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Orioles' search for shortstop turns to Rays' Bartlett, Twins' Hardy

The Orioles haven't ruled out bringing back Cesar Izturis, but they are currently looking at other shortstop options, according to club sources.

They've had trade discussions with the Tampa Bay Rays about Jason Bartlett, and the Minnesota Twins about J.J. Hardy.

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The talks with the Rays included discussion of a potential swap of Orioles reliever David Hernandez for Bartlett, who hit .254 with four homers and 47 RBIs in 2010, but is a career .281 hitter. However, that deal appears unlikely at this point as the Orioles consider other options.

Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, who remains in Orlando, Fla. to attend the owner's meetings after the general manager meetings ended yesterday, wouldn't comment on specific players, but acknowledged that he met with several teams this week to discuss potential trades, along with the representatives of several free agents.

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"We've had some productive discussions," MacPhail said.

The Hernandez-for-Bartlett deal does make sense for both sides as the Rays are aggressively seeking affordable relievers as they could lose five members of their 2010 bullpen in free agency, including All-Star closer Rafael Soriano. Top setup man Joaquin Benoit has already signed with the Detroit Tigers.

While the Orioles love the defense and intangibles that Izturis brings, they are searching for a better two-way option at the position. Bartlett, who is expected to be replaced at shortstop by a younger and cheaper Reid Brignac, is just one year removed from a season in which he hit .320 with 14 homers and 66 RBIs and stole 30 bases.

However, Bartlett is eligible for free agency after the 2011 season, and he struggled offensively in 2010.

Meanwhile, there are some within the organization that feel Hernandez, 25, is too valuable to give up for a potential one-year rental, and could be the team's closer of the future.

Hernandez, one of the most asked about Orioles in trade discussions, went 8-8 with a 4.31 ERA in 41 appearances while serving in a variety of roles this past season. He started the season in the rotation, making eight starts, before ultimately settling in the bullpen and even serving as the team's closer at one point, saving three games.

Like Bartlett, Hardy, 28, will be a free agent following the 2011 season. He batted .268 with six homers and 38 RBIs in 101 games for the Twins last season and is a career .263 hitters. His best season came in 2007 for the Milwaukee Brewers as he batted .277 with 26 homers and 80 RBIs. However, his numbers have dropped each season since and he's struggled to stay off the disabled list the past two years.

It isn't presently known what the Twins are looking for from the Orioles in return for Hardy.

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