Day One of the Winter Meetings

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - While the national media continues to float big names as possible fits for the Orioles, executive vice president Dan Duquette seems determined to lower expectations, even if that’s not his intent.

The Orioles have made offers to free agent starters, according to Duquette, but this quote clearly indicated that the Orioles aren’t trying to reel in a big fish:

“If we’re going to be successful, we’re going to have to develop additional starting pitchers to come up through our farm system to make an impact on the major league team,” Duquette said. “That’s where the Orioles are going to get value from their pitching program. It’s not going to come from high-priced free agents. So, if people are expecting the Orioles to go out and sign a significant pitcher, I think it’s more realistic to look for good pitchers to come up through the farm system.”

In other words, stop asking me about Ubaldo Jiménez. He’s been linked to the Orioles, but I can’t see them making a legitimate push for him after talking to Duquette last night.

The player who should feel the most encouraged entering the first official day of the meetings is infielder Ryan Flaherty, who appears to be the leading candidate to start at second base on opening day.

Flaherty figured to be a utility infielder, capable of moving around the diamond and playing the outfield in an emergency. But Duquette mentioned Flaherty right away when asked about his omission of second base as a position that needed to be filled.

Flaherty batted .217/.277/.350 over 59 games in the first half and .242/.333/.500 over 26 games after the break. He impressed the Orioles with his defense. If nothing else, they certainly seem comfortable handing him the job if no other moves are made.

Duquette mentioned Jemile Weeks, who has an option, and Cord Phelps, who does not. In the early pecking order, they appear to be behind Flaherty.

I talked to a scout yesterday who shares Duquette’s enthusiasm for outfielder Francisco Peguero. A big tools guy, minus the power. But also a tough sell to fans if he’s suddenly tabbed as the starting left fielder.

We’re not at that point. Duquette wants to add a left-handed hitter, and it would make more sense for Henry Urrutia to gain a little more experience at Triple-A Norfolk and work on his defense and baserunning. He didn’t get enough reps in the outfield in the Arizona Fall League. And he still hasn’t shown that he can get around on the fastball at the major league level.

Sign or trade for somebody.

The Orioles have talked to the Dodgers about Andre Ethier, but he’s due to make $15.5 million next season, $18 million in 2015 and 2016, and $17.5 million in 2017. His contract also includes a $17.5 million vesting option for 2018.

It’s nice to have a player under team control for that long, but that’s a lot of money. The Dodgers would need to absorb a significant amount of it.

Ethier’s .362 career on-base percentage definitely has caught Duquette’s eye.

Later today, the Orioles are expected to officially announce the signing of reliever Ryan Webb to a two-year, $4.5 million contract.

FOX Sports reported that 11 teams were interested in Webb. He had multiple two-year offers.

Looking ahead to Thursday, the Orioles have the 16th pick in the Rule 5 draft, which wraps up the Winter Meetings. The selections start at 9 a.m. Set your alarms.

Note: Infielder Tucker Nathans was selected to represent the Orioles on the World Team at the upcoming Australian Baseball All-Star game on Dec. 18. He’s currently playing with the Perth Heat.

Nathans, 25, batted a combined .273/.339/.424 with 18 doubles, six triples, 10 homers and 56 RBIs in 108 games at Single-A Delmarva and Single-A Frederick in 2013.

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