SARASOTA, FLA. — Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette arrived at the Ed Smith Stadium complex for the first time this spring still attempting to maneuver a deal for one – or possibly two – remaining free agents.
"We're still trying to add to our team, and we have more work to do. We're still working on a couple of things that could help the ballclub," Duquette said. "It's really hard to handicap whether you're going to get a deal completed or not, so I try not to. We just keep working it, trying to find the right fit for the team. We have a lot more work to do to get our team in shape, so that's my perspective on it. We have a lot of work to do."
Duquette wouldn't address any players specifically, but the Orioles are known to be still pursuing right-hander Yovani Gallardo, as well as outfielder Dexter Fowler.
"We've been looking to add to our outfield depth as well as our pitching, so we've been talking to a number of players," Duquette said.
Both Gallardo and Fowler are tied to draft-pick compensation, so the Orioles would lose their highest draft pick to sign each. They would lose the their first-round pick (currently 14th overall) to sign one and the 29th pick (a compensation pick for losing Wei-Yin Chen in free agency) to sign a second.
Duquette said the club has weighed the value of losing those picks in determining what the team is willing to pay any remaining qualifying offer free agents, like Gallardo and Fowler.
"That's part of the consideration in the situations with the free agents that require compensation, so if the club is going to participate in that market, they have to take into account the value of the pick – the current value and the potential future value of the pick. So that's part of our consideration in each of these instances for compensation free agents," he said. "It's a system that's been in place a couple years, but there seems to be certain players in the market where it affects their contract."
Even though the qualifying offer process has led to players remaining on the market during spring training, the Orioles have taken advantage of the situation. Two years ago, the team relinquished its first-round pick to sign right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year, $50 million deal and was then able to comfortably forfeit its second-round pick to sign outfielder Nelson Cruz to a shorter one-year, $8 million deal.
"The Cruz deal, we weren't interested in giving Nelson Cruz a one-year deal and giving up a first-round pick, and our assessment of his addition to the team and the market, that worked out for the club," Duquette said. "For the club, it's been a little bit more difficult choice this time around. We're drafting higher this time in the draft. On paper, that pick should command more value, so we have to take a longer look at what the value of that pick is as compared to how we can help our club. But the idea is to have a good team every year, right?"
Even if the Orioles lost their first two draft picks, they'd still have four remaining in the first 91 selections.
"We're trying to maximize our team and have a good team this year and also have a good team next year and the year after that," Duquette said. "[Losing the 29th pick] would be a little bit higher. Having said that, we still have several other picks in this draft that we've been able to accumulate."
The Orioles appear to be in a position of leverage, but Duquette said that there's no posturing going on in hopes that the price on free agents goes down with time as those players hope to latch on with teams without losing extended time in camp. Still, there has seemed to be little interest in either Gallardo or Fowler other than from the Orioles.
"I think this time of year, the players are anxious to get going," Duquette said. "They are anxious to get going with their programs so they can have a good year. And the clubs are looking to staff their teams so they know who they have. … There's situations where either the situation comes together and you have a deal or you agree you're not going to have a deal. Those situations come up all the time, but we're always trying to build our roster so we're trying to look for opportunities all around and it just seems like the last few years, the offseason has extended into the training season for the club.
"I believe these draft picks have a specific value in the marketplace and we try to qualify what that value is and factor it into our discussions. That's all. It's a fact that these players who turn down the qualifying offer have that compensation attached to their compensation plan, so each of them has a specific value as far as we're concerned. I think that's reflected in the market."