Decisions loom for Orioles with seven pending free agents

Club will weigh whether to bring back Wigginton, Uehara, Izturis, Patterson, Hendrickson, Millwood, Lugo

August 30, 2010|By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun

The Orioles are billed as a young team, one that is going to take its lumps until the inexperienced talent peaks together.

For such a squad, however, they have their share of free-agent decisions looming this offseason. Seven members of the 25-man roster can leave via free agency at season's end. It would have been 10, but the Orioles released Garrett Atkins and traded Miguel Tejada and Will Ohman this summer.

There are no headliners on the list; in fact, the club can't receive top compensation for any of its pending free agents. But there are several players the Orioles would like to keep around in the right situation, specifically infielder Ty Wigginton, reliever Koji Uehara and, to a lesser extent, shortstop Cesar Izturis, outfielder Corey Patterson and reliever Mark Hendrickson.

Starting pitcher Kevin Millwood and utility infielder Julio Lugo are also pending free agents, but most likely will not be back.

Final decisions won't be made until November or later, giving the players another month to impress president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail and new manager Buck Showalter.

"Obviously, you are going to be influenced by the play the rest of the way. How much weight you put on it? I don't think you would completely forget about everything that preceded it," MacPhail said. "But you are going to be influenced to some degree by the last month."

For the first time since 2004, the Orioles have a manager who wasn't with the organization, in some capacity, the previous year. Showalter, who took over Aug. 2, is still learning the club's personnel, though he has said repeatedly that what's left of the season will be about both evaluation and winning. Showalter, like any manager, will have input in shaping the 2011 team, MacPhail said.

"I think the manager should always have a lot of say as to the composition of his roster," MacPhail said. "There are really precious few times where there is a real difference of opinion, and that generally is something that gets resolved fairly quickly."

What likely won't be resolved quickly is the team's 2011 roster. MacPhail has made no secret that he believes the Orioles need to find a power hitter for the middle of the order; that won't happen until mid-November at the earliest, and, if recent club history is any indication, mid-to-late December is more likely.

Until the Orioles get a gauge on the power-hitter and pitching markets, they probably won't be overly aggressive with their own free agents. So it's possible no contracts will be offered until after players such as Wigginton and Uehara are seeking proposals from other teams.

"You are always willing to talk. So I wouldn't exclude" an early deal, MacPhail said. "But the players have gone this long, they kind of want to get a feel for what their market might be. Sometimes, the club has waited this long, they want to get a feel for what is going to be available to them."

Another option that seems unlikely is offering arbitration in hopes of getting compensatory draft picks for losing free agents. The official determinations have not been made, but the Orioles won't have any Type A -- or top-compensation -- free agents. Only Millwood and Uehara look as if they could qualify as Type B, and based on their current contracts, extending the arbitration option to them likely would not be cost-effective for the Orioles.

Although the club might not make final evaluations for months, here's an early look at the situation of each pending free agent.

Wigginton, 32: Both sides would like Wigginton to return. The club's lone All-Star leads the team in RBIs (63) and is second in homers (20), has played three infield positions and has batted in seven spots in the lineup.

"Wiggy has done a terrific job for us this year, and really, his defense has come along, particularly at first base," MacPhail said. "He has really developed into a pretty good defensive first baseman."

The problem is that the top power hitters on the market -- Adam Dunn, Carlos Pena, Victor Martinez, Paul Konerko and Derrek Lee, for instance -- fit best as first basemen. And the Orioles, at least for now, have committed to rookie Josh Bell at third base.

Wigginton, who is likely seeking at least a two-year deal, could be re-signed as a super-utility player, getting time at first base and designated hitter as well as spelling Brian Roberts at second and providing insurance for Bell.

But based on the season he has had and his reputation in baseball as a do-anything gamer, he likely will have offers with more guaranteed playing time. All things being equal, however, he would like to stay in Baltimore, a manageable drive to his year-round home in North Carolina.

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