Dan Duquette hoped to fly home from Florida knowing who the Orioles’ closer for 2014 was going to be. Duquette was scheduled to return on Friday after attending a banquet honoring Orioles minor league director Brian Graham.
As of Friday morning, there was no new Orioles closer.
At the winter meetings, there was a lot of talk between Duquette and agents and lots of exchanges between the Orioles and other teams.
Many of the big name free agents are off the table, and the Orioles were focused on adding an outfielder in addition to the closer. They did pick up a low cost outfielder on Thursday with the selection of Julio Borbon in the Triple-A portion of the Rule 5 draft.
Michael Almanzar, a right-handed hitting third baseman, was the pick in the major league part of the draft. Almanzar seemingly has little chance to make the Orioles. If he doesn’t stay with the team, he has to be offered back to the Boston Red Sox.
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He hasn’t played above Double-A, and it’s a real reach to see the Orioles keeping a Rule 5 player for the third straight year. If no one else wants him for their major league roster, perhaps the Orioles can work a deal with Boston so that Almanzar can play at Norfolk.
The selection of Borbon was counterintuitive. Generally, selections in the Triple-A part of the draft aren’t known at all, but in this case, Borbon is far better known than Almanzar.
Borbon will be 28 as spring training begins and has 288 games of major league experience including two at-bats in the 2010 World Series. Borbon batted .202 in 72 games with the Cubs in 2013.
Duquette said the Orioles had long been intrigued by this left-handed hitting outfielder, and this price was cheap. Unlike Almanzar, the Orioles don’t have to keep him on their roster, and he probably has a better chance to stick. Borbon also has some speed. He stole seven bases in eight attempts for Chicago.
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The Orioles are still eager to sign a closer. If not Grant Balfour, then John Axford or one of the others still available. It’s fair to say that the market has been surprisingly robust for relievers.
Joe Nathan got two years for $19 million from Detroit, and even though he’s not a closer, Boone Logan’s deal with Colorado is reported at three years, $16.5 million.
Some fans wished the Orioles would have made a huge offer to the biggest name left on the market, Shin-Soo Choo. His agent, Scott Boras, was busy talking with teams and holding court at the meetings.
Choo is supposedly seeking a mammoth deal, seven years at $140 million or so. That’s obviously not in the Orioles’ plans.
It’s now looking less likely that Brian Roberts will return to the Orioles. The New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals have expressed interest in him, and while he’d like to return to the Orioles, the team may be ready to move on.
Duquette said that he didn’t talk about extensions for Chris Davis and Matt Wieters with Boras at the meetings. He did say that he’d be open for discussions on one with J.J. Hardy.
The best line of the meetings came when Boras was asked to characterize his relationship with the Orioles. He said he spoke with Duquette two or three times a month and deals well with him.
“He has great hair, too,” Boras said.
Duquette’s great hair may or may not help him in his dealings with Boras if they discuss an extension for Davis or Wieters, but it’s clear that the Orioles still need a big win.
They still need an accomplished closer. Tommy Hunter is best in his role as a setup man. Darren O’Day and Ryan Webb from the right side and Brian Matusz and Troy Patton from the left should provide depth. But, without Jim Johnson to anchor, the bullpen is hardly as strong.
With a big-time closer, the Orioles could be as comfortable in their roles as they were with Johnson.
Assuming a new closer comes, the Orioles would need only a long man. Buck Showalter intimated this week that Zach Britton, who’s without options could be on the team. He could start or he could be the long man. So could Josh Stinson, Steve Johnson or T.J. McFarland.
It’s more likely that McFarland will start the season in Norfolk. The Orioles would like him to start down there, and perhaps use him as a swing man.
Duquette also talked about starting pitchers during the winter meetings, but despite a number of names being tossed around, there didn’t seem to be major progress made. Duquette remains optimistic the team will sign a closer soon.