SAN DIEGO — The Orioles began to narrow their focus Tuesday at Major League Baseball's winter meetings in order to fill the outfield void left by the departures of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis.
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said the club conducted discussions with the representatives of several free-agent outfielders Tuesday. Duquette also said he spoke with a handful of teams about possible trades, but he still believes the most likely way the Orioles will upgrade is through free agency.
"We are focused on what the free-agent market is going to bear, and that's where we're continuing to put our energy," Duquette said.
Duquette said he is confident that the Orioles' efforts will pay off before the meetings end Thursday.
The Orioles have been especially quiet so far this week, drawing their only main headline from reports that linked Duquette to the Toronto Blue Jays' team president and chief executive officer role. That uncertainty was squashed Tuesday by a Fox Sports report that said current Blue Jays president and CEO Paul Beeston will remain for at least the next year.
Although it has appeared to be slow for the Orioles through the first two days, manager Buck Showalter said he expected the Orioles' efforts here in San Diego to be rewarded, even if it takes some time.
"Some of the conversations and things you learn here may lead to something down the road," Showalter said. "We obviously made a lot of good additions in January and February last year. Some things do get done here, it may not happen. I really don't dwell on that too much. … Some things will change, but I kind of like some things about where we are. We have some things to do to bridge the gap."
Though recent reports have linked Melky Cabrera to the Seattle Mariners, he remains the highlight of a shrinking free-agent outfielder crop, and the Orioles appear to be more likely to commit to shorter-term contracts than a four-year deal that Cabrera might receive.
"Shorter is generally better, but we met with a number of agents and talked about several players," Duquette said. "I think we'll be able to find a couple fits. … I think the market is starting to take shape for that level of player. There's a couple of good players who are available to help our team."
Among the players the Orioles have inquired about is veteran outfielder Jonny Gomes, according to an industry source. Gomes could fill the Orioles' need for a right-handed hitter who can slot into corner outfield or designated hitter roles.
Duquette has emphasized that improving the Orioles' on-base capabilities is a priority, and Gomes has a .376 career on-base percentage against left-handers, including a .373 mark this past season. He could be a platoon partner in left field with the left-handed-hitting Alejandro De Aza.
The Orioles could also get Gomes, 34, on a shorter deal instead of a long-term. Both Cruz and Markakis left Baltimore for four-year deals elsewhere. Gomes is believed to have interest from at least a handful of teams.
The Orioles also were in talks with the Philadelphia Phillies about acquiring outfielder Marlon Byrd in a trade, according to a Fox Sports report. Duquette wouldn't say Tuesday whether he met with the Phillies, but he said he talked to five or six teams about possible trades for outfield and bullpen help.
Byrd hit .264/.312/.445 with 25 home runs and 85 RBIs last season with the Phillies. Though his splits are more even than Gomes', he has a .287 batting average against left-handed pitching in his 13-year career.
The market remains fluid, but asked whether Cabrera, the top remaining free-agent outfielder, needs to sign before moves involving other outfielders develop, Duquette said he believes there are currently opportunities to sign players.
"I think there's a number of outfielders in a market below that," Duquette said. "It's coming together. There are some good possibilities for us. There's good interest in the Orioles.
"The Orioles have had a couple of winning teams, and there's a good culture here where the players enjoy playing for Buck. They like the veteran players on our team. There's some good things going on in Baltimore that make it a good place to play."
The Orioles could wait out the market and hope for a bargain, but Duquette said he realizes that he might not be able to be as patient as he was last offseason, when he signed Cruz to a one-year, $8 million deal during spring training.
"There's no Nelson Cruz on the market," he said. "There isn't a Nelson Cruz on the market anymore, but there are some players on the market that can help our team."
The Orioles haven't been known to do much at the winter meetings recently.
Last year, they returned to Baltimore with a only Rule 5 pick. The biggest move the Orioles have made in three offseasons under Duquette was re-signing Nate McLouth to a one-year deal before the 2013 season.
Other teams are spending, however. While he doesn't feel pressure to get something done, Duquette said he's optimistic that there will be action before the club heads back to the East Coast.
"We should be able to get a couple of players before we leave the meeting," Duquette said.