With most of the groundwork laid and their major-league roster in order, the Orioles could be one of the more active teams when baseball's winter meetings open this weekend in Miami Beach, Fla.
Although ruling out the kind of blockbuster deal that brought Glenn Davis to Baltimore a year ago, Orioles general manager Roland Hemond is optimistic about the possibility of acquiring a pitcher and possibly a leadoff hitter. He also seems positive about making a free-agent acquisition.
"I'd say there's a better chance of us doing something in that area [the free-agent market] than there was a year ago," said Hemond. A year ago the Orioles added a couple of free-agent veterans, outfielder Dwight Evans and pitcher Mike Flanagan, and they are likely to play the market even more this year.
However, before deciding whether to pursue Bob Walk, Kirk McCaskill, Joe Hesketh or another potential starting pitcher, the Orioles are expected to pursue trade options, starting with the Montreal Expos.
Manager John Oates has repeatedly said the Orioles weren't looking to trade Randy Milligan, but the Expos are looking for a first basemanto replace righthanded-hitting Andres Galarraga, so there is the making of a natural fit. Hemond acknowledged that a leadoff hitter is on his shopping list and the Orioles are said to be interested in second baseman Delino DeShields.
The Expos have a budding phenom in Brett Barberie (.353 in 57 games last year), who could replace DeShields. General manager Dan Duquette has said he prefers to keep both Barberie and DeShields, but the right offer could change that. The Expos do appear willing to trade outfielder Dave Martinez, a .295 hitter who has limited power, similar to many players the Orioles already have.
There would be pluses and minuses in any trade that involved DeShields. He would add speed, but his stolen base ratio (57 in 79 attempts) is only a little above average. His on-base percentage of .347, thanks to 95 walks, is better than any of the Orioles' leadoff candidates, and partially offsets his batting average (.238 last year). But he also has a high strikeout ratio (151 in 563 at-bats) and is erratic defensively.
If the Orioles obtained DeShields it would almost certainly mean they'd have to trade Bill Ripken,whose defensive skills interest the Mets and most likely the Phillies. They would have to weigh what, if any, effect that could have on future negotiations with Cal Ripken.
Apparently the Orioles are keeping utility infielder Tim Hulett, after signing him yesterday to a one-year $380,000 contract.
The Expos have said they would honor middle reliever Barry Jones' demand for a trade, but the righthander would interest the Orioles only as a forerunner to another trade.
The Orioles and Expos have had exploratory talks, so if they are going to make a deal the chances are it would be during the early stages of the meetings.
With three open spots on the 40-man roster, Hemond has ample room for either a multi-player trade, a free-agent acquisition, a Rule V draft (unprotected minor leaguers with at least three years of service) -- or possibly all three.
Developments at the winter meetings should also clarify the status of Evans, who is again a free agent. Oates has said he would like to have Evans, who batted .270 last year (.400 off the bench), as his primary pinch hitter.