Three days have come and gone at these winter meetings and the Orioles have yet to make an acquisition, but it doesn’t appear to be due to a lack of trying.
For the first time this week, Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette made multiple offers to free-agents in the club’s areas of need – closer, starting pitcher and a left-handed outfielder.
And on Wednesday night, an industry source said that the Orioles were closing in on former Oakland closer Grant Balfour, who has been the focus of their free-agent search over the past two nights.
Earlier in the night, a CBSSports.com report surfaced that the club had made an offer to outfielder Nelson Cruz, but a source said the team’s pursuit of Cruz, who is seeking a three-year deal and is coming off a 50-game suspension as part of the BioGenesis scandal, was overblown.
Speaking to local media early Wednesday evening, Duquette wouldn’t talk specifics but was encouraged in the team’s progress from one day to the next.
“We met with a couple of teams and we talked to several agents,” Duquette said. “We made a few offers on our pitching front. We haven't been able to close any deals on the pitching, but hopefully we'll be able to get something done here in the next day or so. … We have made offers to hitters. We were active on a couple of trade fronts and that didn't bear any fruit but we're still working.”
Whether the team will be able to make a move before the Orioles’ travel party flies north Thursday evening remains to be seen. But it appears the team’s has targeted Balfour, before engaging another closer, to replace Jim Johnson, who was dealt to Oakland last week.
Balfour, who will turn 36 later this month, saved 38 games for the Athletics last season. He will likely require a two-year deal.
“You always like to get something done at the meetings because there's an intense focus on your team, so we're going to try to get something done,” Duquette said. “Sometimes you can lay the groundwork and make a deal a day or two after, and that would be good. But we'd definitely like to get something done this week.”
It appears that if the Orioles are going to make a move here, it likely will be signing a free agent.
“The market's coming into clear focus on the trades and the signings,” Duquette said. “You'll see a few trades [around the game] between now and when we leave, and I think you'll see a few more over the weekend. This is the time of the year when players are choosing their clubs and clubs are staffing their teams. We should be able to add a few players by the end of the week.”
It's very likely that the Orioles make a selection in today's Rule 5 draft, where they have the 16th pick. They made picks in each of the past two seasons — infielder Ryan Flaherty and left-hander T.J. McFarland — and were able to keep them. Rule 5 selections are purchased for $50,000 but must remain on the major league roster for the entire season or be offered back to their original teams for $25,000.
Duquette called the Rule 5 draft a “bit of a crapshoot,” but said the club has placed a lot of resources into the draft again this season.
“Every once in a while you can come up with a player who can help your team,” Duquette said. “More often than not, you can come up with a player you think can be a good fit for your team.”
New Orioles reliever Webb excited about opportunity
Right-hander Ryan Webb, whose signing was officially announced on Tuesday, spoke to local media for the first time on a conference call Wednesday and said he's excited about pitching for a competitor in the American League East.
"I know it's a tough division, but that kind of stuff really excites me," said Webb, who signed a two-year, $4.5 million deal. "I want to pitch against the best, I want to pitch in games that matter. I want to pitch when every pitch counts. That kind of stuff really gets me going. So, I'm excited to come to a team where every inning is going to matter. I think as long as I keep the ball down in the zone and do what I've done, I don't have to worry about the ballpark so much."
The 27-year-old Webb was 2-6 with a 2.91 ERA over 80 1/3 innings last season with the Marlins. The Orioles were the first team to contact Webb after he was non-tendered by Miami.
"That's always a good sign," Webb said. "And it was literally hours. … It's a good feeling when somebody's on you that quick. They've paid attention to me and probably wanted me for a while. Obviously, the defense there is amazing, and that was a big part of my decision in the end. You always want to play behind a very good defense like the Orioles have. Their lineup is incredible. I think they're going to compete in that division and I want to help make them a playoff team."
Webb won't close and his role in the bullpen has yet to be determined, but Duquette has compared him to former closer Jim Johnson because he throws a hard sinker and has a high ground-ball rate. Webb also made that comparison on Wednesday.
"It's always good to see sinkerball guys like that, that are kind of looked upon favorably by the front office and the manager," Webb said. "He was obviously an excellent closer there for the last few years, and there's lots of similarities with the types of pitchers we are. I think going into an atmosphere where the manager looks at sinkerballers as a positive, good thing, made me more comfortable with my decision."
Graham to receive honor on Thursday
Orioles player development director Brian Graham will receive this year's Sheldon "Chief" Bender Award, given annually for distinguished service in player development, at a Thursday night ceremony.
Graham, who has been in professional baseball for 32 years, has spent the past six years in the Orioles organization and just concluded his first as player development director. He has also worked as a major league coach, special assignment minor league coach and coordinator of minor league instruction with the Orioles.
"I'm extremely honored," Graham said. "I'm in an organization where player development is very important. We take a lot of pride in player development. Both Dan and Buck [Showalter] came up through the minor leagues and they're very invested in our player development system.
Around the horn
Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman was named the team's top prospect by Baseball Prospectus. The organization's top four prospects are all pitchers as Gausman was followed by Dylan Bundy, Hunter Harvey and Eduardo Rodriguez. … The Orioles will host their annual holiday party for 80 kindergarten children from Alexander Hamilton Middle School in Baltimore on Monday at Arundel Mills mall. Nick Markakis, Steve Johnson and Steve Clevenger will be in attendance, as well as former Orioles Dave Johnson and Al Bumbry.