The Orioles' bullpen is now fully stocked and the starting pitching staff has been buoyed by the addition of Jaret Wright. But as the Orioles' top executives survey an ever-changing roster, there remains a gaping hole in left field.
At a pre-winter meeting luncheon with local reporters yesterday at Camden Yards, executive vice president Mike Flanagan and vice president Jim Duquette said that the front office has taken on a singular focus since a flurry of activity this offseason has already landed the club seven new players. The goal is to find a power-hitting outfielder, whether it is through a trade or a free-agent signing.
"I would say that is probably at the top of the list," Flanagan said. "We'd like to add some more offense. We have to be a little creative in how we go about adding it, but we're pretty happy that it is just going on December and we've accomplished a lot."
While the Orioles' front office was able to overhaul its bullpen, largely by paying more than its competitors, finding an impact outfielder could be far more difficult. After failing to meet the price for sluggers Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee, the Orioles are left with an outfield group loaded with question marks.
Cliff Floyd is coming off offseason surgery and turns 34 next week. Trot Nixon is dogged by health and home run concerns. Jay Payton had three fewer home runs than Orioles designated hitter Jay Gibbons last season in 214 more at-bats. Aubrey Huff and Jose Guillen face questions about their character, and Luis Gonzalez is 39 and hit just 15 homers last season, his lowest total since 1997.
Orioles executives expressed some interest with all their agents, knowing that each player carries a significant risk. At this point, it appears Gonzalez and Floyd are at the top of the wish list, even though each would give the Orioles an all left-handed-hitting starting outfield, something Duquette said the club is not especially concerned about.
"This is where we have to be very cautious because there are some guys who signed last year that signed multi-year contracts in the same situation and now a year later, they are back on the trade market because it was viewed as a bad signing," Duquette said. "We don't want to be in that same situation."
Duquette said the Orioles, who also could use their pitching depth to make a trade, are unlikely to extend any deals longer than one or two years to any of the remaining free-agent outfielders. The club is aware that next year's free-agent market could include Andruw Jones, Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells.
"There are some guys that are only going to get offered a one-year contract," Duquette said. "But you can get creative in a multi-year deal, like what the Tigers did with Magglio Ordonez. If he had a health problem during certain times of the contract, they can void the remainder of the contract. There are those types of conversations, creative types of things that you can have. We are trying to sort through that."
Long expected to be a suitor for several of the top free-agent starting pitchers, Orioles executives are now saying that they will almost definitely not be in the running for the likes of Gil Meche, Jeff Suppan or Ted Lilly.
"I don't think it is a likely scenario," Duquette said of chasing one of the top starters.
One wild card could be St. Louis Cardinals free-agent pitcher Mark Mulder, who is coming off surgery to repair a partial tear in his rotator cuff and likely won't be available until May.
Duquette said that Mulder fits what the Orioles are "trying to do." Mulder's agent, Gregg Clifton, said the interest from the pitcher is mutual, though around a dozen other teams are also interested.