Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette was fairly adamant last offseason that he would not sign a free agent who would require his club to give up its first-round draft pick.
He didn't, and the Orioles selected high school pitcher Hunter Harvey with the 22nd overall pick of the 2013 amateur draft.
This year, however, Duquette seems to have softened that stance, at least slightly.
When asked whether he still would be hesitant to forfeit a pick for a free agent, Duquette said: "We'll have to evaluate that on a case-by-case basis."
That opens the door a little for the Orioles to potentially sign a player who was given a qualifying offer by his previous club but rejected it and became a free agent. Those who likely will fall into that category this offseason include New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, Boston Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, Seattle Mariners designated hitter Kendrys Morales and Kansas City Royals starter Ervin Santana, among others.
Cano and Ellsbury are expected to be well beyond the Orioles' budget, but Morales and Santana could be more affordable.
According to the most recent collective bargaining agreement, teams that sign players who have rejected qualifying offers forfeit either their first- or second-round pick in the following draft. The Orioles, because they choose in the second half of the first round, would lose their first-rounder.
Duquette certainly isn’t predicting that will happen — or saying he wants it to.
"As a rule, I don't like to give up draft picks," he said.
That Duquette didn't shoot down the idea is interesting, especially considering that he traded the club's competitive-balance draft pick, which would have been in between the first and second rounds in 2014, to the Houston Astros in July as part of the deal for starter Bud Norris.
Duquette still believes in building a team through its farm system. That's for sure. So what's prompting him to be a little less protective of his high draft picks this year? He's not tipping his hand, but the sense is that Duquette feels a lot better about the club's ability to scout and sign international amateurs, and that allows him to be a little more liberal with his draft picks.
In Duquette's tenure here, the Orioles have signed Cuban outfielders Henry Urrutia, who has already made the majors, and Dariel Alvarez, who made it to Double-A last season. And the organization has several other international players about whom Duquette feels good.
Duquette has said from the beginning that he'll use all avenues to build the Orioles. The amateur draft is obviously one of the most important roads. But if he can get a piece this winter he desperately wants for 2014, Duquette seemingly would at least consider sacrificing a high draft pick, especially now that other options are starting to yield potential big league help.