LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette is shopping for a closer, among other things, at this week's winter meetings here at the Walt Disney World Resort.
The free-agent market presents several reasonably-priced options, and the Orioles aren't looking to invest a boatload of money into a closer, especially considering the entire reason to trade closer Jim Johnson was to free up some financial flexibility.
“Specifically, we’re going to utilize it to add some depth to the pitching staff,” Duquette told the local media on Sunday evening. “It’s real easy to think about it that way if you take the money and you deploy it to other pitchers.
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“I think we will be able to add a couple of [pitchers] to our ballclub,” Duquette added. “There’s a lot of pitchers who are closers on the market. I think that some of them will sign for significantly less than $10 million a year.”
It looks like the team’s attention is turning to former St. Louis Cardinals reliever John Axford, who is reportedly also receiving interest from the Chicago Cubs and Seattle Mariners. If Axford wants to pitch for a contender, at this point, you’d think the Orioles would have an edge.
The Orioles are also taking a look at former Boston Red Sox relievers Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey, who are both coming off season-ending arm injuries last season. I’ve heard that the club has requested medical information on both, which indicates due diligence more so than actual interest.
Bailey, who had shoulder surgery for a torn labrum in July and likely wouldn’t return until May at the earliest. Hanrahan is coming back from Tommy John and flexor tendon surgery in May and could be ready by late March.
All three are risks. Axford, pitched well in St. Louis following an August trade, but he hasn’t been a closer since 2012 and owned a 4.45 ERA this season in Milwaukee before he was traded. Hanrahan and Bailey are obvious injury risks.
Still, the longer the Orioles wait, the more time it gives other teams to believe Axford can help them or that Hanrahan or Bailey are healthy. Just like with the free-agent starting pitching market, striking at the right time is critical.
-- While top pitching prospects like Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy are still likely untouchable and too valuable to the team’s future to be involved in a trade, Duquette said he is open to dealing prospects in order to improve the major league club but is hesitant.
Last year, the Orioles dealt prospects like Nick Delmonico, L.J. Hoes and Josh Hader with hopes that trade acquisitions could help them make the playoffs.
Duquette said he believes the Orioles farm system is deeper than it was this time last year, but since player development will be a lifeblood of sustaining success, Duquette said the team needs to be cautious in possibly trading prospects.
“We could make a trade from our farm system, but we have to be careful because we need to continue to add to the depth of our organization,” Duquette said.
-- Duquette also announced that the Orioles wouldn’t be participating in the posting process of Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
That’s not necessarily a surprise. It’s unlikely that the Orioles would pay a posting fee of up to $20 million just to negotiate with the Rakuten Golden Eagles ace.
It does affect the Orioles because Tanaka’s signing is the chip that has to fall for the free-agent starting pitching market to really set itself. There’s already a lot of money being spent on pitching. Just take a look at the three-year, $30 million contract that former Orioles right-hander Scott Feldman is receiving.
While Duquette made it clear the Orioles aren’t going to sign one of the most high-profile free-agent starting pitchers, it will affect the value of the next tier of pitchers – veterans like Bronson Arroyo and A.J. Burnett – who could be good fits for the Orioles.