Three weeks from today, pitchers and catchers will take the field at Fort Lauderdale Stadium for the Orioles' first workout of the spring. Will Erik Bedard, the team's ace, even be there?
Aside from a December trade that sent star shortstop Miguel Tejada to the Houston Astros for five players, the Orioles have failed to dramatically overhaul their roster or produce many short- or long-term answers in the first offseason of Andy MacPhail's rebuilding project.
They haven't settled on a shortstop or a closer, they don't have a projected everyday center fielder and they would like to add a veteran starting pitcher and a backup catcher.
MacPhail, the Orioles' president of baseball operations, continues to ponder trades to fill those holes, with Bedard and All-Star second baseman Brian Roberts dominating the discussions. However, after months of trade talks, MacPhail still hasn't found a deal he views suitable, and time is running out.
"I've been telling everybody by the end of the month," MacPhail said when asked whether there was a deadline to decide whether to keep or trade Bedard and Roberts. "But it's not necessarily a calendar issue. There is no magic date between Jan. 22 and Feb. 2. The date that probably matters more is Feb. 13."
That's the date pitchers and catchers are required to report to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to begin workouts. It is rare - though not unprecedented - for major trades to be made during spring training.
To this point, trade talks have moved slowly for the admittedly deliberate MacPhail. The Chicago Cubs remain the likely landing spot for Roberts for a package that is expected to include pitcher Sean Gallagher and one of the Cubs' young outfielders. The teams have discussed several scenarios but have yet to agree on a package.
Bedard has attracted interest from numerous teams, but a couple have dropped out of the sweepstakes, including the Cincinnati Reds. When the Reds learned at the winter meetings that the Orioles were insistent on top outfield prospect Jay Bruce in a Bedard trade, talks quickly broke off.
The Seattle Mariners, whose package would have to be headlined by young center fielder Adam Jones, remain the most likely team to land Bedard, and the talks between the teams are ongoing. However, MacPhail said he is talking to several teams about certain players.
"I'm not really being pressured by anybody," MacPhail said. "It may not be convenient for everybody's timetable, but as a franchise, we have to live with the consequences. You have a responsibility to the franchise and the fans to make sure that you do everything that you can do to try to put the odds in your favor. ... When you make the deal, it has to stand the scrutiny that I've always talked about - you're convinced you're better off afterward than you were before you made [it]. I'm keeping all my options open."
MacPhail declined to characterize the likelihood of Bedard and Roberts being on the Orioles' Opening Day roster.
"There is certainly a strong likelihood that they would both be on the Opening Day roster unless we are satisfied that something that comes back in return will benefit our franchise," he said. "We've been pretty upfront telling people what the formula is. We are ready, we are willing and we have the resources to help people win in 2008. But in exchange for that, we have to feel like somebody is going to help us beyond 2008."
A slow-moving free-agent market has allowed MacPhail the luxury of not rushing decisions on potentially big trades. Most of the free agents that the Orioles have targeted as one- or two-year stopgaps if the club was unable to fill its holes via trades are still seeking jobs. That includes Corey Patterson, the Orioles' everyday center fielder the past two years. If the Orioles don't get Seattle's Jones or a center fielder from the Cubs in a Roberts trade, they would likely turn to Patterson.
Patterson's agent, Scott Boras, said he and MacPhail have had talks about six or seven of Boras' free-agent clients, including Patterson, starting pitcher Kyle Lohse and left-handed reliever Ron Villone.
"Andy and I are talking," Boras said. "At this point, that's all I want to say about it."
Asked whether any of his clients are close to a deal with the Orioles, Boras said, "I can't dictate the timing of that, but these things can get done rather quickly."
The Orioles also had significant discussions with free-agent catcher Rod Barajas, but he appears to be headed elsewhere. They've also had preliminary talks with the agents of free-agent pitchers Shawn Chacon and Steve Trachsel.
Notes -- Two months after agreeing to an extended lease on a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic, the Orioles are close to finalizing a scouting plan in Asia. "It's an area that we need to explore to see if we can mine it efficiently or not," MacPhail said. ... MacPhail said he still plans to hire another executive to fill out the Orioles' front office.