By Eduardo A. Encina
The Baltimore Sun
7:11 AM EST, November 13, 2013
The Orioles continued to meet with possible trade partners and free-agent representatives on Day 2 of the general managers meetings Tuesday in Orlando, Fla. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Phillies made perhaps the most interesting move of the week so far, signing free-agent outfielder Marlon Byrd to a two-year, $16-million contract with a $8-million vesting option.
Byrd, 36, had the best season of his career in 2013, hitting .291/.336/.511 with 24 home runs and 88 RBIs for the New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates. He also hit .364 with five RBIs in five postseason games with Pittsburgh.
Still, the Phillies spent a pretty penny for a player who hit more than 12 homers just once before this past season in a 12-year career and missed 50 games in 2012 after he tested positive for a banned substance.
A frame of reference for Orioles fans: Byrd was once traded for Endy Chavez -- straight up.
The signing of Byrd is the first chip to fall in the free-agent market among outfielders. Other power-hitting outfielder options like Curtis Granderson, Nelson Cruz and Carlos Beltran will require a draft pick to sign after they declined the qualifying offers from their former teams.
Will Byrd's signing affect the Orioles’ ability to re-sign left fielder Nate McLouth, who the team is interested in bringing back?
While Byrd and McLouth are very different players, teams that aren’t in the market for top-tier outfielders like Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, Granderson, Cruz and Beltran will steer toward McLouth. Byrd’s signing paces the market for that second-tier of outfield free agents, a group that includes McLouth.
At the same time, a major factor in McLouth’s return would be the fact that he’s comfortable with the Orioles organization, manager Buck Showalter, the coaching staff and the clubhouse. That was a big factor when he re-signed last winter with a one-year, $2-million deal -- and it will be again this offseason.
Still, at least a two-year offer will likely have to be there for McLouth to return.
Speaking of the Orioles’ future in left field, Cuban outfielder Henry Urrutia has taken significant strides in the Arizona Fall League.
In 17 games, Urrutia is hitting .394/.444/.576 with three homers and 14 RBIs for the Surprise Saguaros.
Surprise manager Gary Kendall, who also managed Urrutia at Double-A Bowie, said Urrutia has had a very productive fall. He’s played mostly in left field this fall, and while he still has a lot to learn after not playing for the past two years, he has come a long way defensively and with his baserunning.
“He certainly has a ways to go from what they’re going to expect in Baltimore, but his throwing accuracy has improved, his judgment on the basepaths has gotten better, his breaks, his secondary [leads],” Kendall said. “He can gather some ground and increase some distance so he can score on some hits. I think he’s made strides in all facets of the game. He’s someone out here who, after ball games, he sticks around. He wants to get stronger, and get a little more physical, so he’s been in the weight room. He’s done some things to try to increase his strength.”
Kendall said Urrutia still needs to refine getting breaks on balls in left field in live-game action, especially with balls spinning off the bat from left-handed hitters.
In his brief time with the Orioles last season, Urrutia hit .276/.276/.310 in 24 games exclusively as a designated hitter and pinch hitter, and 15 of his 16 hits were singles, most of them slapped the opposite way.
But Kendall said Urrutia is steadily learning to pull the ball. Pitchers in the fall league have pitched him inside, and he’s learning to make the adjustment.
“I’ve seen him get to some pitches on the inner half of the plate, and that’s something that he’s going to have to be conscious of because out here, when they’ve had success [against him] it’s been in, trying to pound him in,” Kendall said. “But he’s been able to get at some pitches and drive some to right field, and he’s really centered the ball real well. His home runs have been more left-center to center field, but I think power is something that’s going to come with him once he gets acclimated.”
With two games left in the AFL regular season schedule, Surprise has already clinched its division. So you’ll be able to watch Urrutia and the Saguaros in the AFL championship game Saturday at 3 p.m. on the MLB Network.
If you happen to be stopping by the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. any time soon, keep an eye out for Orioles executive director of international recruiting Fred Ferreira’s old passport on display at the museum.
Ferreira’s passport is part of an exhibit entitled “Diamond Mines” that is dedicated to scouting and the role that scouts play in uncovering the game’s best players.
The exhibit has been on display since May, but Ferreira’s passport was added recently after Ferreira was named International Scout of the Year last year.
Ferreira has scouted and signed players from all over Latin America, including Vladimir Guerrero, Bernie Williams, Jose Vidro and Orlando Cabrera.
Urrutia is Ferreira’s 62ndplayer to make it to the major leagues. He also scouted Orioles right-hander Miguel Gonzalez while Gonzalez was pitching winter ball in Mexico before the 2012 season.
If you have a chance, check out the exhibit’s companion website at scouts.baseballhall.org, where you can look up copies of scouting reports from different major league players. I was able to uncover scouting reports from Frank Robinson and Eddie Murray’s pre-draft high school days and major-league advance scouting reports on Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer and Cal Ripken, Jr. It is pretty cool stuff.
The exhibit is slated to run through 2014 and could be remain permanently.
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