Q&A with Orioles beat writer Jeff Zrebiec

Q&A with Orioles beat writer Jeff Zrebiec

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There’s been a lot of news surrounding the Orioles this offseason, so the clear up the rumors we decided to reach out to Baltimore Sun beat writer Jeff Zrebiec and ask a few questions.

How disappointed is the O’s management about missing out on Victor Martinez and Jon Garland?

I never considered the Orioles a prime suitor for Garland and they didn’t make him an offer so not sure they were too bothered by that one. However, not getting Victor Martinez stung. He was far-and-away their top free agent target and team officials felt that he was an ideal fit. They also felt that they had a legit shot to get him and apparently they had the highest offer on the table before Martinez got what he wanted from the team that he wanted it from. When I talked to Andy MacPhail after he learned that Martinez was signing with Detroit, it was as disappointed as I’ve heard him in quite some time.

Of the big names still being thrown around in connection with the Orioles, who is the most realistic possible acquisition?

Clearly, Pena. I think the Orioles’ activity with Konerko has been way overblown. They’ve talked to his agent and expressed interest but they didn’t present them with this huge offer like it has been reported. They know that it’s likely that he’s returning to Chicago. Dunn, by now, is off the board, and the Orioles aren’t a huge player for Beltre, who doesn’t want to come here, and the Orioles don’t feel he is worth his asking price. That leaves Pena. Once Konerko signs elsewhere, I’m assuming that Pena will be at or near the top of the Orioles’ wish list.

Is there a potential “big bat” flying under the radar this offseason?

Not that I know of. The availability of Mark Reynolds has been well-documented and it’s not exactly a secret that Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Upton and Prince Fielder could be pried away if you are willing to send a boatload of young, talented players in return. I’ve wondered about guys like Jason Bay, Billy Butler and Matt Kemp, but I’ve been given no indication that they are available.

How much of a need is there for another veteran starter?

I’m a little torn on this one. I understand the importance of having starting pitching depth as very few rotations remain intact from April through September. And that looms even larger for a team like the Orioles with their reliance on young and unpredictable pitching. However, unless you are going to get a little more of a proven commodity, say a Carl Pavano (I can’t believe I just typed that but he has reinvented himself nicely), I just don’t see the point. A lot of the available free agent starters – Dave Bush, Doug Davis, Kevin Correia, etc. – would likely get knocked around in the A.L. East. Is acquiring an innings eater worth living with a mid 5.00 ERA? I’d say no. I’d rather them just continue to give opportunities to youngsters. Let Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Brad Bergesen, Rick VandenHurk and Chris Tillman come to spring training and compete for the four spots behind Jeremy Guthrie. And if you’re concerned, sign a couple of veterans on minor league deals and stash them at Triple-A until they are needed.

Which piece do you think will most likely come through a trade?

I’d say shortstop or third base. Aside from Beltre, the free agent third base market is pretty poor so the Orioles will likely have to look elsewhere to fill that spot. That’s where a Reynolds trade comes into play. And if they decide that they can’t afford to bring an offensive liability like Cesar Izturis back at shortstop, they’ll turn to Jason Bartlett and J.J. Hardy on the trade market.

What are your thoughts for left field next season? Is that now Pie’s spot to lose, or will Reimold get to compete for it in Spring Training? Any chance of re-signing Patterson or another reserve outfielder?

I think Felix Pie has clearly moved ahead of Nolan Reimold on the organization’s depth chart, but that could change if Reimold shows up at spring training healthy and focused. The Orioles sure could use his right-handed bat in the lineup. I certainly don’t think Pie will be handed the job, but he has the edge as of now. I think Patterson could return, especially if the O’s trade Pie, which is a possibility. Either way, I think they’ll add a veteran outfielder, perhaps on a minor league deal. They’ll certainly consider a guy like Marcus Thames whose right-handed, power bat could help against tough left-handed pitching.

What young prospects would the Orioles be willing to part with in a trade?

They’d prefer to not part with any of their young prospects obviously but they also know that the free agent market is weak and they are going to have to give up something valuable to fill a couple of their needs in trades. They’d certainly listen on Tillman, Bergesen, David Hernandez. I know they are very high on L.J. Hoes and Xavier Avery, but I don’t see think either of them would be a deal breaker. It would take a really special return for them to part with Britton and Arrieta and I see virtually no way they’d move Matusz. And you can forget about Wieters, too.

How much of a “Showalter Effect” should linger with the team into next season?

Things will continue to get done better and you will continue to see the Orioles cut down on the mistakes and execute better under Showalter, who demands that from his players. But people are kidding themselves if they expect the Orioles to play as well as they did for the final two months of the 2010 season without them adding significant talent in the offseason. It’s about the players. Go position-by-position in the A.L. East and look at where the Oriole players stand. How many of the Orioles’ would you take No.1 at the position in their division? Wieters, maybe. I think Markakis is the best all-around right fielder, but compare his numbers with Swisher’s the past two seasons (Yes, I know, Markakis would put up monster numbers in that lineup and in that stadium as well). The point is a manager can only affect the outcome of the game so much and MacPhail needs to add more talent.

What effect, if any, will the new coaching staff have on this team?

That’s hard to answer before I’m around them on a regular basis in spring training. But I will say this, it’s a pretty impressive group that Showalter put together. I especially like the Willie Randolph hiring. I really think he’ll help the Orioles’ infielders, specifically Brian Roberts, and serve as a good mentor for Adam Jones.