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With little movement, Orioles' Duquette happy with progress at winter meetings

The annual winter meetings usually contain more style than substance, hyped in the days leading up to the event and ultimately ending with most teams making few moves.

While the Orioles spent this week in the Gaylord Opryland Hotel at the root of many trade and free-agent rumors that led to few actual transactions, executive vice president Dan Duquette was pleased with the moves the club made.

The Orioles arrived at the winter meetings looking to trade for a power hitter, a goal that didn't happen this week, but will be something to monitor as the offseason progresses.

But another of the team's top priorities was to add an outfielder, and the Orioles satisfied that need by agreeing to terms with outfielder Nate McLouth on a one-year deal worth $2 million — plus another $500,000 in incentives — on Wednesday.

McLouth, signed to a minor-league deal last year after he was released by the Pirates, was one of the Orioles' best players down the stretch after his promotion from Triple-A Norfolk in August. He solidified the leadoff position when Nick Markakis went down with a broken thumb and played well in left field. McLouth will return to play left field along with Nolan Reimold, who will be returning from neck surgery.

The Orioles' only other major roster move happened in the major-league phase of Thursday's Rulle 5 draft when they selected 23-year-old left-hander T.J. McFarland from the Cleveland Indians.

McFarland, a starting pitcher who was 16-8 with a 4.03 ERA last year between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus, could compete for a rotation spot in the spring. He must stay on the major league roster for the entire season or Cleveland would have the chance to buy him back.

While the acquisitions weren't splash moves, they filled the team's needs.

"We have a very competitive club as it's currently constituted," Duquette said. "We're going to continue looking and try to add a couple of things to our ballclub. But if we were to break today, we've got everybody returning except [first baseman Mark] Reynolds and [left-hander Joe] Saunders right now, but I think we have some capable people who can do the job they did for us."

Asked whether he was pleased by the team's progress this week, Duquette began rattling off his starting lineup one by one, with cornerstones like Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Nick Markakis and J.J. Hardy all entrenched. He's content with the options at second base with newly acquired Alexi Casilla, as well as a healthy Brian Roberts and last year's Rule 5 pick, Ryan Flaherty.

He fueled the notion that Chris Davis could return to first base to replace Reynolds, and said Wilson Betemit and newcomer Danny Valencia would be part-time options at designated hitter against right-handed and left-handed pitching, respectively.

"We have a pretty good ballclub today as it's currently constituted, and we have a bunch of starters and a strong bullpen," Duquette said. "So this is a pretty good ballclub with the people we have on it right now."

For the Orioles, the catch was landing McLouth, which appeared to be a top priority since the season ended. Orioles manager Buck Showalter called McLouth directly Tuesday, and the sides came to an agreement Wednesday.

Over the first two days of the meetings, the Orioles tested the free-agent waters to fill their outfield need, courting options like Nick Swisher, Jason Kubel and Nate Schierholtz. Once they agreed to terms with McLouth, Duquette considered the team's need for an outfielder met.

The Orioles also pursued several trade options to acquire a power hitter — and saw increased interest in some of their young pitching depth — but were unable to make a deal.

"We made progress in our trade discussions," Duquette said. "Some of them developed and we could make a deal, and some of them fell by the wayside. That's progress. We know if it's not an option we can go somewhere else."

For the most part, the Orioles roster seems settled for the upcoming season. The additions of McLouth and McFarland put the team's 40-man roster at full capacity, so the Orioles would need to make a move before adding another player.

But Duquette said the possibility of re-signing Saunders, the left-hander acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks in August who gave the Orioles two strong postseason starts, is "still an option."

And Duquettee will continue to seek other ways to upgrade the roster.

The division rival Boston Red Sox, rebuilding from a 93-loss season, were among the big spenders this week, signing catcher-first baseman Mike Napoli and outfielder Shane Victorino before adding former Orioles relief pitcher Koji Uehara on a $4.25 million contract Thursday. (The Orioles had previously offered Uehara a one-year deal). While the New York Yankees were quiet in Nashville, the Toronto Blue Jays began a big-money renovation early in the offseason, and the Tampa Bay Rays signed first baseman James Loney and traded for shortstop Yunel Escobar.

The Orioles, coming off their first postseason appearance in 15 years, will add $22-23 million to their payroll through arbitration raises to players like Wieters, Davis and closer Jim Johnson, which will hinder them from spending significant money in the free-agent market.

"The players on our roster, they earned their raises, they had good years," Duquette said. "But that money's got to come out of our payroll. It's not like our market had expanded. We can field a good competitive team within our market and we have a lot more depth to our pitching staff which is to me, the number one key to being competitive.

"It's still a young, hungry and aggressive ballclub," Duquette said. "We've got good leadership, too. Our manager is tops."

eencina@baltsun.com

twitter.com/EddieInTheYard

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