The lobby at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort quickly emptied out as Major League Baseball's winter meetings ended Thursday. While the Orioles only added a pair of Rule 5 draft picks this week, the club continued efforts to land a free-agent closer.
The Orioles' focus remained on 35-year-old Grant Balfour, who recorded 38 saves last season, but whether the sides could come to an agreement before Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette flies back to Baltimore on Friday morning seems unlikely.
Baltimore will have competition for Balfour. The Orioles are one of three teams who have offered the closer a two-year deal, according to an industry source. One of those clubs also has dangled a third-year vesting option, but a source said it’s not the Orioles.
As the meetings concluded Thursday, Duquette was optimistic the team would sign a closer soon to fill the void left after trading Jim Johnson last week.
“We should be able to add a closer to our team,” Duquette said. “There are some good choices there available on the market. We’re talking to a lot of people, and we hope to be able to fill that job soon.”
And while a decision on Balfour simmers, the market on other closers is starting to come into view. There were reports Thursday morning that other free-agent closers Joaquin Benoit and Fernando Rodney are seeking $7 million to $10 million annually.
That can’t mesh with the Orioles’ plans, especially after the club traded Johnson, who saved 101 games over the past two years. Johnson was projected to make around $10 million through the arbitration process.
Other cost-effective closing candidates exist, and the Orioles have interest in former St. Louis Cardinals reliever John Axford and ex-Cleveland Indians closer Chris Perez.
Discussions aside, the Orioles might have been the most inactive team at the meetings.
As teams began to disperse following the Rule 5 draft, the Orioles acquired just two players. They selected third baseman Michael Almanzar from the Boston Red Sox in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft and then picked former major league outfielder Julio Borbon in the minor league part of the draft.
In talking about the team’s accomplishments here, Duquette said he also included the club’s signing of reliever Ryan Webb, but Webb agreed to terms before the Orioles arrived at the meetings.
“The meetings have been helpful for us to staff our team,” Duquette said. “We’re going to come out of them with the addition of a pitcher [Webb], and these two players we added [Thursday], and then we’re going to continue to work on some of the groundwork we laid out on trades.”
Duquette spoke confidently about being able to make a trade for a left-handed hitter early in the week, but the Orioles were unable to find a fit.
“Hopefully that will bear some fruit with players to bring back to Baltimore, and there are players we’ve started negotiations with that we hope we are able to sign,” Duquette said. “We were active in the Rule 5 draft. We wanted a player with good tools in Almanzar. We added Webb, who had a very good year last year, to our bullpen, and we’ll be able to add more players based on what we did here in the next week or so.”