NASHVILLE, TENN. — The Orioles expected to acquire additional players at this week's winter meetings, but they enter the final day preparing to return to Baltimore with nothing more than a Rule 5 pick.
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said Wednesday that the Orioles expect to make a selection in Thursday morning's Rule 5 draft.
The Orioles have made at least one selection in the draft in each of the past four years under Duquette, and it has netted the team utility man Ryan Flaherty, left-handed reliever T.J. McFarland and right-hander Jason Garcia.
Since the Orioles must also carry pitching prospect Dylan Bundy on the major league roster in 2016 — he is out of minor league options — it will be more difficult to carry a Rule 5 pick, but the club will still attempt to carry another player. Their 40-man roster is at 39 players.
"I think we look at the talent and then we look at how they fit on the roster because you have to accomplish both at some point," Duquette said. "I think some people would argue that it's easier to keep a pitcher in the Rule 5, but they all have their challenges."
Last year's Rule 5 draft offered a tremendous opportunity for teams to acquire talent. Nine of the first 10 picks were retained. Because of that, Duquette said teams were more scrupulous in setting their 40-man rosters to avoid losing talented minor league players.
"I think the clubs spent a lot of time and energy determining who they wanted to protect on their 40-man, because that draft last year was a pretty talent-laden Rule 5 draft," Duquette said. "There were some good players playing in the big leagues."
The Orioles made two Rule 5 selections, acquiring Garcia from the Houston Astros after he was taken from the Red Sox and selecting right-hander Logan Verrett from the New York Mets. The Orioles were unable to keep Verrett on the 25-man roster, and he went to the Texas Rangers on waivers before being returned to the Mets. Verrett ended the season in the majors with the Mets.
"I think clubs did a much more precise evaluation of their players prior to completing their 40-man roster given the quality of the players who got to the big leagues last year from the Rule 5 draft that stayed and made a contribution to their teams," Duquette said. "There were some good players last year."
Even though the Orioles rotation lacks a left-handed starter Wei-Yin Chen a free agent, manager Buck Showalter said he's not stuck on needing a lefty to complete his rotation.
"Just like the hitters," Showalter said. "I'm fine. I'd rather take a real good right-handed pitcher as opposed to a mediocre left-hander. For me, it works. … Sooner or later, right-handed pitchers have to get left-handed hitters out, and left-handed starters have to get right-handers out. That's the way the lineup goes.
"If I have a good left-handed starter like I had last year, that's fine. We've got some good left-handed options that are here, but may not be completely ready. Chris Jones had as good a year as anybody had in Triple-A, and he's on our roster now."
O's valuing draft picks
Showalter indicated that the Orioles have had talks this week about signing a free agent tied to draft-pick compensation, but the team still needs to be careful before forfeiting its first-round pick in next June's draft, which currently would be 14th overall.
"We talked about something the other day that would require that," Showalter said. "It would have to be something that really fits. But we would if we had to. But one of our big days is going to be … in June. We've got seven picks in the first 100 in the draft. I don't know if we've ever had that. This is big for us. We can solidify our already-strong system.
"We're not going to give it away just because it's there; 14th is a pretty good player. I'm sure our guys will be looking at a lot of those Friday night [college] pitchers around the country. We've already got them lined up. I know a lot of people are looking forward to the draft."
At the same time, the Orioles don't currently have a top-five pick as when drafting key players like catcher Matt Wieters, third baseman Manny Machado and right-hander Kevin Gausman.
"That's who we are. We've got to hit this draft like we have," Showalter said.
When asked about the Orioles' early offseason activity this year, Showalter joked that it correlated with the team's annual FanFest event coming up Saturday. FanFest usually takes place during the new year, but is much earlier this year. "We've got FanFest this weekend," Showalter quipped. "I ain't getting up on stage in front of our season-ticket holders naked, all right? In more ways than one. I'm just kidding." … Showalter said that right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez is getting married in the next week, which is why he won't be able to attend FanFest. … Showalter also squashed any idea that the Orioles are open to trading closer Zach Britton. "We're not moving him," Showalter said. "I haven't heard that broached. We've got him, what, two or three more years? … We're looking to add potentially another piece to add to our bullpen." … Infielder Neil Walker, who was a trade target of the Orioles, was traded to the Mets on Wednesday. The Orioles had discussions with the Pirates to acquire Walker, but the teams did not find a fit.