SARASOTA, FLA. — The waiting continues and the wondering begins.
The Orioles were thought to be one verge of a multiyear contract with free-agent pitcher Yovani Gallardo a couple of weeks ago, but negotiations remain in apparent limbo as the club's pitchers and catchers settle into their early spring routine at the Ed Smith Stadium complex. There are indications again this weekend that a deal is close, but we've heard that before.
So, what does it all mean?
Could the Orioles be rethinking the plan to give up their top choice in the 2016 draft for a player who rejected a qualifying offer from his original team? Or are they playing a dangerous game of chicken with the solid pitcher they need to complete a questionable starting rotation?
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette didn't shed a lot of light on the subject when he met with the media for the first time in Florida on Saturday. He said only that a deal was not imminent and he was "grinding away" in his attempt to upgrade the pitching staff and add an outfielder.
Well, it's time to grind harder, because the baseball clock is officially in motion and every spring training day that ticks away is another opportunity for fate to take the decision out of Duquette's hands.
Consider the last time the Orioles were in this position. Duquette gave up the club's first draft pick in 2014 to sign Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year deal, then forfeited its second pick to steal Nelson Cruz for $8 million.
Obviously, there wasn't a great deal of interest in Cruz at that point or he would not have signed such a relatively small one-year contract. But imagine the outcome if Duquette had dithered for a few days and some other contending team had entered the picture because of a major injury. Chances are, the Orioles would not have signed Cruz and might not have reached the American League Championship Series.
This situation is similar but not exactly comparable. The draft choices involved this time are more valuable because the Orioles draft higher in the first round (14th) and were awarded the 29th pick in the draft as compensation for the loss of free-agent pitcher Wei-Yin Chen.
Duquette has to weigh the future value of those picks against the club's need to make immediate upgrades to contend in 2016, and — from all appearances — decided earlier this month to make the developmental sacrifice to mold the Orioles into a stronger AL East contender this season.
No one ever denied that the Orioles were making a strong play for Gallardo and a free-agent outfielder that was always presumed to be Dexter Fowler, so it appears that they are involved in a stare-down over the final details of a multiyear deal. Duquette, however, denies that the club is trying to squeeze all the leverage out of the qualifying offer system.
"I don't really see it that way," Duquette said. "I believe that these draft picks have a specific value in the marketplace and we try to quantify what the value is and factor that into our discussions. That's all. It's a fact that these players that turn down a qualifying offer have that compensation attached to them. Each one has a specific value as far as we're concerned. I think that's reflected in the market."
The Orioles have every right to hold out for the most favorable terms possible, but there are other factors in play. Jimenez said recently that showing up late for camp in 2014 complicated his adjustment to a new coaching staff and training regimen, though he didn't blame that for his well-documented struggles that year.
Gallardo is a veteran pitcher who shouldn't be adversely affected by the loss of a few workout days, but the further the Orioles get into spring training the more that might become a concern that could impact the value equation.
If you're thinking along the same lines about Fowler, that wouldn't be as much of an issue for a position player, since most veterans feel that spring training is a couple of weeks too long. But the spring schematic for the pitching staff is a much more complicated proposition.
Based on what other free-agent pitchers have signed for, the Orioles already have made Gallardo sweat out a few million dollars. Now, it's time to get the guy signed or get back to the future.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.