Today marks the first day that Major League Baseball’s free agents can sign with any club. In the previous period between today and the end of the World Series, players could only sign with their most recent clubs.
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said Monday that, during the exclusive signing period, he did not have any negotiations with representatives of his seven free agents -- right-handed pitchers Scott Feldman, Jason Hammel and Francisco Rodriguez, infielder Brian Roberts, catcher Chris Snyder and outfielders Nate McLouth and Mike Morse.
It may be a little bit surprising that the Orioles didn’t take advantage of that period -- Feldman and Hammel, for instance, certainly will have plenty of suitors due to the dearth of starting pitching. But none of the seven is a slam dunk to come back (Roberts is the most likely, in my opinion, though McLouth, Feldman, Hammel and Snyder are possibilities in the right situation).
But it’s also not a big deal that talks didn’t occur. They would have been just that: talks. Most free agents like to see what’s out there before re-signing. And that’s not always a bad thing for the previous team. Remember, it wasn’t until the winter meetings in December last year that McLouth agreed to return on a one-year deal. And I’m pretty confident one of the seven will be back in 2014. So the “exclusive signing period” really is fairly unproductive for most players and teams.
** There were 13 free agents -- no Orioles -- who received qualifying offers from their previous teams by Monday’s deadline. What that means is the player can agree to a one-year deal worth $14.1 million to stay with his current team. If he rejects that offer, then the team that signs him must forfeit its first- or second-round draft pick in 2014 (depending on when that team selects). The team that makes the qualifying offer will get a compensatory pick at the end of the first round if the player rejects the offer.
In the Orioles’ case, if they sign one of these players, they’ll lose the 17th overall pick in next year’s first round (it doesn’t go to the player’s previous team, it just disappears). Duquette’s not a fan of losing draft picks, but said last week that he would consider it on a case-by-case basis this offseason.
Of the 13 who received the offer, players like Robinson Cano, Shin-Shoo Choo and Carlos Beltran would interest the Orioles, but the club simply isn’t going to pay what it would take to get them to Baltimore.
I think the only two players who the Orioles might consider forfeiting a pick for would be Seattle Mariners designated hitter Kendrys Morales and Kansas City Royals pitcher Ervin Santana. They both may go for much more than what the Orioles are willing to pay -- especially Santana. But if other teams don’t want to lose draft picks and, consequently, that limits the number of suitors and dollars for Morales or Santana, the Orioles, at the least, would be in the mix.
Two pitchers who did not get qualifying offers and can be signed without forfeiting a draft pick are Los Angeles Angels left-hander Jason Vargas and Cincinnati Reds right-hander Bronson Arroyo. Both are on the Orioles’ radar. But, then again, they’ll be on a lot of teams’ radars.
** One left-hander guaranteed to be on the Orioles’ 40-man roster is Chris Jones, who joined the organization in April in the trade that sent reliever Luis Ayala to the Atlanta Braves. He could have become a minor league free agent Monday night, but the Orioles placed him on their 40-man roster.
The club was impressed with Jones last season and considered moving him up at various times during the year, but didn’t. Overall, he was 4-4 with a 2.85 ERA in 36 games at two Double-A stops and for Triple-A Norfolk. Lefties hit just .196 against him in 128 plate appearances.
Duquette said he felt like Jones took a big step in 2012, increasing his strikeouts and reducing his walks -- setting up for a good 2013. New Orioles pitching coach Dave Wallace was the Braves’ minor league pitching coordinator, so I’m sure he gave his opinion on Jones before the Orioles decided to put the 25-year-old on the roster Monday. Even without Wallace, it was pretty obvious the Orioles didn’t want to lose Jones.
I was asked by a couple readers whether the Jones’ decision could be a prelude to a trade involving major league left-handed relievers Brian Matusz or Troy Patton. Initially, I’ll say no. It was more about meeting a deadline involving Jones. But, if the Orioles are high on Jones and think he can be a viable major leaguer next year, it would make it a little less painful to deal Matusz or Patton if the right partner came forward. Not saying that will happen, but quality left-handed relief is a commodity.
** Chris Davis did not win a players’ choice award Monday, losing twice to Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera. That likely will be a theme this offseason.
Davis should be named tonight as one of the three finalists for the American League Most Valuable Player as decided by the Baseball Writers Association of America. The others will be Cabrera and either Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout or Oakland Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson.
I think it would be a huge upset if Davis, who led the major leagues in home runs and RBIs, weren’t one of the three finalists. But some voters put a lot of stock into a MVP being on a playoff team and that could get Donaldson in. The Orioles were obviously better than the Angels, but Trout had another great year and is a media darling. That said, Davis held his own in interviews with the national media, too.
One thing is for sure: Davis will get some hardware Wednesday when Silver Slugger Awards are announced. No American League first baseman comes close to what Davis achieved with the bat in 2013.