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Yoenis Cespedes returns to Mets; Orioles reiterate desire to keep top draft pick

Yoenis Cespedes and Steve Pearce are off the market, plus the latest on Yovani Gallardo.

The Orioles are still aiming to upgrade their corner-outfield situation before the team reports to Sarasota, Fla., in less than four weeks.

Even though their interest in outfielder Yoenis Cespedes grew in recent weeks – especially as a tactic to nudge Chris Davis toward signing a deal – they weren’t going to give Cespedes what the New York Mets reportedly did Friday night. The sides agreed to terms on a three-year, $75 million deal, according to an MLB Network report.

That’s an annual average of $25 million a year with the deal apparently including an opt-out after the first year. It passes Jason Heyward’s $23 million annual average, the previous high for a free-agent outfielder set earlier this offseason.

The Mets must know something other teams don’t. Even though the Orioles had interest in Cespedes, there was some uneasiness within the organization about how he’d fit in with the Orioles. The fact that he was traded three times over the past two years served as a warning flag.

The more days go by, the more it seems like the Cespedes buzz was about urging Davis to sign rather than about truly wanting Cespedes in orange and black.

Missing Steve Pearce

Someone the Orioles knew would fit on their team was Steve Pearce. But Pearce has agreed to a one-year deal with the division-rival Tampa Bay Rays.

I’m a little surprised that the Orioles didn’t make a late play to retain Pearce, especially given that the free-agent outfield market is depleted and the club has made it a priority to keep its own players.

Given how much Pearce loved being in Baltimore and playing for Buck Showalter – he refused a waiver claim so he could re-sign with the Orioles after the team designated him for assignment in 2014 – it didn’t seem like it would take much to retain him. And he settled for a one-year deal with the Rays, so it wasn’t as if he demanding a multiyear commitment.

And yes, Pearce couldn’t duplicate his breakout season of 2014, when his 5.9 wins above replacement led the team, but he still provided 15 homers in 325 plate appearances in 2015. Despite a down year, Pearce would be the leading candidate for the starting right-field spot right now had the club retained him.

The Orioles will definitely miss Pearce because he was willing to fill in anywhere. His return to the team in April 2014 after being designated occurred after Chris Davis went on the disabled list with an oblique injury. Last year, he helped fill in when starting second baseman Jonathan Schoop went down with a knee injury, playing second base for the first time in his career.

He will be a good fit with Tampa Bay, a team that likes to have players who have defensive flexibility, and Pearce hits well at Tropicana Field, which is about an hour away from his hometown of Lakeland, Fla.

Latest on Yovani Gallardo

Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said Friday in a pair of interviews – one on MLB Network radio and another on MLB Network – that the Orioles aren’t likely to surrender their first-round draft pick to sign a free agent.

That would take right-hander Yovani Gallardo out of the mix in their search to upgrade their rotation. The Orioles have had constant dialogue with Gallardo’s representation, but have always been reluctant to lose their first-round pick, which is currently the 14th overall.

I’ve written all offseason about the Orioles’ reluctance to part with their draft pick. Early in the offseason, when the Orioles believed they’d receive three compensation picks of their own, they were more open to losing their first-rounder because they had a surplus. But the returns of Davis and Matt Wieters means that they will receive just one compensation pick for left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, who signed with the Miami Marlins.

The Orioles are still receiving six picks in the first 100, but it makes keeping that first-rounder much more important. The organization needs to restock its farm system with quality arms, and one club official said the Orioles need to use those selections to take the six best college starting pitchers available.

As important as it is to land a free-agent pitcher, it’s just as important to draft another round of quality starting pitchers. Last year’s draft seemed to be too heavy on relievers, so the club needs to focus on starting prospects this time around.

eencina@baltsun.com
twitter.com/EddieInTheYard

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