The Orioles' newest player, reliever Danys Baez, hopes to get an opportunity to close some games in 2007. Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan discussed a scenario in which the club's current closer, Chris Ray, would need a day off after securing several victories in a row, and manager Sam Perlozzo could bring in Baez to continue a winning streak.
But other than that, as long as Ray is healthy, Baez, who signed a three-year, $19 million deal yesterday, will be used as a setup man to get the game to Ray with the Orioles still in the lead. It was the front office's latest move - and apparently not the last one - to bolster a bullpen that was the second worst in the major leagues last season.
"We haven't considered any other scenario than what it is - Ray as the closer and Baez as the chief setup man," Flanagan said. "We really want to build stability in the [bullpen] and have one we can depend on, and we took a big step today."
Baez, a 29-year-old right-hander, passed his physical yesterday and was announced as the Orioles' second free-agent addition, joining former Detroit Tigers left-handed setup man Jamie Walker. A third could be coming shortly as the Orioles are in the process of finalizing a three-year deal with New York Mets right-handed reliever Chad Bradford.
Baez acknowledged yesterday that he wants to be a closer, but for now, he'll have to settle for being paid like one. The three-year, $19 million deal from the Orioles makes Baez the second-highest-paid setup man in the league, behind New York Yankees right-hander Kyle Farnsworth.
"I want to be a closer," said Baez, who has 111 big league saves. "There's no question about it. That's what I like to do. But I am very happy to be here. I am very happy to help this team to win more games.
"Right now, I am going to be a setup man. I think Chris Ray did a great job last year here and he deserves the opportunity to be a closer. But I am going to be here, throwing the seventh, eighth and trying to win the game."
Baez, who has a 31-37 record and a 3.79 ERA in 341 appearances over six big league seasons, said that four or five teams were interested (the Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians reportedly were among them) and one made an offer similar to the Orioles'.
However, Baez wanted to return to the American League East, where he pitched two successful seasons with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Baez saved 30 games with a 3.57 ERA for the Devil Rays in 2004 and saved 41 games with a 2.86 ERA while making the All-Star team in 2005.
Baez struggled after being traded last season from the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Atlanta Braves in late July, compiling a 5.40 ERA in 11 games. He didn't pitch the last month of the season after having an appendectomy.
"I am healthy 100 percent," said Baez, who went 5-6 with nine saves and a 4.53 ERA in 57 games last year. "That was very good news today [after the physical], that I am healthy."
Flanagan said that Baez was at or near the top of the club's free-agent wish list and the Orioles were prepared to pay handsomely to secure his services.
"I would say the whole market across the board has been on the high side," Flanagan said. "In our situation, there was a dire need with the bullpen, and we're trying to go out and address it the best we can."
Flanagan said that the club is still hoping to add more depth to its relief corps. One industry source said last night that the Orioles and Bradford, a 32-year-old right-hander who went 4-2 with a 2.90 ERA for the Mets last season, were "close" to reaching agreement on a deal.
Rex Gary, Bradford's agent, acknowledged yesterday afternoon that he has had ongoing discussions with the Orioles, though more than 10 teams have expressed interest in his client and he had no timetable for making a decision.
"The Orioles have been certainly in touch," Gary said. "We'll see where it goes. All along, if the right situation comes in front of Chad and he wants to do the deal, we'll do it."
If the Orioles were to finalize a deal with Bradford, that would allow the front office to concentrate on filling vacancies at first base and left field. The Orioles have a one-year deal on the table to first baseman Kevin Millar, who is seeking a two-year contract. It's possible the two sides could bridge the gap with a one-year deal plus an option year.
David Dellucci became the latest free-agent outfielder to leave the market as he signed with the Cleveland Indians yesterday, making the Orioles' free-agent outfield options even thinner. The club has been in touch with the representatives of free-agent outfielders Jay Payton, Cliff Floyd, Trot Nixon, Aubrey Huff and Jose Guillen among others, but at this point, the Orioles haven't made a concrete offer to any of them, according to industry sources.
"We have an interest in Baltimore, but it's not too far along," said Craig Landis, the agent for the Oakland Athletics' Payton. "We would consider Baltimore, but all we've done so far is [that] they have said they might be interested in Jay and we said we are willing to listen."
Flanagan said the club is still confident it will add a solid hitter through a trade or free agency.
"Some of the more noticeable players have been taken off the board, but we think there are still other avenues certainly with possible trades and some free agents, and maybe have to look at some more longer-shot offensive-type players," Flanagan said. "We still think there are some people to be had."