading him this winter but could end up sticking with him at DH for another season.
CF Felix Pie: Pie starred in a late-season reclamation project for the Orioles, batting .290 with seven home runs after the All-Star break while showing his customary top-shelf athleticism. The Orioles already have Adam Jones penciled into center field, though, which limits Pie's utility to his current club. Baltimore could deal Pie to a club looking for a nimble defender in center field, or it could hang onto him hoping to maintain its current depth.
SP Jeremy Guthrie: Guthrie took a step backward last season, but he remains one of the Orioles' most interesting trade chips. Guthrie, a former first-round draftee, is in his prime now and is cast as the lone veteran bellwether at the top of the rotation. That could change if the Orioles receive an interesting offer for him, but it's more likely that Baltimore will add another starting pitcher to help shield the team's assortment of young arms.
SP David Hernandez: Hernandez joined the big league rotation last season and held his own at times, but he also wound up allowing 27 home runs in 20 appearances. The Orioles may opt to explore using him as a reliever, but he may also have value to a National League club that feels he can slot in as a back-end starter. Baltimore likes Hernandez but prioritizes him behind Bergesen, Matusz and Tillman in the long-term pecking order.
SP Jake Arrieta, SP Zach Britton, SP Matt Hobgood, 1B Snyder, 3B Bell, 3B Brandon Waring, SS Mychal Givens, OF Xavier Avery: Arrieta and Britton are the next cogs in a system stocked full of starting pitching depth. Snyder and Bell are polished upper-level prospects that are close to making a big-league impact, while Givens and Avery are raw talents that could take several years to develop. Waring is one level behind Snyder and Bell.
Big contracts they might unload:
This slot has been home to some big names in recent seasons, but the Orioles have already dealt Aubrey Huff and watched Melvin Mora and Danys Baez depart via free agency. Brian Roberts, long a staple in the most likely to be traded category, has seen his status clarified by a long-term contract extension.
Arbitration-eligible: Guthrie, RHP; Scott, DH; Chris Ray, RHP; Cla Meredith, RHP; Matt Albers, RHP
Ray; Meredith; Albers; Dennis Sarfate, RHP: The Orioles could go in a wide variety of directions in the bullpen and could opt to cut ties with some or all of their arbitration eligible relievers. Ray, a former closer who used last season as a springboard back from ligament replacement surgery on his throwing elbow, is the best bet to stick around. Baltimore will likely value Meredith's experience but could try to non-tender Sarfate or Albers.
The Orioles have seen great relief in the salary department thanks to expiring obligations due to Ramon Hernandez, Jamie Walker and Jay Gibbons and the free-agent defections of Mora and Baez. Baltimore's payroll was virtually cut in half by those losses, allowing the Orioles to sink a substantial investment into the free-agent market. Baltimore could also use its financial flexibility to swing a deal for an expensive veteran on another club's roster.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.