Ever since executive vice president Dan Duquette told reporters during the final homestand that the Orioles would tender a contract to Jim Johnson, there's been rampant speculation about the right-hander's role and whether he'd be part of the March 31 opening day ceremonies at Camden Yards.
Johnson is projected to make at least $10 million next season, which is a steep price for a closer. The Orioles gave no indication that they would move him into the rotation. In fact, Duquette stated three months ago that Johnson would remain the ninth-inning specialist.
But will Johnson remain in Baltimore?
FOX Sports is reporting that the Orioles are trying hard to trade Johnson, and that the Dodgers are in the mix.
The Orioles haven't been actively shopping shortstop J.J. Hardy and catcher Matt Wieters, but they're certainly more inclined to trade Johnson and rid themselves of his salary.
Johnson, who can become a free agent in 2015, has registered 101 saves over the past two seasons. He went 3-8 with a 2.94 ERA and 50 saves in 59 chances this year.
The Orioles' needs have been well-documented and include a left fielder, starting pitcher, second baseman and left-handed designated hitter.
A few days ago, I wrote about Tommy Hunter being the likeliest in-house candidate to close. The Orioles could dive into the free-agent market, which includes former Cardinals right-hander Edward Mujica.
Mujica, who earned $3.2 million this year, lost the closer's job to Trevor Rosenthal while allowing nine runs and 18 hits in 7 1/3 innings in September. He had a 1.73 ERA entering the final month and finished 2-1 with a 2.78 ERA and 37 saves, with only five walks and 46 strikeouts in 64 2/3 innings.
Mujica, who won't cost his new team a draft pick, has posted a 1.001 WHIP dating back to 2010. He isn't a big strikeout guy, but neither is Johnson.
Anyway, he would be a consideration if Johnson is dealt.
As for the midnight deadline to tender contracts, nothing has changed for the Orioles beyond today's news on Johnson. They still are expected to offer contracts to their group of eligible players, which includes pitchers Troy Patton, Brian Matusz, Tommy Hunter and Bud Norris, outfielders Nolan Reimold and Steve Pearce, first baseman Chris Davis and catcher Matt Wieters.
Duquette talked to Reimold's agent earlier today as the two sides attempted to hammer out an agreement.
In other news, the Athletics reportedly will sign left-hander Scott Kazmir to a two-year deal. ESPN.com places the value of the contract at $22 million.
I floated Kazmir's name past an Orioles official last month and was told the club had no interest.