With news that the Texas Rangers won the posting rights to Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish, speculation has arisen that the Rangers may not be able to afford free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder.
If that’s true, then the market for the last remaining free agent stud has shrunk -- and perhaps cracked open for a fringe suitor such as the Orioles. And at least one national writer has speculated that the Orioles are still in on the Fielder sweepstakes.
My take: Nope, not yet. Probably not ever. Sure, the Orioles would love to have more power in their lineup, Fielder’s only 27 and the big man’s left-handed stroke is tailor-made for Camden Yards. Plus, the club is thin -- pardon the pun -- on star power. So it looks like a fit from afar.
But close up, not so much. The Orioles aren’t going to give eight or more years or $18 or more million per year to a Fielder. Just isn’t going to happen. Now, if Fielder’s suitors dry up and his demands come down dramatically -- which I really doubt will occur -- the Orioles’ antennae will go up. But they're not up now, at last not according to the people I talk to. If they are going to spend for what’s left on the market, it will be for pitching. And that’s far from a certainty.
That said, I think if the Orioles are going to be stealth on a Boras client, it will be right-hander Edwin Jackson. He’s 28, has bounced around to six teams and surely would like some stability. He’s considered an underachiever with immense talent, and the hope in Jackson’s camp is that his performance down the stretch with the St. Louis Cardinals (5-2, 3.58 ERA in 13 games) is a sign of things to come.
Dan Duquette said he’s comfortable with the Orioles’ unwritten rule of no contracts beyond three years to free-agent pitchers. But there’s also the sentiment within the organization that four years to Jackson isn’t as much of a risk due to his age -- since most pitchers don’t hit free agency until their 30s.
Jackson is the best starting pitcher left on the market, and plenty of teams need starters, so my guess is the Orioles won’t be the last club standing. But I think, at this point, Jackson would be more of a target than Fielder.
Another free-agent starting pitcher who has been considered is Roy Oswalt. The Orioles have loved him for years and thought they had a deal for him (for Miguel Tejada) when he was in Houston. Oswalt is 34 and made just 23 starts in 2011 for the Philadelphia Phillies because of a balky back (but was still 9-10 with a 3.63 ERA).
The good news is that Oswalt apparently isn’t seeking a three-year deal anymore, according to ESPN.com. The bad news is if he wants a one-year, make-good deal to show he is healthy, Baltimore is probably the worst place for that. It’s the wrong division and the wrong ballpark for a pitcher wanting to post great numbers. So you can scratch him off your list, too, if he is seeking a one-year contract.
Another guy not to scratch off your list is Taiwanese lefty Chen Wei-yen. We asked Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette last week about Chen, and Duquette said he didn’t know much about him. Duquette was being coy and/or evasive. But don’t believe for a minute that Duquette drew a blank at Chen’s name.
One thing I have learned about Duquette so far is that he is exceptionally well-versed in international players. Plus, the Orioles scouted Chen last September, so the organization has reports on him. Plenty of teams are interested in the 26-year-old who pitches in Japan, so I am not saying he is a slam-dunk to come to Baltimore. But the Orioles continue to have dialogue about Chen internally and externally.
If the Orioles make a move of significance in the near future, I still believe it will come via trade. And I still believe Jeremy Guthrie and Mark Reynolds are the club’s best trade chips.
Well, Adam Jones is the team’s best trade chip. But unless the Orioles get a front-line pitcher in return, I don’t see them dealing Jones. The Atlanta Braves made a run this month, offering second baseman-outfielder Martin Prado, starter Jair Jurrjens and, eventually, a pitching prospect, and the Orioles didn’t bite. So that tells you just how much they value their center fielder. (Jurrjens looked like a front-line starter in the first half of 2011, but there have been some durability concerns surrounding the 25-year-old righty since his 215-inning season in 2009.)
One last thing: I am going to be spending the next couple days preparing for Christmas (have bought just one gift so far) and not ignoring my kids. So the beat will be in the good hands of columnist Peter Schmuck. I expect to blog a Prediction Friday, but otherwise I’ll be a full-time dad until after Christmas.
Enjoy the holidays and be safe.