Duquette likely to eye trade market to refresh O's

Duquette likely to eye trade market to refresh O's

Duquette likely to eye trade market to refresh O's
BALTIMORE -- The Orioles' front office is preparing to travel to Dallas for next week's Winter Meetings, an event that is widely considered the unofficial start to the Hot Stove season.

And while new executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has been busy filling holes on his staff and adding to the O's 40-man roster -- most recently with Thursday's trade with Texas for backup catcher Taylor Teagarden -- there hasn't been any major news.

That could change in Dallas, provided the right trade comes around. While Duquette reiterated Thursday that the organization has several offers out to six-year Minor League free agents, there are still much bigger holes to fill.

Baltimore has some payroll flexibility, and although Duquette has made it clear he'd prefer to allocate resources into international scouting and fixing the farm system, the organization still needs to add some complementary pieces to the bench and make some impact additions to shore up the starting rotation and bullpen.

With the Orioles more likely to explore trades before delving into the free-agent market, the Winter Meetings could prove beneficial in helping check several items off their offseason checklist.

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Below is another look at what the O's are shopping for:

Club needs

Starting pitching: The Orioles desperately need to boost a young rotation that struggled in 2011, forcing the bullpen to log the most innings in the Major Leagues.

With a drop-off after top arm C.J. Wilson in free agency, Baltimore is actively scouring the trade market to see if a starter could be acquired that way. But teams are shifting away from trading away capable starters, and it will be hard to convince veteran arms like Mark Buehrle and Roy Oswalt to come to a perennially struggling club.

The Orioles' best bet, other than moving setup man Jim Johnson to the rotation, may be to acquire lower-tier free-agent arms such as Edwin Jackson or Paul Maholm, or take a gamble on pitchers coming off injury with a low-base contract and built-in incentives. In a perfect world, the O's could stand to add at least two Major League-ready arms, although if they trade away right-hander Jeremy Guthrie, you could certainly make a case for more.

Relief pitching: Largely a function of what -- if anything -- the club is able to do to fix its starting rotation woes, the Orioles' bullpen is another issue that needs immediate resolution. There are internal concerns about closer Kevin Gregg's ability to handle the ninth inning, and the O's interest in adding late-inning arms, such as Rockies closer Huston Street, are very real.

Like most clubs, expect a heavy dose of signings to foster competition this spring. But unlike most clubs, if the Orioles do move Johnson to the rotation, they would be in serious need of late-inning arms and could be forced to enter a typically overpriced free-agent relief market. Still, it's hard to imagine Duquette devoting a significant chunk of money to rebuild the bullpen -- an idea that hasn't worked out in Baltimore's recent history -- and the safer bet here would be to try to make some trades and sign players to Minor League deals with an invitation to big league camp.

Outfielder/DH: Like pitching, the Orioles' preference would be to trade for an outfielder who can hit for power and not be a defensive liability. The team also needs a designated hitter, and it doesn't have the luxury or signing a one-dimensional player, so it stands to reason that the O's DH could also be their part-time outfield solution. Nolan Reimold has yet to show he can be the answer full time in left field, although the organization likes his hustle and patience at the plate, and Luke Scott -- who had season-ending shoulder surgery -- is another wild card who could factor in here. Duquette could also use his international ties to make a free-agent signing or try to make a deal for a blocked outfielder from another club.

Who they can or need to trade

Guthrie: The veteran righty remains one of the most rumored names on the market, and given the startling lack of depth among free-agent pitchers, he's drawn considerable interest. The key is for the Orioles to maximize their return. Former president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail didn't pull the trigger last July because he didn't think other clubs valued Guthrie as much as Baltimore, which used him in the No. 1 slot in 2010.

The Rockies and Angels have shown interest, with as many as six teams sending out initial inquiries to Duquette regarding the dependable right-hander, who has posted three consecutive seasons of 200 or more innings. The O's could use Guthrie to try to fill a number of voids, but the biggest coup would be to get back pitching -- presumably for the bullpen -- in return.

Could anyone else be traded? Sure. Of the current 25-man staff, only catcher Matt Wieters is probably untouchable. And while it would take a considerable haul to land outfielder Adam Jones or some of the Orioles' young arms, the organization isn't in a position to not at least listen to offers. Duquette has turned some shrewd trades in the past and could certainly pull one again.

Top prospects

No immediate help is on the horizon for the Orioles, who have cleaned out their Minor League system in recent years with the promotions of Wieters and pitchers Zach Britton, Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta, to name a few. Top position prospect Manny Machado and last year's first-round arm Dylan Bundy remain a few years away, and it's a safe bet that the O's won't be willing to part with either youngster as Duquette referenced building from within.

Big contracts they might unload

None. It's highly unlikely the Orioles will find a taker for Brian Roberts' salary, and the best they can hope is that the veteran second baseman, who has been unable to stay on the field the past two seasons, can recover fully from concussion and back issues and help contribute.

Arbitration-eligible

There are nine arbitration-eligible players on the current 40-man roster, with Guthrie, Jones and Scott in line for some substantial raises. Also up for arbitration: Johnson, Jo-Jo Reyes, Brad Bergesen, Robert Andino, Willie Eyre and Darren O'Day.

Non-tender candidates

Scott is the biggest name who could be non-tendered, although the team could try to sign him at a lower price to return in 2012. If the Orioles don't sign another outfielder or a flexible DH type, this situation will become even more important. Eyre and Reyes are also non-tender possibilities.

Payroll summation

Baltimore appears to have the flexibility to add some salary, with about $43 million already committed for next season, a figure that will likely be around $70 million after arbitration and the rest of next season's contracts are offered.

The team's payroll was just shy of $87 million in 2011, and even in making some incremental upgrades, that number will likely be pushed north of $90 million and beyond. There is money to be spent, but where and how the Orioles use it must be done wisely.

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.