Some thoughts on the O's early free-agency process, Scott Feldman's market value and more

In talking to Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette on Thursday, I asked whether he had made any progress on the club's pending free agents,a group that includes pitchers Scott Feldman and Jason Hammel, infielder Brian Roberts and outfielder Nate McLouth.

"No," Duquette answered. "We haven't had any discussions on those."


I'm sure some of you will find that alarming. I don't. First, Duquette's juggling other responsibilities, including the pitching coach search. Secondly, this is typical of Octobers. When a player gets this close to free agency, he usually wants to see it through and at least test his market value. And teams know that.

Free agency begins after the last out in the final game of the World Series, which will come at some point next week. Once it occurs, there is a five-day period in which a player can re-sign only with his last team. I would suspect that the Orioles would make a bit of a push during that time to get a real sense of what Feldman, Hammel, Roberts, McLouth and any others are looking for.

Frankly, the Orioles likely already have a sense. And if Duquette were close to re-signing a player, he likely wouldn't tell us, anyway. Also, just because players can talk to other teams five full days after the World Series, very few sign immediately. McLouth, for instance, agreed to another contract with the Orioles last December during the winter meetings.

As former club president Andy MacPhail used to say, it's all a process. And this is exceptionally early in the process.

** Speaking of which, Orioles officials couldn't have been happy to see the San Francisco Giants reportedly give 29-year-old right-hander Tim Lincecum a two-year, $35 million extension this week after going 10-14 with a 4.37 ERA in 32 starts in 2013.

Feldman, 30, went 12-12 record with a 3.86 ERA in 30 starts between the Orioles and Chicago Cubs last season.

Certainly, Lincecum, a two-time Cy Young Award winner, is more accomplished than Feldman and means a whole lot to the Giants. So part of that big payday represents what he has already done for that organization (and what he means to the Giants' fan base).

So we're in apples-oranges area here, considering that Feldman has been with the Orioles since July. But one of the main reasons the Giants signed Lincecum is because they know there are plenty of big-spending teams that will be looking for a starter this offseason. And they didn't want to have to compete with them.

If Lincecum’s contract ends up setting the early market value for starters, than Feldman’s price could rise beyond what the Orioles are willing to pay. They’d like to have him back; he seemingly would like to come back. But it’s not inconceivable to think someone may blow the Orioles out of the water for Feldman’s services if the market keeps thinning and the cost of starting pitching keeps escalating.

** Feldman is one of several Orioles pitchers who has worked with Andy Hawkins, the Texas Rangers' bullpen coach and a candidate for the Orioles' vacant pitching coach position. I've talked to several people, and no one has anything bad to say about Hawkins.

But if I'm a betting man, I still think the Orioles end up with someone who has had success in the job at the major league level. In Hawkins’ defense or Triple-A Norfolk pitching coach Mike Griffin’s, for that matter you can’t get the experience unless someone gives you that opportunity. I get that.

But the Orioles have interviewed three others  Rich Dubee, Carl Willis and Dave Wallace  with that success in the big leagues. Bottom line: The Orioles are fortunate to have this group of candidates available, and they should end up with a quality pitching coach whichever way they go.

** Henry Urrutia had three hits, including a grand slam, for Surprise in Thursday's 10-9 loss to Salt River in an Arizona Fall League game and is now hitting .429 for the Saguaros. He's been limited to a DH role with an elbow issue, which is a bit of a bummer since the organization wants the Cuban outfielder to get as many reps as possible in left field. Still, the fact that he has four extra-base hits in 28 at-bats is encouraging. Urrutia didn't drive the ball while with the Orioles last season, and that's something he needs to work on.

** Also from that AFL game versus Salt River: Dariel Alvarez, another Cuban outfielder and Orioles prospect, had two hits and two RBIs, and pitching prospect Branden Kline allowed six runs (four earned) in 2/3 of an inning. Meanwhile, infield prospect Jonathan Schoop hit his second homer, but just his fifth hit, in 37 at-bats in Arizona (.135 average). Schoop, 22, has plenty of power for a middle infielder, but he needs to work on cutting down his swing and making more contact. One scout who saw him at the AFL recently called Schoop "just another guy for me, nothing special. But his age really works in his favor." Personally, I think Schoop can be a competent big leaguer, but he's not Manny Machado, and I hope fans realize that.

By the way, Schoop's homer Thursday came off Colorado pitching prospect Tyler Matzek. If the name sounds familiar, it's because the Orioles were considering drafting the left-handed Matzek in 2009 when they took another California prep pitcher, right-hander Matt Hobgood, instead. Hobgood went fifth overall and has struggled with injuries. Matzek went 11th overall and hasn't tapped his potential yet, either.

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