The Orioles will unveil their first Japanese import, right-handed pitcher Koji Uehara, at a news conference today at Camden Yards that is expected to be one of the most well attended in team history.
Uehara, who passed his physical and finalized a two-year, $10 million, incentive-laden deal with the Orioles, has been followed closely by the Japanese media since landing in the United States on Sunday. There were 25 reporters who awaited his arrival at Washington Dulles International Airport and a handful of television crews that waited outside Camden Yards on Monday while the 33-year-old was taking his physical elsewhere.
The Orioles have gotten such a significant response for today's noon news conference that they moved it to a bigger room on another floor in the warehouse to accommodate the media.
"We all are a little surprised, pleasantly surprised, that the response has been so strong from media attention," said Greg Bader, the Orioles' director of communications. "We'll have to wait and see how this plays out, but certainly, it's apparently a much larger deal, probably because he played for the Yomiuri Giants, but also for the successes that he has had in Japan. It's been a little bit of a learning experience, but it's definitely an exciting time."
Uehara, who was an eight-time All-Star in Japan and twice named the country's best pitcher, played his entire career with the Giants, Japan's version of the New York Yankees. He was 6-5 with one save and a 3.81 ERA in 26 games for the Giants last year and 112-62 with a 3.01 ERA for them in his career. He has struck out 1,376 batters and walked just 206.
At this point of the offseason, Uehara, whose name is pronounced oo-eh-ara, is penciled in as the Orioles' No. 2 starter, behind right-hander Jeremy Guthrie. However, Orioles president Andy MacPhail is still hoping to add a starter before pitchers and catchers report next month.
"You look at his resume and he is a very accomplished pitcher and has impeccable control," MacPhail said of Uehara.
MacPhail said he is optimistic the club is getting closer to signing a catcher who will start on Opening Day before eventually giving way to top prospect Matt Wieters.
He wouldn't offer specifics, but team sources have said that the Orioles are closing in on a one-year deal with free agent Gregg Zaun, who played with the club during the 1995 and 1996 seasons and is the nephew of former Oriole player and coach and MASN broadcaster Rick Dempsey.
Dan Evans, Zaun's agent, has been busy finalizing the deal for Japanese pitcher Kenshin Kawakami, who agreed to terms this week with the Atlanta Braves. It is expected that Evans and MacPhail will resolve the Zaun deal by the end of the week.
O's, Ray agree
The Orioles avoided arbitration with reliever Chris Ray yesterday, agreeing to a one-year deal worth $850,000 that includes several reachable incentive clauses.
Ray, who turned 27 on Monday, missed all of last season after undergoing ligament-reconstruction surgery on his right elbow in August 2007.
Around the horn
The Orioles signed former New York Yankees outfielder Justin Christian to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training. Christian, 28, made his major league debut last season, going 10-for-40 (.250) with six RBIs and seven steals in 24 games for New York.
The Orioles are seeking another right-handed bat and an option at first base, and Ty Wigginton is at the top of the team's wish list. However, Wigginton, a 31-year-old who is a career .285 hitter and had 23 homers for the Houston Astros last year, is seeking a two-year deal and the Orioles would prefer a one-year contract, according to a source.
Brian Matusz, the first-round pick in the 2008 draft, will be at major league spring training as part of the major league deal he signed with the club.