NAPLES, Fla. -- When word of the Orioles' agreement in principle with Detroit Tigers reliever Jamie Walker started to work its way around the lobby of the Naples Grande Resort & Club early Wednesday evening, more than a few eyebrows were raised among baseball executives and writers.
After all, the Orioles reportedly had given Walker, a 35-year-old situational left-hander who is often asked to get just one batter out in a game, a three-year deal worth $12 million.
Orioles vice president Jim Duquette and the rest of the team's contingent were far too busy at the general managers meetings to gauge the reaction. But Duquette remembers the response last offseason when the Chicago Cubs signed relievers Bobby Howry and Scott Eyre to three-year, $12 million and $11 million contracts, respectively.
"Everybody raised their eyebrows when [Cubs GM] Jim Hendry did what he did, but guess what, he got the players," Duquette said. "Not getting the player wasn't an alternative we cared to have. We felt that is where the value was, and that's why we paid him what we did."
Orioles officials, who returned to Baltimore yesterday after three full days at the meetings, acknowledged that it was important for the club to send a message early in the offseason that it was serious about improving. By all accounts, the Orioles have done that, acquiring Walker to buoy a troubled bullpen, trading for Jaret Wright to upgrade starting pitching depth and making several offers to free agents to fill other holes.
"For it to fall into place with Jaret Wright first and then Walker, we're pleased at this point. But right now, the feeling is that we still have to be aggressive and go after some other guys," Duquette said. "I would say by our actions and our words, people took notice. The calls I got from agents today and yesterday, they know we were serious about what we were telling them."
Walker will be in Baltimore and have a physical today, after which his signing will be announced. Duquette said that, ideally, the Orioles were hoping to complete some other deals by the end of the meetings, or at least by the end of the weekend. However, he acknowledged that the club is at the mercy of the agents and players, and none of the Orioles' targets appears primed to make a decision in the next day or two.
The Orioles are known to have offers out to relievers Danys Baez, Mike Stanton and Justin Speier, who is considered one of the top right-handed setup men on the market. It has been speculated that the Orioles extended a four-year offer to Speier, but their current offer is believed to be a three-year deal worth about $12 million.
Still intent on adding a bat for the middle of their lineup, the Orioles have also had some discussion about the parameters of a deal with Texas Rangers slugger Carlos Lee, but no formal offer has been made, according to a team source. However, the Orioles' three meetings with Lee's representation this week are a strong indication that the left fielder has become the club's top offensive target.
The Orioles have not met with the agents for Washington Nationals star Alfonso Soriano, and it is becoming more and more unlikely that the club will be a serious player for Soriano. Soriano's contract demands - he reportedly is looking for a seven-year deal worth more than $100 million - would have to drop significantly for the Orioles to make a bid.
If the Orioles are unable to get a bat through free agency, they could also explore one in a trade. The Seattle Mariners' Richie Sexson and the Cincinnati Reds' Adam Dunn are among the players who might be available at the right price. The problem for the Orioles is that both teams would probably want Erik Bedard in return, and he is considered the most untouchable player in the organization.
The Orioles met with nearly a dozen teams at the meetings and though there were some inquiries about the availability of star shortstop Miguel Tejada, nearly every team asked about Bedard and the organization's top young pitchers.
"The interest was very strong," Duquette said. "These guys are guys we don't want to trade unless it is a unique situation."