Lighting flames for hot stove season

GM meetings in California set stage for later deals

November 03, 2008|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

The Orioles need to find several starting pitchers and a shortstop. They're expected to seek trade partners for catcher Ramon Hernandez and enigmatic starter Daniel Cabrera. They'll likely be in on at least the early bidding for marquee free agents Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett, and less high-profile ones, such as Paul Byrd and Jon Garland.

The unofficial start of the hot stove season will begin today at baseball's general managers meetings in Dana Point, Calif. Orioles president Andy MacPhail will arrive with an extensive to-do list. However, he said the four-day period is far more about setting up the rest of the offseason than making significant moves.

"I think you're looking for people that might match up with you, that would have what we are looking for and might be interested in the things that we could give up," MacPhail said. "I always find you get more done in these face-to-face sessions than over the phone. You're really just trying to lay the groundwork for areas that might be a match."

Trades are rare at the annual GM meetings, though the Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies did agree at last year's event to the deal that sent closer Brad Lidge to the eventual world champions. If another deal goes down this week at the St. Regis Resort, MacPhail, one of the most deliberate general managers in baseball, is probably one of the least likely decision-makers to be involved. He listened to offers for shortstop Miguel Tejada and ace pitcher Erik Bedard at last year's GM meetings but didn't trade either player until much later in the offseason.

Per league rules, teams will not be allowed to make offers to free agents until Nov. 14. However, teams are allowed to meet with representatives for free agents to express interest in their clients and discuss certain generalities.

This week, MacPhail will likely try to touch base with Scott Boras and Darek Braunecker, the agents for Teixeira and Burnett, respectively. Teixeira, a slugging first baseman from Severna Park, is one of the top bats on the free-agent market and is expected to garner interest from the game's biggest spenders.

Burnett, a talented right-handed pitcher who is expected to opt out of his contract with the Toronto Blue Jays to become a free agent, also will be coveted, but he's believed to have interest in coming to Baltimore because he has a house in the area.

MacPhail declined to identify the agents he plans to meet with, saying only: "We'll have a couple of those meetings [with agents]. We'll let them know that we'll be interested once the period expires when you can talk terms.

"I think I've been pretty clear that we don't look at free agency as a panacea. We're not going to be able to buy our way out. We need to increase our foundation of talent."

The quickest way to do that is via trade, though the Orioles aren't exactly overflowing with bargaining chips. Two-time All-Star second baseman Brian Roberts would generate interest from many teams, but the Orioles' first priority is to sign him to a long-term contract extension. All-Star closer George Sherrill could also be an attractive commodity, though the Orioles might want to hold on to the left-hander because of concerns over whether relievers Chris Ray and Jim Johnson have bounced back from their respective elbow and shoulder injuries.

The Orioles would love to move Hernandez, paving the way for top prospect Matt Wieters to assume the starting catcher spot for the 2009 season. However, Hernandez's defensive struggles this past season and high price tag could make that difficult. The same goes for Cabrera, who could be nontendered if the Orioles can't find a taker.

MacPhail doesn't comment specifically on players but made it clear the Orioles will focus on adding starting pitching and a shortstop. The San Diego Padres' Khalil Greene, the Milwaukee Brewers' J.J. Hardy and the Pittsburgh Pirates' Jack Wilson are among the shortstops the Orioles are considering pursuing in trades.

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