MacPhail has said several times this offseason that he won't plunge heavily into free agency until he thinks his team is a move or two away from contention, and the state of the current organization makes him more likely to deal veterans for prospects. Baltimore will listen to deals for all of its players, and may be enticed to trade Miguel Tejada or staff ace Erik Bedard.
Tejada, who has been pursued by several teams over the last few seasons, is signed through 2009. Bedard is under contractual control through then, but will be eligible for free agency, a fact that has the Orioles considering his trade value. Baltimore has debated signing Bedard to an extension, but has found it difficult to reach a common ground.
In fact, Bedard's agent and MacPhail have temporarily halted negotiations, which could indicate a trade is near. The Baltimore Sun first reported that angle, and MacPhail helped frame it in proper perspective Friday afternoon.
"It's accurate to suggest that our conversations have cooled," he said. "We were talking there for a while, and it's not unusual for these things to go in fits and starts at this time of year. Players before free agency are reading about Johan Santana or what some other guys might get and seeing astronomical signings, and it just isn't always the greatest environment. I don't really read too much into it at this point, but it's accurate to say they've cooled for the time being."
MacPhail's working mantra this offseason has been to stress patience, an attribute that helped him trade Steve Trachsel to the Cubs right before September and sign first-round Draft pick Matt Wieters moments ahead of last year's Aug. 15 deadline.
The Los Angeles Angels are regarded as favorites to land Tejada, but only if their rumored involvement in a deal for Florida slugger Miguel Cabrera falls short of completion. The New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers have been linked to Bedard trade rumors, and MacPhail said that the Orioles have done enough legwork to know what to expect.
"I think we've had enough discussions to know who it is we have to sit down with at the Winter Meetings," he said. "You can always be surprised, but we've got a pretty good idea of those that we need to have a face-to-face with."
Veterans Aubrey Huff and Jay Payton could also be discussed next week, as could catcher Ramon Hernandez and third baseman Melvin Mora. The Orioles will also look to add a few low-profile arms to compete for bullpen slots next season, a process made all the more important by recent elbow surgeries for relievers Chris Ray and Danys Baez.
Baltimore may cast about in several areas for relievers, including -- but not limited to -- Minor League free agency, trades and perhaps even the Rule 5 Draft. The only apparent guideline is that the Orioles will do it much cheaper than last year, when they spent more than $40 million on relievers and still wound up with the worst bullpen ERA in franchise history.
"Since we're drafting as high as we are, I'd think we'd be in position to take somebody there," MacPhail said of the Rule 5 Draft, "if they either fit a need or we think they have the kind of ceiling to be a quality player in the future."