By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun
8:27 PM EST, December 13, 2011
Two of Dan Duquette's primary goals when he took over as the Orioles' executive vice president last month were to immediately improve the club's starting rotation and strengthen its presence in the international marketplace.
He might have done both with one move.
According to an industry source, the Orioles agreed to terms Tuesday with 30-year-old Japanese left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada on a two-year, $8.15 million deal that also includes a $5 million option for 2014.
Duquette and the Orioles have not confirmed the pact.
Wada, a soft-tossing, strike-throwing lefty, starred for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks before becoming an unrestricted free agent Dec. 1. He did not need to be posted — there was no bidding process for negotiating rights — and, reportedly, several other teams expressed interest in Wada, including the Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates.
When the deal is official, Wada would become the second player to come directly to Baltimore from Nippon Professional Baseball, arriving three years after current Texas Rangers reliever Koji Uehara joined the Orioles.
It's possible that another pitcher from Japan's pro baseball league is also on his way.
The Orioles have serious interest in Taiwanese left-hander Chen Wei-Yin and are working on getting a deal done, according to the source.
Chen, 26, who was 8-10 with a 2.68 ERA in 24 starts for the Chunichi Dragons, is also an unrestricted free agent because he negotiated the length of his original contract when he came to Japan from Taiwan.
Given his age, perceived upside and a fastball that sits in the low 90s, Chen is expected to command a longer and more lucrative contract then Wada. Landing both would be an unprecedented feat for an Orioles club that has traditionally struggled to recruit international talent.
Tuesday's push into the Asian market dovetails with news that South Korean submariner Chong Tae-Hyon will not be joining the Orioles and instead has signed a four-year, $3.1 million deal to stay in the Korean Baseball Organization. The Orioles had offered a two-year, $3.1 million deal and had Chong come to Baltimore for a physical last month.
Duquette, however, has never confirmed that the 33-year-old pitcher passed his physical. He would say only that Chong saw the club's doctors and was weighing another option in Korea.
The club's attention has turned to Wada, who has been compared to former Oriole Jamie Moyer and Oakland Athletics pitcher Dallas Braden. Wada pitched for Japan in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics and the country's World Baseball Classic team in 2006 that won the inaugural title.
Listed at 5 feet 10, 170 pounds, Wada consistently throws his fastball in the mid-to-high 80s, but he survives on a deceptive, three-quarters delivery and the ability to throw several pitches for strikes. He also misses bats, earning him the nickname "Dr. K of Tokyo" while in college. Throughout his career, he has maintained a strikeout-walk ratio of 3-to-1 or better. In 2011, he was 16-5 with a 1.53 ERA in 1842/3 innings with the Hawks. He struck out 168 batters and walked 40.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter wouldn't talk specifically about Wada or Chen. Speaking in general terms, however, Showalter said he supports the idea of targeting international talent.
"I like it. It opens up a lot of doors for us," Showalter told The Baltimore Sun while attending the club's annual holiday party for children Tuesday. "One of Dan's strengths is in that [international] market. With his abilities and knowledge in that area, it can create a lot of opportunities for us. You are not giving up players, you are not losing people out of the draft and you are not making any huge financial commitments.
"But the bottom line is: Can they get guys out? Can they pitch?"
Besides Wada and Chen, the Orioles have also scouted two of this year's biggest international prizes, Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish, who has been posted, and Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who cannot become a free agent until he establishes residency in the Dominican Republic.
With the exception of Uehara and some current prospects in the minor league system, the Orioles have had little to no success on the international scene in recent years.
"I think Dan wants to get it out there that we are a player in this market," Showalter said.
Roberts 'going day by day'
Among the Orioles attending the annual children's holiday party at Dave & Buster's at the Arundel Mills mall was second baseman Brian Roberts, who is attempting to come back from a concussion that limited him to just 39 games in 2011.
"I'm just going day by day, trying to do a little more," said Roberts, who first suffered the concussion in September 2010, when he tapped himself on the helmet with a bat after an at-bat. "Just taking it slow and trying to get better every day. That's about all I can tell you, really."
Although he said this fall that he was pain-free for two consecutive weeks for the first time since the original incident, Roberts wasn't as forthcoming about his health Tuesday, saying he was "feeling OK, I'm feeling fine."
He didn't want to put a timetable on his recovery or make predictions on when he would be back to 100 percent healthy.
"I'm taking it one day at a time. Seriously, I'm not saying that in a bad way," Roberts said. "That's where my life is right now. I feel like that's the best way to handle it. I can't look three months from now, and I can't look three months back. I can take today and I can take this week and I'm very focused on what I'm trying to accomplish and what I'm doing, but that's really all I can look at at this point."
Guthrie not worried
Right-hander Jeremy Guthrie, who is a free agent at the end of the 2012 season, has become a pro at dealing with his name in trade rumors.
"It's simple. You just go on and assume nothing will happen, and if something happens, you adjust," Guthrie said. "I think it becomes difficult if you start thinking about what you will do if something happens. There is no difference than any other year."
Guthrie is the veteran leader on a staff of young pitchers — and at least one of those players is hoping the rumors are simply that.
"I'd hate to lose him," right-hander Jake Arrieta said.
Arrieta feeling good
Arrieta, who had surgery in August to remove bone spurs from his right elbow, said he is about a month ahead of schedule in his recuperation. Arrieta is throwing pain-free off flat ground and said he is in line to be ready for spring training.
"I didn't want to push things, knowing that I had ample time to get ready for throwing and workouts, but I felt like I was at the point where I could elevate my training at an earlier stage, so I went ahead and did so to kind of get back ahead of the curve, to get back to where I was before surgery," Arrieta said. "And I think it's definitely going to be a much better feeling knowing that I don't have that [spur] in my elbow. I won't have in the back of my mind in the fourth and fifth inning that I can't even extend and am going to be laboring through my outing. I'm at the point now where there are zero complications and I'm going to be 100 percent."
Report dates set
The Orioles have set their reporting and first workout dates for spring training 2012. Pitchers and catchers will report to Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fla., on Feb. 18 and have their first workout on Feb. 19. Position players must report by Feb. 23 and participate in their first full workout Feb. 24.
Baltimore Sun reporter Peter Schmuck contributed to this article.
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