During a forum at the Orioles' FanFest on Saturday afternoon, an audience member asked president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail whether there was any update on the team's pursuit of free-agent designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who was sitting to the left of MacPhail on the dais, leaned exaggeratedly out of his chair and cupped his ear toward his boss, as the fans in attendance laughed.
Despite all the additions to the Orioles' 2011 roster this offseason, Guerrero, a one-time Most Valuable Player and dangerous right-handed slugger who hit 29 homers for the Texas Rangers last season, was the talk of club's annual winter gathering.
The Orioles are searching for a starting pitcher and a left-handed reliever, but with Guerrero still available and few teams needing a designated hitter, the Orioles have offered the slugger a one-year deal worth between $3 million and $5 million and are waiting to see what happens.
"We're wondering, too, to some degree," MacPhail said. "We do have several conversations going on with different players, as you would think at this time of year. As a practical matter, I've already exceeded the number that [owner Peter Angelos] and I had focused on by the end of last year, and he's continued to encourage me to look and see what is out there and available to us. That's what we're doing."
The Orioles have added first baseman Derrek Lee, shortstop J.J. Hardy and third baseman Mark Reynolds to bolster their lineup, but signing Guerrero could take the offense to another level.
"He would mean that you don't have to worry about a cleanup hitter. You put him in fourth, and then you work around him," center fielder Adam Jones said. "Most teams that win, they have a guy hitting fourth every day. You need that in your lineup. Stability."
Showalter joked several times about adding Guerrero, telling fans he was "collecting donations" and later saying that he has composed a few lineups already but "I hope I get to use my eraser in the next week or two."
When asked about Guerrero's timetable, MacPhail said: "I don't really get the sense that he is close to something. I don't know. We never really know exactly the extent of other clubs' interest in other players, but I don't get the sense that they are ready to do anything in the very near future."
Jones, for one, highly endorses adding Guerrero.
"Why not? I am tired of chasing the [stuff] he hits."
Several Orioles at FanFest are coming off injuries, and all said they are ready to go. Second baseman Brian Roberts (back and concussion) said he hasn't felt this good in more than a year. Right-handers Jim Johnson and Brad Bergesen, who dealt with arm injuries in 2010, said they should not have any problems heading into spring training.
"It's been a complete turnaround. Last year, I don't even think I was throwing at this point. I hadn't picked up a ball yet versus now," Bergesen said. "I've thrown about six [bullpen sessions] so far, and the arm has felt healthy, really good. Hopefully, it's one of the things that I can carry on into the season."
Jake Arrieta, who has a bone spur in his elbow that he decided not to have removed this winter, said he has been on a long-toss program and his arm feels strong.
"Everything is coming out nice and easy. I want to get on the mound two more times in the offseason, maybe three," the righty said. "I'm ready to get down to Sarasota and get going."
Pitching prospect Brandon Erbe, who had right labrum surgery in August, has been throwing long tosses for several weeks and expects to get onto a mound in about a week. He hopes to be pitching in games by the end of spring training.
"I'm not too far behind compared to where some of the other guys are," said Erbe, a McDonogh graduate. "[The shoulder] feels good. It feels stable for the first time in a couple years. It feels attached all the time. The strength isn't quite there yet, but I'll get there by throwing."
Two Orioles were visibly slimmer Saturday.
Right-hander Jason Berken, who was shut down in August with shoulder inflammation, said he has dropped 30 pounds this winter by working out harder in Atlanta and eating better. He has cut out fried foods and fast food — though the Wisconsin native acknowledges he'll have a bratwurst on Super Bowl Sunday when his beloved Green Bay Packers play the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Berken said being off for a few months made him realize how much he loves pitching and how important it is to stay in good shape.
"My conditioning level has been at an all-time high, and my diet has been a lot better," said Berken, who said he would like to be a starter again but enjoyed pitching in relief in 2010. "I had a little extra time with my injury, and I wanted to use that time wisely. And I have been able to drop some bad weight."