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O's have window with two free agents

O's have window with free agents

Following a disappointing 98-loss campaign, the Orioles will have plenty of work to do this offseason if they hope to be competitive again in 2010. But not too much of that work will come in the way of their own free agents.

Thursday, the day after the end of the World Series, marks the beginning of the 15-day window when players with expiring contracts and six years of Major League service can file for free agency. It is only during that span that the clubs which eligible free agents finished off the prior season with have exclusive negotiating rights. After that, they are free to sign with any team.

Two Orioles players fall into that class this year -- left-hander Mark Hendrickson and righty Danys Baez.

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Hendrickson, the former NBA player and eight-year veteran, finished '09 with a 6-5 record and a 4.37 ERA in 53 games, 11 of them starts, in his first season in Baltimore. The 35-year-old is a resident of nearby York, Penn., and would reportedly like to re-sign with the team.

The Orioles could use him, too.

This year, six pitchers made Major League-debut starts for Baltimore, which is in desperate need of a few veteran arms to complement Jeremy Guthrie. Hendrickson's ERA this year was his best since 2006, while his bullpen ERA was 3.44, and his September ERA in seven games (four starts) was 3.55.

Hendrickson signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal with the Orioles last offseason and sports a career 5.00 ERA for five different teams. The 6-foot-9 Washington native apparently wants to come back, and the Orioles could at least use him as a long reliever and emergency starter.

Now the question is if the two will work it out -- something Hendrickson's agent believes will happen.

"There have been indications and a vibe that there is an interest in the Orioles in having him back, and Mark has made it clear that he has an interest in staying," Joe Urbon recently told The Baltimore Sun. "It has to work on both sides. That includes fit and role and economics. I don't see any reason that all three things can't be accomplished."

Baez had a bounce-back 2009 season after Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery knocked him out the entire year before. The 32-year-old had a 3.00 ERA in his first month back and finished the season 4-6 with a 4.02 ERA in 59 relief appearances -- second-most on the team.

Baez is at the end of a three-year, $19 million deal that paid him $5.5 million this past season. The native of Cuba, who sports a 4.04 ERA for five teams in eight years in the big leagues, will likely see a big pay cut from his previous contract, so he'd be a bit more affordable for the Orioles if they want to bring him back.

"He's very much enjoyed his time with the organization and would certainly entertain the prospect of returning," Baez's agent, Greg Genske, said.

"He will file for free agency at the conclusion of the World Series, but certainly keep an open mind and be willing to talk to the Orioles about possibly returning."

Baltimore has already declined its $8 million option on third baseman Melvin Mora's contract, as well as the $850,000 option for catcher Chad Moeller. The two can still re-sign with the club, and there is a pretty good chance Moeller can be brought back as Matt Wieters' backup behind the plate. Mora's nine-and-a-half-year run in Baltimore, however, is likely over.

In addition, left-hander Rich Hill, outfielder Jeff Fiorentino and catcher Guillermo Rodriguez refused their outright assignment to Triple-A Norfolk and elected to file for free agency on Tuesday after they were taken off the 40-man roster.

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

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