As the annual winter meetings began Monday at the Manchester Grand Hyatt, Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said the opening day in San Diego was full of progress.
Uncertainty still exists about Duquette's future in Baltimore, however, as he remains the subject of reports that he is a top candidate to take a higher level position with the division rival Toronto Blue Jays.
So while he spoke to local reporters Monday about a promising free-agent market — one he hopes could lead to the signing of an outfielder as soon as this week — Duquette said he hoped any question about his future wouldn't hurt his immediate efforts to rebuild the Orioles.
"I would hope not," Duquette said when asked whether that lingering uncertainty could be an obstacle in San Diego. "We're here to put together the strongest Oriole team that we can for 2015, and that's my focus."
As the baseball world flocked to the West Coast for the meetings, reports surfaced that Duquette is under consideration to replace longtime Blue Jays team president and chief executive officer Paul Beeston.
Still, asked Monday if he was happy in his current role with the Orioles, Duquette did little to truly squash the reports when he met with local media for the first time in San Diego.
"I'm here with the Orioles and my focus is with the Orioles and helping the Orioles put together the strongest team they can have in 2015," Duquette said. "We have a lot of the pieces here. We have a good farm system. We have established people in the big leagues, and we have a good pitching staff.
"So, to me, it's just a matter of adding a couple of pieces and we can contend again."
At the top of Duquette's priority list is adding a pair of outfielders to replace Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis, who left last week to join the Seattle Mariners and the Atlanta Braves, respectively. Duquette said Monday that he sees those spots — he ideally would like one right-handed hitter and one left-handed hitter — are currently more likely to be filled through free agency than a trade.
"I think these free-agent possibilities are going to come into play a little bit quicker than the trade possibilities," Duquette said. "These things go hand in hand, but it just seems like there's more free agents that are closer to signing than the trades."
The club plans to meet with the representatives of former Orioles outfielder-designated hitter Delmon Young, who is reportedly seeking a two-year deal. The Orioles also inquired about free-agent outfielders Colby Rasmus and Nori Aoki, but the interest in both is lukewarm, according to a club source.
Duquette said Monday afternoon that the Orioles had met with four or five free agents already.
"We're trying to add some outfield depth," Duquette said. "There are some pretty good options. So you know how these things work. Sometimes they come together quickly."
Duquette said other teams are interested in the Orioles' starting pitchers, but he's hesitant to deal any at this point.
"We've been approached about our starters from other teams, and we're reluctant to [trading] a starter because you usually need more than you can find for a team," Duquette said. "Thats kind of where we are on that."
Duquette also said the Orioles have not been in contact with the Braves regarding outfielder Justin Upton, who has been the subject of trade rumors with one year left on his contract.
Duquette is also seeking left-handed relief help — veteran Craig Breslow is a possibility — and added catching depth as a contingency plan in case Matt Wieters is not recovered from Tommy John surgery by Opening Day.
Retaining Nick Hundley is a consideration, Duquette said, especially because he's a known commodity and knows the pitching staff well. But Duquette said he believed Hundley was seeing if he could get a starting job elsewhere.
Still, the talk of the meetings so far this week when it comes to the Orioles is Duquette's future.
Duquette is under contract through the 2018 season, and managing partner Peter G. Angelos said he expects Duquette to honor his deal. And even though he would be going to division rival, teams traditionally don't step in the way of a promotion.
While Duquette's current role as the Orioles' top baseball executive is a powerful one, a move to becoming the Blue Jays' team president and chief executive officer would be a clear promotion.
Some of it has to do with the different structures of the two organizations. The Orioles do not have a team president, but instead a number of executive vice presidents and vice presidents who answer to Angelos. Duquette is the team's top official on all baseball operations decisions.
If Toronto's structure remains as it is, the president-CEO is the Blue Jays' top nonownership executive. It is a job that oversees the business and baseball aspects of the Blue Jays and the Rogers Centre.
In that role, Duquette also would be the main liaison to the Blue Jays' ownership, the Rogers Company, which is one of Canada's largest media and communications companies.