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post #1 of 1 (permalink) Old 12-06-2006, 07:41 PM Thread Starter
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Orioles remain quiet but not out of it

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- More talk. Less action. The Orioles plowed through an uneventful day at the Winter Meetings on Tuesday, thanks in part to an extremely competitive market for free-agent pitching. Baltimore's plan to trade a starting pitcher for an extra bat has hit a bump, and nobody's sure when the obstacle will evaporate.
When Baltimore executives Mike Flanagan and Jim Duquette held court on Tuesday, they said most of the general managers are stymied by the same type of impediment. There are several teams that think they can sign pitchers without shedding talent, so the teams trying to trade arms are stuck waiting to see how things shake out.

Flanagan, the team's executive vice president of baseball operations, is prepared to wait his turn.

"Today, that was some of the feedback we got from other places. I think they thought this would blow by faster," Flanagan said. "From what we're hearing, the starting pitcher free-agent market has jammed everything up. They get down the road and say, 'We're not going to do anything on this guy, because we're waiting on a free agent.'

"Once the free-agent market pops a little bit, then I think it will run quickly."

Duquette, seated just a few feet away, interjected just as Flanagan's voice trailed off.

"I agree with that. It's almost a stalemate right now," said Duquette, the team's vice president of baseball operations. "There are a lot more teams that apparently think they have a chance on the free-agent market. That's usually not the case. Usually, guys realize they don't have a chance and say, 'Let's go on to plan two or three.'"

Baltimore has already moved on from a couple plans of their own, most notably one that involved a huge trade with Atlanta. In a potential deal first reported by The Baltimore Sun, the O's were expected to send second baseman Brian Roberts and pitching prospect Hayden Penn to the Braves for Marcus Giles and Adam LaRoche.

That deal allegedly came close to completion but fell through and is thought to be beyond resuscitation. Neither Flanagan nor Duquette denied that report on Tuesday, but they acknowledged the difficulty of trying to keep things secret at the Winter Meetings. And more to the point, they talked about how rumors can affect their players.

"When I played, I hated to see my name in the papers with trades. It's very upsetting to people's families," Flanagan said. "And we get a little upset when our players' names get out there. They're mentioned when these deals aren't down the road. We've probably talked about 25 different scenarios -- at the minimum -- of things."

"It's not an exaggeration," added Duquette. "Almost every one of our players has been talked about by other teams. That's what we do at this time of year. We talk about trades. We're at a point where we're going to explore everything. Unfortunately, that particular one gets out, and I'm not sure it's going anywhere.

"It's like the talks about [Miguel] Tejada at the trading deadline. It's the same type of situation."

The Orioles did try to continue their talks in a couple of different directions. Starting pitcher Rodrigo Lopez is still a hot topic of conversation, and Duquette estimated that more than six teams are interested in his services. Only three or four teams have made actual offers, though, and that may not change until the prime free agents sign.

Baltimore's main free-agent target -- outfielder Luis Gonzalez -- is still pondering his options. The veteran has narrowed his choices to three teams and may make a final decision soon. Baltimore, St. Louis and the Los Angeles Dodgers are the candidates, and agent Gregg Clifton said there isn't much that separates them from each other.

"Any of the three, I think he's happy with," he said. "Obviously, Baltimore's very attractive, and Brian Roberts has been his recruiter there. He's spoken to Lou a couple times about what a great city it is, and obviously about some of the moves the Orioles have made. [They've] attracted Lou's interest as a team that wants to improve and is getting better. And from an opportunity standpoint, for him, it looks like it would be a good situation for him to go there."

Baltimore has a standing one-year offer to Gonzalez that's reportedly worth more than $7 million, but Gonzalez is more comfortable staying close to the West Coast. Interestingly, Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti has strongly denied making an offer to Gonzalez, and Clifton said the desire to play out west might be overstated.

"I think, initially, he did have a desire to stay in the National League West and play against the Diamondbacks multiple times each year," he said. "I think, as time goes on, he's realized that that would be nice if it could happen, but it's certainly not the No. 1 priority anymore."

Duquette said that Gonzalez would be more comfortable with a two-year deal, and he also said the Orioles haven't ruled out giving him one. Right now, though, that's not in the plans. If Gonzalez winds up in L.A., Baltimore may face more urgency to deal Lopez -- especially if it can bring in a replacement bat for the outfield vacancy.

"It's not like we'd fill that void in 24 hours," Duquette said. "I think we're trying to maximize Rodrigo's value. If there's something that makes sense for us in a trade, we'll do it. But right now, that hasn't presented itself."

Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski said that the O's approached him Tuesday morning to talk about one of his players. No names were mentioned, but three likely candidates -- first baseman Chris Shelton and outfielders Marcus Thames and Craig Monroe -- loom above everyone else in terms of probability.

Any of those three would help add some sock to Baltimore's punchless lineup, which finished with the fourth-lowest home run total (164) of any American League team last season. Nothing is believed to be imminent on that front, and the Orioles will continue to make phone calls and sound out other teams on how they can help each other.

"There was some follow-up to our conversations," said Duquette, "But a lot of the time, that becomes phone work, too. You don't really meet face-to-face unless it gets more serious, but we're not at that point with anyone."
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