DALLAS — — If Dan Duquette accomplishes his goal this week during baseball's annual winter meetings, he will leave here with an improved pitching staff that is fortified by trades.
He wants to bolster the bullpen and rotation, yet still hold on to three of his most marketable hitters, catcher Matt Wieters, center fielder Adam Jones and right fielder Nick Markakis.
And Duquette said he would be reluctant to trade a chunk of his young pitching, even if it hasn't yet performed to its capabilities.
"Obviously, there is some interest in the young pitching, which is encouraging. I think that is encouraging because they are our pitchers," said Duquette Monday in his hotel suite. "My goal is to add to the pitching staff. And if I'm adding to the pitching staff, while at the same time I am giving away young pitching, then I don't know that I am accomplishing too much for the Orioles."
Pulling off a deal or several will take creativity since the trade chips are obviously limited. Starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, a pending free agent, has value, but his departure would also hurt the rotation. Infielder Mark Reynolds could be available and Duquette admitted that infielder Robert Andino has been "popular" on other teams' wish lists.
Duquette said he met with a dozen clubs on Monday, had conversations with about six more and had a couple more meetings scheduled Monday evening. The focus of his day, he said, was on trades — and roughly 65 percent of that centered on adding pitching, both for the rotation and bullpen.
He anticipates that by Wednesday several deals will be made industry-wide and he hopes the Orioles will be among the participants. He wouldn't name names, but several starting pitchers have been rumored to be on the trade block, including Houston's Wandy Rodriguez, the Chicago Cubs' Matt Garza and the Chicago White Sox duo of John Danks and Gavin Floyd.
"We are in on a couple of (potential trades) and whether we can close the deal or not, I guess that's why we are here, right?" Duquette said.
He also said he met with representatives of several free agents, but the club isn't likely to sign a top-tier free agent pitcher given the likelihood that a C.J. Wilson or a Mark Buehrle will receive a contract lasting four years or more.
The Orioles don't typically offer deals beyond three years to free-agent pitchers and neither has Duquette in his career. He's extended his own pitchers' contracts, he said, but not for free agents. It's usually not worth the financial risk, he said.
"We are in play for a couple of players that we think can help our team and fit into our market," he said. "We are trying to make value-based investment decisions to improve our team."
That also goes for hitters, so a big fish such as slugging first baseman Prince Fielder is not really in the plans despite rumors that keep attaching the Orioles to him.
"People want to talk about Fielder because they think he is a good matchup with the city because he is left-handed and playing with the short porch beneath the warehouse. So they're talking about it," Duquette said. "We do have some interest on a number of free agents. I am not sure why it keeps coming back to Prince Fielder."
Manager Buck Showalter, when asked Monday whether the Orioles would sign fielder, he said, "No, leave it to the big boys."
Ultimately, Duquette said, he believes pitching is a bigger priority for the Orioles at this time.
"We've got a lot of work to do to build our pitching staff. We were in the middle of the pack this past year with runs scored. If we are going to be a championship team we are going to have to increase our offense," he said. "But I will tell you right now we're probably going to direct more of our resources into pitching this time around than we are other positions because of the needs of the team."
Duquette said he understands the importance of trying to hold onto players that have become fan favorites, but that isn't always possible. As general manager of the Montreal Expos in 1993 he dealt away one of the club's most popular players, former first-round pick Delino DeShields, for pitcher Pedro Martinez, who became one of the best hurlers in the last 20 years.
"My experience is if I explain to the fans what we are trying to do and they can keep an eye on how we are executing, according to the plan you've laid out for them, they like that," Duquette said. "They like to follow the progress of the team that way.
"It's hard to trade players that are real popular in the market, right? And we have some players that are real popular in the market. But we haven't had a team in a while that the whole fanship embraced. And really that's what I am trying to do. We are trying to put together a team that the fans can embrace, that wins more games than it loses."
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