By Eduardo A. Encina
The Baltimore Sun
7:48 AM EST, November 14, 2013
While reports out of the final day of Major League Baseball's general managers' meetings Wednesday in Orlando, Fla., said that the Orioles could explore trades involving cornerstone players J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters, the team is not actively shopping either player, according to a club source.
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said Wednesday night that he's met with more than half the major league clubs to gauge whether they could be trade partners, but he added that Hardy and Wieters are “core players on our ballclub.” He also met with several free-agent representatives in Orlando and made preliminary offers to multiple pitchers.
“Our focus is on improving our ballclub and we'd like to improve our ballclub by improving our pitching in particular,” Duquette said. “We could use an outfielder and we could use some help at DH from the left side. That's where our focus is. We're continuing to make progress. We've talked to some agents. We've made some offers to some pitchers and hopefully that will bear some fruit.”
Hardy can become a free agent at the end of the 2014 season, and his stock is at its highest. He is one of just four major league players to win both a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger award at his position this year.
An industry source confirmed that the Orioles and St. Louiis Cardinals engaged in dialogue about a possible trade, as was reported by CBSSports.com Wednesday, but it was no more than a short conversation about team needs that are typical during the GM meetings. The Orioles are willing to listen to offers, but it doesn't mean that the team is looking to move key players.
The CBSSports.com report said that the Orioles inquired about Cardinals right-hander Shelby Miller and were quickly shot down. And while the Orioles would be looking to upgrade their pitching with a talented major leagues-tested pitcher who would be under team control for several years would be attractive, they aren't actively shopping Hardy or Wieters, according to the source.
“There are other teams who are interested in players when they have good years,” Duquette said. “Hardy and Wieters are core players on our ballclub. It doesn't surprise me that there's interest in Hardy, for example. He won the Gold Glove and the Silver Slugger in the same year. He's a good player.”
Other teams will undoubtedly inquire about Hardy, who is one of the most complete shortstops in the game. He has hit 77 home runs in the past three seasons with the Orioles, the most by any American League shortstop in that span. He has also won back-to-back Gold Glove awards.
Even though he becomes a free agent at the end of the 2014 season, Hardy holds incredible value for the club -- especially at the $7 million annual salary on his current contract from 2012 to 2014.
The Orioles' success the past two seasons has been rooted in the club's vastly improved defense, and Hardy is the anchor of that. He's the captain of the infield, and Orioles manager Buck Showalter constantly raves about how Hardy is like having a coach on the field.
In addition to his offensive and defensive contributions, Hardy is one of Showalter's top and most trusted clubhouse leaders.
While 21-year-old third baseman Manny Machado, who won the AL Platinum Glove in his first full major league season this year, is still seen as the club's eventual franchise shortstop, he had knee surgery in September and might not be ready for Opening Day.
And if Machado moved to shortstop in 2014, it is uncertain whether Ryan Flaherty or Jonathan Schoop would be suitable everyday replacements at third base. Both seem like better fits at second base if the club doesn't re-sign veteran Brian Roberts.
The club has Wieters, a two-time Gold Glove winner and two-time All-Star, under control for the next two years. Not only is he one of the top all-around catchers in baseball, but he is another one of Showalter's top clubhouse leaders. The team has approached Wieters, who is represented by Scott Boras, about an extension in the past unsuccessfully.
But for now, without anyone in the minor league system who could succeed him immediately, Wieters is another irreplaceable piece to the Orioles' success. And Wieters, who is projected to make $7.5 million to $8 million next year in his second year of arbitration eligibility, is still a great value at his position, especially given what free-agent catchers like Brian McCann and Jarrod Saltalamacchia stand to make this offseason.
Wieters led all major league catchers with 22 homers, but recorded a career-low .235 batting average and .287 on-base percentage. On the other hand, he was a finalist to win a third straight Gold Glove.
Duquette said the club's current focus is on planting the seeds for acquisitions to upgrade the club and not on negotiating extensions. The Orioles have both Wieters and American League Most Valuable Player finalist Chris Davis under team control over the next two years.
“Any of the players who do well here and play well, we'd like to have them long term, but we're not focused on extensions right now,” he said. “We're focused on adding players to improve our team.”
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