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Orioles news, notes and observations on Nate McLouth, Lew Ford and more

Despite national reports linking them with big-ticket left fielders that appear to be out of the club's financial comfort zone, the Orioles continue to pursue Nate McLouth, who seized the starting job last August and emerged as the team's hottest hitter in the postseason.

The two sides maintained a dialogue after McLouth became an unrestricted free agent Oct. 29, and two industry sources said Friday the Orioles are still optimistic that the 31-year-old, left-handed hitter will return in 2013.

An agreement does not appear imminent, however, and Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette would not characterize any discussions he's had with McLouth's representation.

"We're just reaching out to a number of free agents and he is one of them," Duquette said.

McLouth went from June waiver wire claim to a starting spot in the Orioles outfield by August. When Nick Markakis was sidelined by a broken thumb in September, McLouth took over at leadoff, hitting five homers, stealing six bases and compiling a .342 on-base percentage in 23 starts atop the order. He then had a strong postseason, going 8-for-26 with a homer, double and three steals in six playoff games.

After the Game 5 ALDS loss in New York, McLouth said he "absolutely" wanted to return to the Orioles, but his strong play down the stretch likely has made the former All-Star more coveted in the open market.

Neither McLouth nor his agent could be reached for comment.

If he re-signs, the Orioles would have nine outfielders potentially competing for jobs in spring training. That includes 40-man roster members Markakis, Adam Jones, Nolan Reimold, L.J. Hoes, Xavier Avery and Steve Pearce and non-roster invitees Jason Pridie and Lew Ford.

Duquette returns from General Manager meetings

Duquette flew back East on Friday night from California, where he had spent the past three days at the annual general manager meetings. Duquette said he met directly with representatives from 10 to 12 teams directly and had conversations with another dozen or so clubs. He also met with "five or six" players' agents while at the meetings. He said no deals or signings were imminent.

"We're in the groundwork stage, but it's coming along," he said.

No bid for Ryu

Duquette said the Orioles did not enter a formal bid to negotiate with Korean left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu, who has been posted by the Hanwha Eagles of the Korean Baseball Organization.

According to CBS Sports, the winning bid to negotiate with the 25-year-old Ryu, who will be represented by agent Scott Boras, was $25.7 million.

Lew Ford signs minor league deal

Ford, who was removed from the club's 40-man roster last week, has signed a minor league deal with the Orioles that includes a spring training invitation, Duquette said. Ford, 36, hit .183 with three homers in 25 games for the Orioles in 2012. He had sports hernia surgery in October and is expected to be ready to play by spring training. MASNSports.com first reported Ford's minor league deal.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

twitter.com/danconnollysun

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