SAN DIEGO — As the lobby of the Manchester Grand Hyatt filled with uncommon buzz amidst a flurry of activity during baseball's winter meetings Wednesday, the Orioles remained quiet.
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said he was on the verge of a trade for pitching help Wednesday, but the deal fell through.
And now, as the meetings head into the final day, the Orioles face the possibility of coming home to Baltimore with nothing more than an anticipated selection in Thursday's Rule 5 draft.
It's much of the same for the Orioles, who barely have made a splash at the meetings over the past several years. But after the departures of outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis and left-handed reliever Andrew Miller, the Orioles' lack of activity here in San Diego is more glaring.
But Duquette also didn't do much at the meetings last year — waiting until spring training to sign Cruz and right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez — and the Orioles still won 96 games and the American League East in 2014.
So Duquette preached patience Wednesday, and he told fans not to expect the Orioles to sign any of the remaining available high-priced free agents.
"Keep in mind who the Orioles are," Duquette said. "We've got an established pitching staff. We've got a strong everyday lineup. We've got to fill a few holes. We're going to look at some options in the major league free-agent market and sign a couple players.
"We'll probably be active in the Rule 5 draft like we have been the last couple years. And we continue to build our team piece-by-piece. How we build our team is, we build it looking at all the options in the market, and we do it year-round."
Duquette reiterated that the Orioles have stuck to a similar plan during his tenure.
"Very rarely do we sign a high-priced free agent," he said. "Last year, we signed Cruz and Jimenez. Cruz really worked out well to the club's benefit. We haven't gotten the kind of returns … in the Jimenez investment that we'd like. But there's a lot of other acquisitions we made where the players did well."
"We're not about signing high-profile free agents. We're about bringing good players through the farm system. We're about making trades. We're about being active in the Rule 5 draft, signing international players. That's who we are."
Duquette said he still sees free-agent possibilities as the best way to fill his needs for outfield and bullpen depth, but the Orioles continue to receive the most trade interest in left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, according to multiple industry sources. Chen, who was 16-6 with a 3.54 ERA last season, will make a club-friendly $4.75 million in 2015 in his final year before free agency.
"That's not surprising. He had a great deal," Duquette said. "In fact, he's had three really good years. We like Chen, we like the work that he does, he's dependable, he's solid, left-handed, and we're glad we've got him for another year."
Despite the interest, Duquette once again said he's reluctant to deal starting pitching, especially Chen.
"We like Chen on our team," Duquette said. "I expect that he's going to continue with our team. He's solid, and the club got a good deal for the option year. He's happy here. He's performed. Obviously, we like him. It doesn't surprise me that the other clubs like him because he's a solid, dependable starting pitcher, and left-handed."
Still, Chen's days with the Orioles could be limited.
Chen's agent, Scott Boras, said earlier Wednesday that the Orioles haven't approached him about a possible contract extension and added that Chen is "going to have great free-agent value come next year this time."
"Oh, is that how Scott works?" Duquette said, referring to Boras' trend of letting his players go to free agency. "Does he usually sign his players to extension contracts the year they go to the free-agent market? Interesting."
Asked about the possibility of dealing Jimenez, who has three years remaining on a four-year, $50 million deal, Duquette said: "I think probably the best things we can do is get him to throw strikes more consistently and that would be good for everybody."
Duquette said the Orioles had the "foundation" of a trade to acquire a pitcher in place Wednesday, but it didn't pan out.
The Orioles are looking for bullpen help, and the flurry of free-agent deals for relief pitchers this week — including right-handers Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek to the Houston Astros on Wednesday — has created new trade opportunities.
"We were mostly following up with trades from previous discussions, but we did have a couple of new discussions," Duquette said. "When there's players moving around, other players become available.
"So with some certain player signings, players became available that are not offered in the trade market that weren't previously before on the market. A couple of new things today to consider."
Still, although the Orioles went into Wednesday night with nothing imminent, Duquette was optimistic.
"You never know, but we're still working on a couple of different fronts," he said.