No surprises for O's at Winter Meetings
Club starts laying groundwork for possible deals to improve roster
LAS VEGAS -- No activity, no surprise. The Orioles had a quiet first day at the Winter Meetings on Monday, laying the groundwork for some potential moves without pulling the trigger on any of them. Andy MacPhail, Baltimore's president of baseball operations, said the day was pretty normal and "nothing out of the ordinary."
By that, he meant that the Orioles have done their due diligence on several fronts, perhaps including a potential trade of catcher Ramon Hernandez. But nothing is finished, and MacPhail said that's not really a surprise.
"You'd always prefer to do something here. People's attention is here," he said. "You'd prefer it, but I'd prefer to be 6-foot-2 as well. Those things are what they are. We've got a board up here with free agents, and there are over 140 names. I think we've pushed five or six off the list, and two of them are retired. So there hasn't been a plethora of activity on that front. You do learn that the trade market and the free-agent markets will unfold at their own pace. ... You can probably do more harm than good by trying to force the action at this point."
That last comment most applies to Baltimore's dalliances with free agents Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett, both of whom are among the hottest properties on the open market. MacPhail said he's not certain exactly where the Orioles stand with either player, but he insisted that the market isn't moving closer or further away from him.
"We've had a lot of conversations. Different clubs go different ways," MacPhail said. "We're generally kind of low key. We've had some conversations along a lot of different lines with clubs, with players, with their representatives."
Perhaps the most intriguing talks for Baltimore centers around a potential trade of Hernandez, which would open up a spot for hot prospect Matt Wieters to start at some point in 2009. The Orioles appear to be shopping Hernandez to the Reds for utilityman Ryan Freel, a deal that's still in a sensitive stage.
Another interesting pursuit for the Orioles involves Japanese free agents Koji Uehara and Kenshin Kawakami, two former star pitchers in the foreign market who are making their first forays into the Major Leagues. MacPhail hasn't met with the representatives for either pitcher yet, but he plans to do so before the Winter Meetings end.
"I think Baltimore fans are ready for pitchers to get people out -- whether they're Japanese or American," he said. "I would think they expect us to take a look at all of the different places that Major League players come from. That's certainly one of them, and I think it requires our attention. We'll see if we think it makes sense for us."
Dan Evans, president of West Coast Sports Management, the agency that represents Kawakami, said that he met with Baltimore executive John Stockstill last week and came away impressed. Evans said that Stockstill, Baltimore's director of international scouting, has seen Kawakami pitch and communicated his team's interest.
Still, at this point, Evans is more concerned with casing the market than coming to an immediate decision.
"I don't want to put numbers on it, but interest is not going to be a concern," Evans said. "We just secured him as a client less than two weeks ago, so I'm kind of in the information-gathering stage. But John was very forthright in his conversation, and I'll make it a point to get together. We've already discussed that we will get together."
Mark Pieper, Uehara's agent, has some other business to discuss with the Orioles. MacPhail plans to sit down with Pieper this week in regards to a potential contract extension for Brian Roberts, who is one season away from free agency. If Roberts and Baltimore are far enough apart, it might spur the club to make a trade.
MacPhail also said that the shrinking market for shortstops -- an agenda dominated by the trade of Khalil Greene and the signings of Edgar Renteria and Adam Everett -- doesn't really affect his plan. The Orioles have been linked to talks with Cesar Izturis, a glove-happy infielder who would help solidify the position for Baltimore.
"I think we have, as we've always had, a pecking order," said MacPhail. "We know the supply. We think we have an idea what the demand is and we're not uncomfortable with what's transpired to this point."
The Orioles announced that they have opened two spots on the 40-man roster by outrighting catcher Guillermo Quiroz and pitcher Fredy Deza to Triple-A Norfolk. Quiroz, who has been outrighted before, has eight days to decide whether to accept the assignment.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.