SAN DIEGO — Baseball's annual winter meetings officially begin today in San Diego. The lobby of the Manchester Grand Hyatt will be filled with reporters, agents and club executives.
There might have been some awkward moments Sunday night as the Orioles club brass met for the first time since news surfaced that executive vice president Dan Duquette is a candidate for the Toronto Blue Jays' team president/CEO position.
Duquette will speak with local media for the first time today at 6 p.m. (Baltimore time). He spoke to MLB Network Radio on Sunday afternoon and really didn't do that much to squash rumors that he's interested in the Toronto job.
Asked about comments from Orioles managing partner Peter G. Angelos saying he thinks and expects Duquette to fulfill the four remaining seasons on his contract, Duquette said that he's always honored his contracts in the past.
Otherwise, Duquette didn't do much to temper the rumors. He could have come out stronger to say he's committed to the Orioles. Maybe he will say that today.
If he doesn't, it's an awfully weird situation for the Orioles. If Duquette does indeed want to take the job – which is undoubtedly a promotion – getting out of his contract will be a challenge. And unless Duquette kills the rumors publicly, how does he work with an Orioles front office that is wondering whether Duquette has one foot out the door on his way to a division rival?
** As far as players go, Duquette mentioned again Sunday that one of his priorities here in San Diego is searching for catching depth.
He said that there is some concern whether starter Matt Wieters will be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery.
"Matt Wieters is coming back from Tommy John surgery," Duquette told MLB Network Radio. "And he's on schedule to be ready to play but he didn't have the surgery until late in May, so there's a chance he may not be ready to start the season. I'm hopeful that he will be, but in any case, we're going to need some more catching depth."
If Wieters is unable to start on Opening Day, Caleb Joseph would be the most likely player to fill that spot, but Joseph has minor league options, and the Orioles might prefer to have a veteran backup catcher to fill that role if Wieters isn't ready, much like Nick Hundley did last year.
When the Orioles acquired Hundley from the San Diego Padres, Wieters was still rehabbing his elbow hoping to avoid season-ending surgery. But if they knew the Orioles would eventually have such a critical need behind the plate, it might have taken more than left-hander Troy Patton to acquire Hundley.
The Orioles still have an interest in re-signing Hundley, and the longer he stays on the market, the better the Orioles' chances of retaining him will be.
** Duquette was also asked about the prospect of pursuing outfielder Melky Cabrera, who is the best remaining outfield free agent.
Cabrera, 30, is reportedly looking for a five-year deal.
"He's had some really good years and he's played [good] some games against the Orioles," Duquette said. He is younger than those other guys [Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis]."
Duquette said it's "a possibility" for the Orioles to get an outfield bat by trade, especially since the team is well-equipped with starting pitching.
"We have about six starters that are dependable and then we have [Dylan] Bundy on the horizon," Duquette said. "We have this other kid, Mike Wright, who was very strong the last six weeks of the season at Triple-A. I like him. He's from East Carolina, a big strong kid. He's got good stuff and I heard scouts from other teams, they really liked him. So he's going to get a look in spring training.
Duquette also said he considered knuckleballer Eddie Gamboa, who was added to the 40-man roster after signing a major league deal, a "dark horse."
** Major League Baseball is holding a charity auction this week to benefit LUNGevity, the nation's largest lung-cancer focuses non-profit, in memory of former Orioles public relation director Monica Barlow.
Barlow died in February following a 4 ½-year battle with lung cancer. Barlow was a spokesperson for LUNGevity, which focuses on raising awareness about lung cancer and advocating for further research.
The auction launched Sunday night on MLB.com and will go until 11 p.m. on Thursday. Auction items include golf outings with Jim Palmer and 1983 World Series MVP Rick Dempsey, the opportunity to take out the lineup card with Orioles manager Buck Showalter and a Little League team fielding lesson from Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy and third-base coach Bobby Dickerson.