Orioles beat reporter Eduardo A. Encina talks about baseball's winter meetings and his discussion with Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette on free agency. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
The Orioles' pending deal with right-hander Darren O'Day had not yet become official on Sunday night, but news that the club had agreed in principle with their longtime setup man on a four-year, $31 million deal sent a strong message that the Orioles arrive at this week's winter meetings in willing to spend.
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said "the team has some more work to do if there's going to be an agreement," but a deal would mark just the second time in club history that the Orioles have signed a free-agent pitcher to a deal of at least four years.
In the days leading up to this week's winter meetings at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, money has started to flow in free agency. The Orioles haven't typically been a team to spend freely on the open market, but they have been uncharacteristically active early in the offseason, trading for slugger Mark Trumbo, retaining catcher Matt Wieters on a one-year qualifying offer and nearing a deal with O'Day.
"The message for fans to remember is that we want to be competitive every year and we want to have a good team every season you come out, so you have some hope that when you start the season, you have a chance to play in the postseason," Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said Sunday night. "We've been able to fulfill that hope a couple years, and the fans have come out and supported the team.
"And to the extent they've come out and supported the team, we've taken the money and invested it back in the team in payroll. So, we've been able to increase the payroll the last couple of years. So, we're going to continue doing that."
Besides the deal for Trumbo, which came just before the nontender deadline, Duquette also re-acquired former prospect L.J. Hoes for cash with hopes he can help the team improve its on-base percentage.
"One was a purchase, and the other was a trade, but two good players, solid players that should be able to help the team," Duquette said.
Other than finalizing their pact with O'Day, the Orioles arrive at the winter meetings with several needs, and their search for a left-handed outfield bat seems to be at the forefront. Trumbo and Hoes are right-handed. Wieters, a switch hitter, is the only Orioles projected starter who can hit from the left side.
"We're still looking for help in the outfield," Duquette said. "Our preference would be a left-handed hitter. We're looking at a couple options on the market to fill that need. We're looking at all the markets. We're looking at the nontender market, the free-agent market, the trade market, Rule 5 market, international market — the supermarket.
"We'll look at all of them. There's quite a few players who were nontendered who are on the market this year and some of them are qualified major league players. So, we need to look at that market."
There's a long list of free-agent outfielders with the ability to hit from the left side, including Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, Dexter Fowler, Alex Gordon and Denard Span. All of those players could be looking at lengthy multi-year deals. A less-costly option would be nontendered slugger Pedro Alvarez, formerly of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who could possibly be had on a one-year deal.
"There's some good players on the [free-agent] market that are outfielders," Duquette said. "There's some good players there. Teams have been more focused on the pitching so far."
Duquette said the amount of money being spent on top-tier starting pitchers such as David Price (seven years, $217 million with the Boston Red Sox) and Zack Greinke (six years, $206 million with the Arizona Diamondbacks) in recent days has been shocking, so the Orioles appear content to wait and see if the market evens out.
"That market's moving pretty quick," Duquette said. "The top end of the market, the prices are staggering, staggering. I don't know if it sustains itself. We'll see. It tells me we need to develop [young pitchers] Kevin Gausman and Mike Wright and Ty Wilson and do everything we can to become good major league pitchers."
Duquette had little to offer on the team's efforts to retain first baseman Chris Davis. He said there was no update on any negotiations with his agent, Scott Boras.