Giants Take O's Prospect

Club Loses Right-hander Johnson In Rule 5 Draft

December 11, 2009|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec , jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

INDIANAPOLIS - -Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail headed home from the winter meetings Thursday with a veteran pitcher at the top of his rotation, plenty of options to fill other holes and one fewer prospect from his stable of young arms.

In the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft Thursday, the San Francisco Giants selected right-hander Steve Johnson, 22, the local product who was acquired with Josh Bell from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the George Sherrill deal in July. Johnson, a St. Paul's graduate and son of former Orioles pitcher Dave Johnson, was 3-2 with a 2.84 ERA in seven starts for Double-A Bowie.

The Giants will have to keep Johnson on their 25-man roster for the duration of the 2010 season or offer him back to the Orioles.

"We knew it was a possibility. The kid is clearly a prospect," MacPhail said. "There were 17 guys that were selected, and the odds are that maybe a quarter of them might stick or they make a trade to keep them in the system. It's part of the game. It's a reflection our initial judgment was not wrong in thinking the kid is a prospect. We just don't think he's that close" to being ready for the major leagues.

Johnson was sleeping when the pick was made, but his father woke him and delivered the news.

"It can't be bad," Johnson said. "Worst case, I come back to the Orioles, and that's not such a bad thing. It's an opportunity I didn't think I would get this soon."

Though losing Johnson cast a slight shadow on the meeting's final day, MacPhail said he was pleased with what the front office was able to accomplish this week. MacPhail went into the meetings not expecting to make any additions or trades. He figured that if the Orioles did make a move, it would be filling a corner infield spot.

Instead, MacPhail found an elusive veteran starter and innings eater by acquiring right-hander Kevin Millwood from the Texas Rangers for reliever Chris Ray and left-handed pitcher Ben Snyder, whom the Orioles took Thursday in the Rule 5 draft at the Rangers' request.

"We got what probably was our first priority done," MacPhail said of acquiring a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. "We've got more work to do, but we're very pleased."

Even with the addition of Millwood, MacPhail said the Orioles are still in the market for pitching. With two potential 200-inning starters in Millwood and Jeremy Guthrie, MacPhail said the club is in good position to take a risk on a pitcher with previous injuries, such as the team's former ace, Erik Bedard. The Orioles met with Bedard's agent, Mark Pieper, at the meetings, and he'll remain a target unless the team is discouraged by his medical records.

In the bullpen, the Orioles are expected to bring back versatile left-hander Mark Hendrickson, and they remain in search of a situational left-hander and closer. Their closer options diminished slightly during the past couple of days with Rafael Betancourt accepting arbitration, free agents Brandon Lyon and LaTroy Hawkins finding teams, and Rafael Soriano and Matt Lindstrom getting traded.

However, Jose Valverde, Fernando Rodney, Mike Gonzalez and Kevin Gregg remain on the free-agent market, and few teams are in search of closers. The Orioles met with the agents of Valverde, Rodney and Gregg, and it appears Rodney is at the top of their list.

"We're still hopeful that we can address it," MacPhail said. "There is a finite market of teams that need that, and there are a finite number of closers, but we're OK."

As for position players, the Orioles lost what was believed to be their top free-agent target at third base when Pedro Feliz signed Thursday with the Houston Astros. With Adrian Beltre wanting major dollars and to stay on the West Coast, their remaining free-agent options include Mark DeRosa, Joe Crede and Troy Glaus, though the latter two bring health risks.

The Orioles have engaged in trade talks with the San Diego Padres about Kevin Kouzmanoff and had brief discussions with the Florida Marlins about Dan Uggla. The Orioles are also considering the Colorado Rockies' Garrett Atkins, who is expected to be nontendered.

It's less clear what the Orioles are going to do at first base, but options include Carlos Delgado, Russell Branyan, Nick Johnson, Hank Blalock, Mike Jacobs and Adam LaRoche. The Orioles met with the agents of Branyan and LaRoche at the meetings, and MacPhail has spoken by phone with Rex Gary, Johnson's representative.

"You never know the exact timetable, but I think things industry-wide will start to pick up over the next week or so," MacPhail said. "I think there will be a lot of activity between now and Christmas."

Notes:: In the minor league portion of the draft, the Orioles selected right-handed pitcher Jose Duran for the Triple-A Norfolk roster and lost infielder Rodolfo Cardona to the Pittsburgh Pirates and left-handed pitcher Jake Stevens to the Giants. Duran, 24, pitched for Single-A Lancaster in the Astros' organization in 2009, going 2-5 with an 8.06 ERA in 27 appearances (seven starts).

Baltimore Sun reporter Peter Schmuck contributed to this article.

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