Latest O's pitching addition may be last

Latest pitching addition may be last

BALTIMORE -- Right after celebrating the addition of one starting pitcher, the Orioles announced their intention to switch gears on their offseason strategy. Baltimore president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said Wednesday that the Orioles may not be able to add another accomplished arm to support Jeremy Guthrie and Koji Uehara.

That adjustment came about by necessity more so than free choice. The Orioles were unable to come to terms with veterans like Tim Redding and Japanese free agent Kenshin Kawakami, and right after holding a news conference to welcome Uehara, MacPhail was asked where the team stands on making further pitching moves.

"I think that we're going to have to monitor the market," said MacPhail. "We're now within a month of the reporting date for pitchers and catchers. We're going to have to balance any veteran inning-eaters with trying to find out about those young pitchers that we had last year, whether it be [Garrett] Olson or [Radhames] Liz or [Chris] Waters. I don't know that we're going to want to get so veteran-loaded that we preclude the opportunity of getting some innings to those guys.

"But at the same time, if things that make sense to you open up -- opportunities that might evolve as the market starts to reach its final stage -- we're also going to be very cognizant of that and balance it, too."

That strategy, though based in reality, reflects a subtle change. MacPhail had consistently said that he'd like to find competition for those arms and that he'd like to avoid handing anyone a job. And now that the veteran ranks have thinned out, he sees that his internal options may be just as good as any he can find on the open market.

The Orioles elected not to tender Daniel Cabrera a contract earlier this winter, ending his five-year run in the rotation. MacPhail has preached patience with the team's next wave of pitching prospects -- a group that includes Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta -- but wants to make sure he fairly evaluates Liz and Olson in the process.

Hot Stove

Baltimore will also have Matt Albers and Troy Patton returning from shoulder injuries, but MacPhail isn't sure what to expect from them during Spring Training. The Orioles have also mentioned veteran reliever Danys Baez and free-agent acquisition Mark Hendrickson as potential stopgap starters, giving the team some options.

"Our Spring Training is going to be tough. We've got, like, 33 or 34 pitchers in camp," said MacPhail. "We're going to have to try to find a way to get them enough innings where we can try to make the best determinations. And, as always, when you start, you want to be flexible. You don't want to lock yourselves in to potentially losing players under options."

With that last thought, MacPhail may have been referring to Hayden Penn, a longtime prospect who has seen his status waver in recent seasons due to bad luck, ineffective pitching and a few poorly timed injuries.

Away from the pitching front, the Orioles may be about to make a breakthrough. Baltimore has been heavily linked to catcher Gregg Zaun, and MacPhail admitted Wednesday that he may be close to announcing a deal. Things aren't quite as clear at first base, and MacPhail said the Orioles may well end up sticking with the incumbent option.

That would be Aubrey Huff, who won the American League's Silver Slugger Award as a designated hitter last year but has said on multiple occasions that he would like to play the field. If Baltimore isn't able to sign a modestly priced bat like Ty Wigginton or Eric Hinske, MacPhail would just as soon stay with Huff at first base.

"We did have to find a catcher," said MacPhail. "We don't necessarily have to find a first baseman because we have a very attractive alternative in house. But there are a lot of moving pieces to that puzzle. We have time. We still have a lot of players that are out there and we still have different options that we're evaluating."

Baltimore has inked multiple players to compete for a utility slot, chief among them being big league veterans Chris Gomez and Jolbert Cabrera. The Orioles have also brought in multiple contenders for the backup catching slot, and MacPhail said that this year's free market may yet yield some late-breaking surprises.

"I would call it slow -- and maybe slower than we're used to -- but it's been slowing down the last few years," he said. "It used to be unheard of that there were players out there in Jaunary, but now it seems to be more of a common theme. When I was with the Cubs, we didn't sign Greg Maddux until, like, Feburary 3 or February 7.

"It just seems like the trend of the game is that it's slowing down."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.