Orioles focused on landing Twins shortstop J.J. Hardy

After pulling out of talks for Jason Bartlett, club also inquires about Brendan Ryan, Cesar Izturis

December 08, 2010|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — — A day after backing out of a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays that would have landed them shortstop Jason Bartlett, the Orioles turned their attention to the Minnesota Twins and a deal involving J.J. Hardy.

According to sources, the Orioles are discussing sending two minor league pitchers — neither of them considered among the organization's upper-echelon prospects — to the Twins for Hardy, a 28-year-old shortstop who batted .268 with six homers and 38 RBIs in 101 games last season.

There are some details that still need to be worked out, and the Orioles are apparently not the only suitor for Hardy, who is reportedly being pursued by the Pittsburgh Pirates as well. However, there is some optimism that a deal could get done.

The Orioles' exact offer isn't known, but minor league relievers Brett Jacobson and Jim Hoey are among the names that have been discussed, according to sources. Jacobson, a 24-year-old right-handed reliever, went 8-1 with a 2.79 ERA in 34 appearances for Single-A Frederick last season. Hoey, a 27-year-old right-hander who has struggled with injuries, went a combined 6-0 with a 3.25 ERA in 42 outings between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk.

"We've spent a lot of time with it," said Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail when asked about the club's search for their 2011 shortstop. "Whether we moved closer or not, we'll find out. But we spent a lot of time."

MacPhail acknowledged that he spoke to the Twins on Wednesday about Hardy, the Rays about Bartlett and the St. Louis Cardinals about displaced starter Brendan Ryan, along with meeting with the representatives of free agent Cesar Izturis, the Orioles' starting shortstop the past two seasons.

Bartlett, who was nearly an Oriole Tuesday before the club backed out of a deal that would have sent outfielder Nolan Reimold and reliever Alfredo Simon to the Rays, is close to being sent to the San Diego Padres for two relievers.

That leaves the Orioles' shortstop options down to Hardy, Ryan and Izturis. Hardy, who had his best season in 2008 when he batted .283 with 24 homers and 74 RBIs for the Milwaukee Brewers, appears to be their top option, though he has drawbacks as well.

He has struggled with injuries and has played 140 games or more in just two of his six big league seasons. Like Bartlett, Hardy is also in the final year of his contract and is due to get a raise over the $5.1 million that he earned last season. That — and the Twins' recent acquisition of middle infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka — have made Bartlett expendable in Minnesota, and an option for the Orioles.

"I've had conversations with [all three] teams," said MacPhail of the Twins, Cardinals and Rays. "That is one of the things that we'd like to sort through. That is higher on our priority list. The priority is to make a good deal when you can at whatever position, but we've spent a lot of time on that one. We've covered the landscape — free agent, trade."

MacPhail also continued to try to upgrade his bullpen, but he wasn't able to finalize deals with free agents Koji Uehara or Kevin Gregg, both of whom are mulling Orioles offers. MacPhail did meet for a second straight day with Mark Pieper, Uehara's agent.

Uehara, who is believed to have the Orioles as his first choice, is currently in Japan and MacPhail said that has slowed the process slightly. However, he disputed the notion that momentum from the Orioles' negotiations with relievers has been stalled.

"We're working at it," MacPhail said. "Whether it happens soon or whatever, we are continuing to work at it. That's one of the areas we've tried to be aggressive about improving."

The Orioles also remain in the hunt for a first baseman with the top two remaining targets being Derrek Lee and Adam LaRoche. The agents of both players have spoken with Oriole decision makers the past two days.

The list of available first basemen got shorter and less impressive Wednesday when Carlos Pena signed with the Chicago Cubs and Paul Konerko re-signed with the White Sox. But MacPhail said that neither move affected the Orioles' plans as they didn't make an offer to either player despite reports that suggested otherwise.

"Of all the spots that we felt we needed to improve, [first base is] the one area we probably have the greatest list of options and really a couple of different ways [to go]," MacPhail said.

MacPhail said that one option could be moving Luke Scott to first base and then signing one of the available designated hitters. The Orioles have talked to the agents for Vladimir Guerrero, Hideki Matsui and Jim Thome this week.

"Maneuvering around the positions is definitely something that we've talked about or thought about, what could happen in different scenarios, where guys will be moving around," MacPhail said. "That's definitely the case. In our view, even if all the first basemen went away, there are other viable options for us. We've had conversations with guys that I think you would characterize as DH's. It gets back to how some guys might move around."

The winter meetings at the Swan and Dolphin hotel end Thursday after the conclusion of the Rule 5 draft. MacPhail said that he isn't sure whether the club will make another move in addition to Monday's trade for slugging third baseman Mark Reynolds, but he's comfortable with the work that the front office has put in.

"We've had activity on both fronts," MacPhail said of trades and free agency. "I don't know that any of it is going to come in fruition, not just today but ever. We have been working towards some things."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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