The Orioles have struck out to this point in adding a slugger to the middle of their lineup, but they are having no such problems in overhauling their bullpen. According to club sources, the Orioles have agreed in principle to a three-year deal with Atlanta Braves free-agent reliever Danys Baez, who will join recent acquisition Jamie Walker as one of Chris Ray's primary setup men.
Baez's deal hinges on the right-hander's passing a physical, which could happen as early as today. Though exact terms of the deal aren't known, it is believed the Orioles will pay between $5 million and $6 million per season for the 29-year-old pitcher, who has 111 saves in six big league seasons.
Reached last night, Orioles vice president Jim Duquette acknowledged that the club had made an offer to Greg Genske, Baez's agent, but wouldn't confirm that a deal had been finalized.
Baez, 5-6 last year with nine saves and a 4.53 ERA while pitching for the Braves and the Los Angeles Dodgers, was reportedly seeking an opportunity to be a closer, a role he held with the Cleveland Indians in 2003 and with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2004 and 2005.
The Orioles are committed to Ray as their closer, though the deal the club is believed to have reached with Baez is the latest proof of how serious the organization is about upgrading its relief corps, which had the second-worst ERA in the majors last season.
Last week, the Orioles signed Walker, a 35-year-old left-handed situational reliever, to a three-year deal worth $12 million. They also learned that one of their top bullpen targets, Toronto Blue Jays free-agent right-hander Justin Speier, turned down their three-year offer and signed a four-year, $18 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels.
Speier, Baez and Walker were considered three of the top setup men available on the market.
Duquette said last night that the club is still hoping to sign one more reliever before the winter meetings, which start next Monday in Orlando, Fla. The Orioles have made offers to the New York Mets' Chad Bradford, Florida Marlins' Joe Borowski and Chicago White Sox's Dustin Hermanson.
At this point, Borowski is the least likely candidate to join the Orioles, as he is seeking an opportunity to close.
Baez made the All-Star team in 2005 for Tampa Bay, going 5-4 with 41 saves in 49 opportunities and a 2.86 ERA.
Last year, he struggled after being acquired by the Dodgers in a preseason trade with Tampa Bay. While replacing injured closer Eric Gagne, Baez had nine saves in 16 opportunities for the Dodgers, who traded the pitcher to the Braves in late July in a deal that landed Los Angeles third baseman Wilson Betemit.
Baez went 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA in 11 games with the Braves before his season ended Aug. 23 after an emergency appendectomy.