Duquette: "We're trying to win now"

Stop me if you've heard this one:

The Orioles are focused on signing a starting pitcher.

It could be Bronson Arroyo, now that he's willing to settle for a two-year deal. It could be A.J. Burnett, though the allure of being close to home doesn't have him crawling on hands and knees to the warehouse.

It could be Korean right-hander Suk-min Yoon, but he's not the innings-eater and proven major league veteran that executive vice president Dan Duquette has been targeting since the free agent market opened for business.

"We've been looking for a veteran starter to bolster our staff all winter, and hopefully we'll be able to sign one," Duquette said last night on WBAL Radio. "We've been trying this winter. We just haven't quite got it done yet.

"Every pitcher that we are involved in, that we're trying to recruit to come to Baltimore, there's four or five teams on each of these pitchers, and that tells you there just aren't quite enough quality skilled pitchers to go around the big leagues.

"The good news is we're starting to develop some of these starting pitchers in our farm system, and I'm confident that some of these young guys that we have are going to come up and have an impact and make a contribution this year."

duquette-smiles-sidebar.jpgDuquette wouldn't address specific reports out of Korea that the Orioles were "close" to reaching agreement with Yoon.

Are they close to signing anyone?

"It's kind of tough because, as I said, any pitcher we try to sign this winter, there's always been four or five clubs also trying to sign them," Duquette said. "These pitchers decide where they go. A lot of them decide based on opportunities. Some decide based on geography. But we're making good progress. I'm confident we're going to be able to get somebody out there before opening day.

"I don't know exactly how it's going to come out, but I think we're going to have a good, solid pitching staff."

Could a starter be signed after the Orioles report to Sarasota?

"We'll always use spring training to see where we're at, but I'd hope some of these pitchers are going to sign in the next week," Duquette said. "We're getting ready to start at the end of next week with our workouts. I've got to think these pitchers are thinking the same thing. They want to go and have a full camp and get ready to have a good season wherever they sign.

"I think it will get resolved in the next week or so."

The Orioles are more willing to surrender their first-round pick than in previous years - they'd lose it if signing Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez - but it's apparent that they'd prefer to hold onto it. It's a tricky balancing act. Try to win now without mortgaging the future.

"We're trying to win now," Duquette said. "The question is what the cost is to each of these players. Some of them you have to give up a draft pick and others you don't. We'd like to build the ballcub through the draft, but I can tell you we are getting some pretty good talent and a pretty strong talent base in our minor leagues. We're talking about six of the top 43 prospects in the business are right now in the Orioles' farm system, so that's the good news.

"We've got a few more players in the minors and that gives us a little bit more of a possibility to utilize some of those players to help the big league club and use others in trades to supplement the big league roster. So, I'm not as concerned about the draft picks now as before, because we have a pretty good draft system and Fred Ferreira continues to sign good players. We're getting more good players into our pipeline."

Earlier in the day, news broke that closer Fernando Rodney reached agreement with the Mariners on a two-year, $14 million deal. I asked Duquette to measure his level of interest in Rodney.

"Well, one thing I know of is they liked him a little better than us," he replied. "It looks to me like they have the pitcher they want to be their closer. We'll have to keep looking."

It seems like a safe bet that Tommy Hunter will be the closer on opening day, though the Orioles could sign a guy coming off surgery - Joel Hanrahan, anyone? - as insurance.

What about signing another set-up guy to take Hunter's spot? The Orioles spoke to Francisco Rodriguez's agent earlier in the winter and he's still on the market.

"I think we have the setup guys already," Duquette said, rattling off names such as Alfredo Aceves, Ryan Webb, Darren O'Day and Brian Matusz.

"I think we've got some candidates. The real issue is who will get the last three outs. I think we have to keep looking for that.

"Sometimes, when these players get an opportunity like (Jim) Johnson did a couple years ago, they come through. Maybe that's what Hunter will do this year."

The Orioles didn't sign an impact free agent yesterday, but they did wipe the arbitration slate clean by agreeing to terms with catcher Matt Wieters on a $7.7 million contract for 2014.

Next up: Signing shortstop J.J. Hardy to an extension, since he can become a free agent following the season.

"We told J.J. that we're going to work on that between now and the start of the season," Duquette said. "We're starting to work on that. I'm not going to talk about that. We told J.J. we'd give that a shot and see if we can get something done."

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