The Orioles lost out on their primary relief target yesterday when free-agent reliever Justin Speier agreed with the Los Angeles Angels on a four-year contract worth $18 million.
They also can scratch a big hitter off their wish list, with former Washington Nationals outfielder Alfonso Soriano reportedly heading to the Chicago Cubs for an eye-popping eight-year, $136 million contract.
The Orioles dreamed of having Soriano patrol left field at Camden Yards for five or six seasons at $15 million per year. But after quickly realizing in this skyrocketing market that Soriano would exceed their comfort levels in both years and money, the Orioles chose not to make a formal proposal.
It was a different scenario for Speier, however.
The Orioles were one of about five finalists for Speier, a 33-year-old right-hander who had spent the past three seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays. But a late and stealthy emergence by the Angels altered the bidding.
"He had expressed an interest to stay on the West Coast if at all possible," Orioles vice president Jim Duquette said of Speier, who makes his offseason home in Arizona. "Prior to the Angels getting in, there wasn't a West Coast team that had made a serious offer, so we had a very good chance. ... But in the end, he had a West Coast team interested. That's what his agent told us."
The Orioles originally offered Speier a three-year, $12 million deal last week and then increased the money Friday, but never added a fourth year to the proposal.
"We would have considered [a fourth year] to get it done, but it would have been tough to go to $18 million," Duquette said. "We might have considered it. We liked Speier."
Speier's agent, Chris Arnold, did not return phone calls yesterday.
The Angels' acquisition of Speier strengthens an already strong bullpen, but it also could be a precursor to a blockbuster trade. One industry source speculated the signing might allow Los Angeles to deal highly coveted setup man Scot Shields for a power bat, with the Boston Red Sox's Manny Ramirez being a potential target. Trade talks could also re-emerge between the Angels and Orioles involving shortstop Miguel Tejada, but the Orioles are more interested in quality starting pitching than relief as the centerpiece of any Tejada deal.
Although categorizing Speier's decision as "disappointing," Duquette said it hasn't changed the club's plan to upgrade a bullpen that was among the worst in the majors in 2006. He said the team is still aggressively seeking another late-inning reliever, preferably a right-hander. The Orioles have an offer out to Atlanta Braves right-hander Danys Baez and also likely have interest in the New York Mets' Roberto Hernandez and Chad Bradford, Dustin Hermanson of the Chicago White Sox and Octavio Dotel of the New York Yankees.
Trading for a reliever also remains a possibility, Duquette said. He would not confirm whether any new offers were made to relievers yesterday, but added: "We had some conversations after we spoke to Speier's agent, you can bet on that."
The Soriano news doesn't directly affect the Orioles' winter plans, but it might have an impact. With Soriano off the board so early, it likely will intensify the bidding war for Texas Rangers outfielder Carlos Lee, who is considered the Orioles' No. 1 offensive target.
The Orioles and Houston Astros have been rumored as the leaders for Lee, but more teams should enter that mix now. Also, Lee's contract demands likely will increase in the wake of Soriano's deal.