By Dan Connolly
The Baltimore Sun
6:45 AM EST, January 30, 2013
It’s now less than two weeks before pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota, Fla., but I still get a sense Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette isn’t done compiling his roster.
Really, I’m not sure there is ever a time when he stops (he added another veteran outfielder Tuesday with the signing of Chris Dickerson to a minor league deal).
Remember, news of the Jeremy Guthrie trade didn’t break until the morning after last year’s Super Bowl -- and that probably proved to be Duquette’s biggest move of 2012 (because it brought the club’s top starter, Jason Hammel, and reliever Matt Lindstrom, who eventually was traded in August for Joe Saunders).
So there probably are more acquisitions on the way.
Saunders, a free agent, hasn’t landed yet. The Jair Jurrjens signing hasn’t been announced yet -- which would involve a corresponding 40-man move -- and that elusive power bat is still floating out there in the trade discussion ether.
I don’t expect a major move in the next two weeks, but I’m not ruling out some more news before the initial reporting date (Feb. 12).
** The best two free agents still on the market are outfielder Michael Bourn and starting pitcher Kyle Lohse. In fact, they are the only two unsigned players left in Yahoo Sports' 2012-13 Top 50 free-agent list. Bourn was eighth and Lohse was 18th on the list. The next highest available player is former Oriole Luke Scott at No. 57; Scott is expected to re-sign with the Tampa Bay Rays. Saunders is listed as 60th.
Bourn and Lohse have something in common -- both are represented by agent Scott Boras, who is never concerned about rushing the situation. He often waits out the market before finding the best deal for his clients.
You can pretty much forget about the Orioles and Bourn. The club did not give Adam Jones an $85.5 million extension last year to move him out of center field in 2013. And Bourn isn’t signing somewhere to be a left fielder.
Lohse, though, fits a little better for the Orioles. Boras and Duquette obviously talked last week while hammering out the Jurrjens deal, and surely Lohse’s name (and likely Bourn’s) came up. The Orioles could use a veteran atop the rotation, and Lohse is a sinkerballer who really has re-invented himself -- with great results -- the past two years.
Lohse, 34, followed a 2011 campaign in which he was 14-8 with a 3.39 ERA in 30 regular season starts for the eventual World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals with the best season of his career in 2012 -- 16-3 record, a 2.86 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP in a career-best 211 innings for the Cardinals.
Critics say it was a career year and you can’t expect him to keep improving at age 34 and beyond. But Lohse supporters say he finally relied more on his sinker than any other pitch in the past two years, and that he is one of those guys who took a little longer to figure things out.
Lohse made nearly $12 million last year and is represented by Boras. He will not come cheap. And if he is forced to settle for a one-year contract, it won’t be in Baltimore, where he’d have to pitch half his games at Camden Yards and a chunk of them against the AL East.
Plus, Lohse, like Bourn (and Adam LaRoche), would cost the Orioles their first-round draft pick next year, and Duquette is on record saying how important those picks are to him. Throw in the fact that the Orioles haven’t doled out a contract longer than three years or more than $22.5 million to a true, free-agent starter in club history, and you can pretty much forget about Lohse.
Yet I am still writing about him. Why (besides it’s a slow news week so far)?
Because every time I ask anyone in the Orioles' organization about Lohse, they say, “We like him, but not for what it is going to cost.”
But what if that cost comes down dramatically?
That’s where it would get intriguing. Honestly, Lohse will never be an “undervalued asset,” like Duquette loves, but, given his past two seasons, Lohse has become somewhat underrated.
Because he doesn’t throw hard, because he is older, because he battled injuries before 2011 and because he has a career ERA that’s at 4.45, Lohse is never going to be considered in the upper echelon of starters.
But his past two seasons belong in that category. So maybe he ends up being more affordable than originally thought.
All that said, Boras rarely misreads the market when it comes to his top free agents -- remember last year when so many thought Prince Fielder would have to settle? -- so I don’t see the cost dropping dramatically, even at this juncture of the offseason.
But if it did, Lohse definitely would strengthen the Orioles’ staff.
As always, the question to ask is, at what price?
** It still appears that the Orioles have interest in adding a reliever, even though the bullpen is the club’s strength. I am still hearing that club officials are keeping tabs on some relievers that have yet to sign.
Surprising in one sense, it’s smart in another.
There may be no category that fits better in the “undervalued assets” category than relievers, who are so hard to predict. And if Duquette can add another quality arm -- especially on a minor-league deal -- you have to think he will do it.
Again, it’s all about “deep depth” with him.
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