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Orioles thoughts and observations on Saunders, Vazquez and Berkman

By Eduardo A. Encina

The Baltimore Sun

6:32 PM EST, January 4, 2013

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The Orioles remain interested in re-signing left-hander Joe Saunders but appear unwilling to offer the veteran pitcher the multi-year deal he’s reportedly seeking.

Saunders supposedly wanted a four-year deal last month, and he’s still seeking three years. And despite the boost that Saunders provided down the stretch and in the postseason after the Orioles acquired him in a trade with Arizona in August, the O’s aren’t willing to go in that direction to retain the veteran left-hander.

Saunders very well could receive three years – the Mariners, Padres, Twins and Mets have also shown interest in him – but it’s becoming very obvious that he won’t be getting that from the Orioles. They will continue to monitor the market on Saunders but are prepared to walk away if his demands for a three-year deal remain.

The Orioles rotation is solid as is. Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen are locks, and Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman are likely to retain spots as well. Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta, Steve Johnson and Brian Matusz could each have their shot at cracking the rotation, and the Orioles like Rule 5 pick T.J. McFarland, a left-hander, as a starter as well.

Saunders, who was 3-3 with a 3.63 ERA in seven regular season starts with the Orioles, pitched to a 1.59 ERA in two postseason starts, including 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball in the Orioles’ wild-card win over the Rangers.

-- While we’re on the topic of free-agent pitchers, 36-year-old right-hander Javier Vazquez is contemplating a comeback. Several teams, including the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Nationals, are interested.

The Orioles currently have no plans to scout Vazquez in Puerto Rico, where he is playing winter ball, but don’t rule out their interest. Orioles executive director of international recruiting Fred Ferreira signed Vazquez to his first pro contract with the Expos in 1994.

Vazquez last pitched in the big leagues in 2011 with the Marlins, but both Ferreira and Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette are open to reclamation projects.

-- The Orioles have shown interest in veteran slugger Lance Berkman, who is still deciding whether to play in 2013, but it doesn’t seem like he would be a fit for the Orioles.

Berkman’s bat would offer a nice boost for the lineup – the O’s are looking for a power bat – but the 36-year-old has said the money will have to be right for him play this season.

“If I’m going to play, I’m going to give my heart and soul to the team,” Berkman told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “But if the carrot’s not big enough, the mule isn’t going to want to go.”

Also, Berkman spent most of last season on the disabled list with knee injuries. So you’re not quite sure what you’re going to get out of the veteran physically. If he’s unable to play the field, he would clog the Orioles’ designated hitter spot, something the team wants to steer away from this season.