Fine print on Baltimore’s newest reliever

Mike Gonzalez may not have been assured of the closer’s job in Baltimore, but he’ll certainly be paid like a bona fide relief ace. Gonzalez will be paid a base salary of $6 million in each of the next two years, but his 2011 wage can increase by $1 million if he’s Baltimore’s team leader in the Rolaids relief standings. Gonzalez can also earn $50,000 in incentives for being an All-Star and $100,000 for being named the Cy Young Award-winner (and $50,000 for second or third place.) Gonzalez also has $50,000 in incentives for winning a Gold Glove or being the Most Valuable Player in the league championship series or the World Series.

— Spencer Fordin

Orioles, Millwood ball moving forward

Two front-office sources have confirmed the initial report of the Kevin Millwood trade, signalling that Texas and Baltimore may only be an approved medical report away from making things official. The Rangers seem set to send Millwood and cash considerations to the Orioles in exchange for former closer Chris Ray, who is coming off a down year after an elbow injury.

The timetable for the team to review the medical reports is unknown, and it could take as little as a few hours or as much as a few days. Texas will likely be interested in the condition of Ray’s shoulder, which was repaired in 2007 and caused him to miss the 2008 season.

Baltimore, meanwhile, will want to check out the wear-and-tear associated with Millwood’s arm, an appendage that has logged more than 2,000 innings over his career. If everything passes muster, Millwood will give the Orioles another veteran arm at the top of the rotation to help support highly touted youngsters Brad Bergesen, Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz.

— Spencer Fordin

Orioles may be nearing Millwood deal

Baltimore has been talking with Texas about a potential deal for Kevin Millwood all week, and at least one published report has them close to nearing completion. <i>The Baltimore Sun</i> reported Wednesday afternoon that the Orioles are close to sending reliever Chris Ray to Texas in exchange for Millwood, who has one year remaining on a lucrative contract.

Millwood, set to make $12 million next season, would help Jeremy Guthrie mentor one of the youngest pitching staffs in the league. Texas would also send an undisclosed amount of cash considerations to Baltimore in the deal designed to help balance out the scales. Ray, a former closer, struggled last year in his return from surgery on his pitching elbow. 

— Spencer Fordin

Orioles eye another import

A representative for veteran Japanese player Toshihisa Nishi approached the Orioles about a possible Minor League job, and Baltimore is reviewing whether it has room to offer him a contract to play for Triple-A Norfolk. Nishi, a three-time All-Star and a four-time Gold Glover in Japan, is also a former teammate of Koji Uehara’s with the Yomiuri Giants.

Nishi, who most recently played for the Yokohama Baystars, has manned second base exclusively for much of the last decade. The 38-year-old originally tried to come stateside right before the 2005 season but couldn’t find a contract to his liking. This time, Nishi is just looking for a Minor League deal with an invite to Spring Training.

— Spencer Fordin

Orioles eye Soriano after unique gambit

Rafael Soriano may have accepted arbitration from the Braves, but that may not have ended Baltimore’s pursuit of the late-inning reliever. Soriano has reportedly given the Braves written permission to trade him, and Atlanta may be inclined to grant him his wish.

The Braves signed Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito before the Winter Meetings began, giving them less room in the bullpen and less financial wherewithal to keep another reliever. And Soriano, gauging the market, figured he might be better served to accept arbitration.

Where does that leave the Orioles? Baltimore had been interested in Soriano as a potential free agent addition and wasn’t deterred by the fact that signing him would cost them a second-round draft pick. Now, that draft pick is no longer part of the equation.

The hurdle remaining is whether the Orioles can entice the Braves to deal Soriano. The veteran will likely receive a hefty raise next year, and the Orioles are well positioned to absorb the price. The question, of course, is what it will cost in terms of a potential return and whether they can find a comparable reliever for free on the open market. 

— Spencer Fordin

Orioles may be cooling on Millwood

There are multiple teams embroiled in the Kevin Millwood sweepstakes with the Rangers, but the Orioles appear to have faded from a favorite to just another contender. The two teams have exchanged names of pitching prospects that could be sent from Baltimore to Texas, but there appears to be a cavernous gulf between what the Rangers want and what they can get.

This much is certain: The Rangers and Orioles match up well in terms of money. Texas is trying to shed some salary and Baltimore has plenty of room in the budget as well as a pressing need for starting pitching. The Rangers reportedly asked the Orioles for Chris Tillman, while Baltimore would prefer to trade David Hernandez or Brandon Erbe.

Now, the two teams will either try to find a middle ground or move on to other pursuits.

— Spencer Fordin

Baltimore, Toronto executives make fast  friends

Andy MacPhail, Baltimore’s president of baseball operations, may not have completed any deals at the first day of the Winter Meetings, but he did receive a flattering tribute from one of his peers. Alex Anthopoulos, Toronto’s new general manager, said that MacPhail has been generous with his time and with his advice during his first few months on the job.

Anthopoulos relayed an anecdote about the GM Meetings and said that he began to grow more comfortable after a sitdown with several of his veteran peers. MacPhail was part of that group, and a burgeoning friendship may have been born that day.

“I’ll tell you about Andy,” said Anthopoulos. “I didn’t know him before I got this job, but he’s a class act. He’s a real gentlemen. I told him just sitting at that table with those guys, just shooting the breeze for an hour, they made me feel like I was part of the group and part of them. I think they all understand there’s a respect level. They all understand. I think when you get to the position you’re in, they understand that you’ve certainly put in your time.”

MacPhail was surprised to hear about the Anthopoulos comments, and typical to his self-deprecating nature, he deflected them as best as he could.

“He asked my opinion on a couple things and advice on things I had gone through,” he said. “I just told him what I know and what I did. He’s got a lot on his plate. I think he was just looking for one of the older guys. I’m one of the older guys now. It’s hard to believe.”

— Spencer Fordin

Orioles not sure where to slot Scott

As Baltimore’s roster stands right now, there’s a bit of a redundancy at left field and DH. Manager Dave Trembley said Monday that it’s a nice problem to have, and he downplayed the possibility of solving the problem by playing Nolan Reimold or Luke Scott at first base.

Scott auditioned for the role in September, but Trembley said Monday that he’d much prefer to slot the veteran at either left field or designated hitter. The only problem there is the twin presence of Reimold and Felix Pie, who figure to split time next season.

“I think it’s a nice thing to be able to sort out, especially the way Pie played the second half of the season,” he said. “Unfortunately, he got to play a lot because [Adam] Jones was hurt. But I know there is a lot of interest in Pie [and] you’ve got to like what Reimold did. You still have Luke Scott. I think as we get closer towards Spring Training, it will all sort itself out.”

Pie represents the best defender out of the three, as well as the player with the highest upside. The Orioles will likely allow him to take the lion’s share of at-bats in left, and Trembley said that he doesn’t want to try to convert Reimold to first base in Spring Training.

“I’m not totally against it,” he said. “I just don’t know how practical that is in a short period of time in Spring Training, teaching a guy to play first base at the Major League level who has never done it before. I think in a perfect situation, it probably would’ve been better — if he had been healthy — maybe we could have sent him to Instructional League or Winter Ball. …I’m sure that’s probably going to be discussed in the next day or so about Reimold.”

— Spencer Fordin

Baltimore seeking closure on closer

Baltimore manager Dave Trembley spoke at length about his team’s pursuit of a veteran relief ace on Monday, framing it as insurance for his young rotation and a way to get the most out of the returning talent in his bullpen. Trembley said that he’d rather not rely on Jim Johnson or Koji Uehara as his closer, preferring instead to slot them earlier in the game.
“If you don’t get a closer, now you come into Spring Training kind of unsettled again and you might have to take a look at JJ there,” said Trembley, who grew comfortable with Johnson as his setup man. “You might have to take a look at what Chris Ray does. But if you go out and get a closer, then I think you can kind of line up the back end of your bullpen.”
As for Uehara, Trembley said he’s at a bit of a loss. Uehara spent most of his career in Japan as a starter and struggled with hamstring and elbow ailments last year in his stateside transition. Now, Trembley wants to see him healthy before he decides his role.
“To be honest with you, I don’t know what to say about Koji,” he said. “I think you have to see Koji come into Spring Training and see if he’s healthy. I think you’ve got to get him in Spring Training and see if he’s healthy and then decide what’s best for him and where he fits in with the team. It’s hard for me to say right now because he ended the season hurt.”

All quiet on the Orioles front

The first morning of the Winter Meetings has passed with nary a peep out of Baltimore’s front office. John Stockstill, the team’s director of international scouting, was seen walking the lobby over the last few hours, but not much has been bandied about along the corridors.

That silence will inevitably end later in the day, though, when manager Dave Trembley holds a press briefing at 2:30 p.m. and Andy MacPhail, the team’s president of baseball operations, meets with the local media in his hotel suite at 6 p.m.

The Orioles, who are looking for a first baseman, a third baseman, a starting pitcher and a closer, aren’t necessarily likely to do something big over the next three days. Baltimore is waiting for the market to set itself and will likely be interested in Saturday’s non-tender date, which will swell the ranks of free agency with several more compelling candidates.