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Signing Betemit further shows Orioles' commitment to improving on-base percentage

After addition of DH type, team's offseason focus likely returns to upgrading pitching

By Eduardo A. Encina, The Baltimore Sun

6:51 PM EST, January 24, 2012

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The main void Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette saw in his team's batting order was its on-base percentage. The lineup had plenty of power last season but not enough men on base to capitalize on that strength in the American League East.

And the acquisition of 30-year-old infielder Wilson Betemit fits that mold well. Betemit signed a two-year deal worth roughly $3 million guaranteed with a 2014 vesting option based on performance incentives that could raise the total value to $6 million, according to an industry source. Betemit made $1 million last season in his final year of arbitration eligibility.

To make room for Betemit on the 40-man roster, the club designated right-handed pitcher Rick VandenHurk, who will become a free agent if he clears waivers.

The Orioles have been seeking an additional bat to help fill the team's designated hitter spot. In Betemit, the Orioles have added a switch-hitter who has been extremely productive against right-handed pitching. He has shown his ability to hit left-handers in the past — his statistics in 2010 were better against lefties than righties — but Duquette said Betemit's primary strength is versus right-handers.

Betemit put up a .367 on-base percentage and a .501 slugging percentage against right-handed pitchers the past two seasons, playing for the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers.

"I've been looking to upgrade the on-base capability for the team, and that's something we've been trying to address with each of the players we bring on board," Duquette said. "We did that again with the addition of Betemit."

Betemit had a .285 average, .343 on-base percentage and .452 slugging percentage with eight homers and 46 RBIs in 323 at-bats last season. A native of the Dominican Republic, he can play all four infield positions but isn't known for his defense, so he will primarily fit into the Orioles' DH role.

"He can play the field, but I believe his best position is batting," Duquette said. "He can get on base, he can hit, he can drive in a run, he has power. We did say we were also looking for a hitter, and I think we got a pretty good one in Betemit."

And since Betemit's 2014 vesting option will be based on plate appearances, it offers the club a safeguard. Betemit, who broke into the majors with the Braves at age 19, would be 32 during the 2014 season. He hasn't been an everyday player, having not played in more than 97 games since 2007.

Meanwhile, the free-agent market continued to shrink Tuesday.

Slugging first baseman Prince Fielder was reportedly ready to sign a nine-year, $214 million deal with the Tigers. The Orioles had been mentioned as a team of interest but were mainly observing the market for Fielder.

Also, reliever Francisco Cordero reportedly opted to sign with the Toronto Blue Jays for one year and $4.5 million to be a setup man over coming to the Orioles, with whom he would have had the opportunity to be a closer.

Duquette said the Orioles continue to look to upgrade and their focus will likely return to pitching in the offseason's final weeks. While the team has added several starters, free-agent right-hander Edwin Jackson is still in play.

"We're going to continue to try to strengthen the pitching staff," Duquette said.

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