The Orioles have expressed some interest in the lone viable free-agent closer, Francisco Cordero, according to an industry source.
Although discussions are not considered far along, the Orioles have inquired about the 36-year-old right-hander, who has more saves than any other active pitcher besides Mariano Rivera.
Cordero spent the past four seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, saving 150 games in 174 chances. In each of his past five years, he's saved 34 or more including going 37 of 43 in 2011. Cordero's first season as a full-time closer was in 2004 with the Texas Rangers, who were managed by current Orioles' skipper Buck Showalter.
Especially with the addition of several starting pitchers this offseason, the Orioles seemingly had already settled on a closer in Jim Johnson, who converted eight straight opportunities at the end of 2011 but was also considered an option for the starting rotation.
The Orioles also have Kevin Gregg, who was signed to a two-year deal last offseason to be the closer, but had just 23 saves in 30 attempts in 2010. According to a source, the Orioles would pick up a chunk of Gregg's $5.8 million if they could find a trade fit for the veteran reliever.
Although their priority has been the rotation, the Orioles have been looking at closing options from outside the organization. They had preliminary discussions at the winter meetings in December with the Seattle Mariners about obtaining Brandon League.
Broad scenarios were discussed, according to an industry source, with the Orioles also expressing interest in left-handed starter Jason Vargas. Pitcher Jeremy Guthrie and infielder Mark Reynolds were brought up, and Gregg was also considered a potential trade chip. Ultimately, the source said the talks didn't progress, especially since the Mariners did not want to take on salary.
There's been internal discussions as to whether buying a would-be closer for a third consecutive offseason (Michael Gonzalez, Gregg) makes sense for a rebuilding club. But if the Orioles decide to go that way, Cordero could fall into their lap.
Signed to a four-year, $46 million deal before the 2008 season by the Reds, Cordero may be relegated to a one-year deal after falling victim to game of musical closers this offseason.
Jonathan Papelbon, Heath Bell and Ryan Madson all signed free-agent deals and there were three trades involving closers: Huston Street from the Rockies to the San Diego Padres, Andrew Bailey from the Oakland A's to the Boston Red Sox and Sergio Santos from the Chicago White Sox to the Toronto Blue Jays.
It was anticipated that Cordero would remain in Cincinnati, but the Reds signed Madson to a one-year deal, shutting an obvious door for Cordero, who is 12th all-time in saves and wants to continue to close.
He likely would sign for a year if guaranteed the role, and there are few teams remaining with a need or the willingness to spend money for a closer. The Houston Astros, who traded late-inning reliever Mark Melancon to the Red Sox this winter, have a need. The Blue Jays have the money, if they wanted additional insurance for Santos. The Los Angeles Angels have also reportedly expressed interest in Cordero.
But the Orioles could have both – especially if they shed some of Gregg's salary and decide against Johnson in that role full-time or if they made room for Johnson in the rotation.