SARASOTA, FLA. — The Orioles might not be done upgrading their starting rotation.
Days after signing free agent starter Ubaldo Jimenez, the Orioles are still interested in another top free agent starter — right-hander Ervin Santana.
According to an industry source, the Orioles have had dialogue with Santana’s representatives as recently as Thursday.
This week, the Orioles signed Jimenez to a four-year, $50-million deal, which is the longest and largest contract for a free agent pitcher in franchise history.
The addition of Jimenez also conceivably slotted out all five spots in the rotation, as he joins Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Bud Norris.
The addition of Santana would further muddle the rotation picture.
The Orioles already lost this year’s first-round pick (17th overall) in signing Jimenez through the qualifying offer compensation process. Santana is also tied to draft-pick compensation, so the club would lose its second-round pick (55th overall) if it signs him.
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said Thursday that he would consider additional draft-pick compensation free agents on a case-by-case basis.
Santana, 31, was 9-10 with a 3.24 ERA in 32 starts last season with the Kansas City Royals. Like Jimenez, he’s built up a reputation of durability, making at least 30 starts in five of his past six seasons. He has pitched at least 200 innings in three of his past four seasons.
Since signing Jimenez, the Orioles have intensified their interest in free agent designated hitter Kendrys Morales, according to a source.
The Orioles have been linked to the switch-hitting designated hitter throughout the offseason, but didn’t appear to be in serious negotiations previously. That pursuit seemingly has increased in seriousness, the source said, due to two developments.
One, the Orioles had been hesitant to forfeit their first-round pick to sign Morales, but instead forfeited it when agreeing to a four-year deal with Jimenez.
If they were to sign Morales now, the Orioles would surrender their second-rounder, roughly the 55th selection overall in 2014.
Secondly, a shorter deal with an opt-out for Morales is potentially available for the Orioles now. Previously it was thought that the 30-year-old Morales was seeking a four- or five-year deal only, but now it appears that a two-year deal with an opt out after the first season could be in play.
That makes sense considering Morales’ agent, Scott Boras, has done multiple free agent contracts with opt-out clauses in the past. Perhaps the most obvious comparison to Morales’ situation is third baseman Adrian Beltre, who left pitcher-friendly Seattle as a free agent following a down 2009 season. Boras negotiated a one-year deal with the Boston Red Sox for Beltre with a player option for 2011.
Beltre had a tremendous year with the Red Sox — winning a Silver Slugger Award and finishing ninth in the AL MVP balloting — before choosing to re-enter the free agent market that winter. The gamble paid off and Beltre landed a five-year $80 million deal with the Texas Rangers.
Ultimately, the roadblock to a Morales deal would be if the Orioles decide not to exceed their estimated $100 million budget in 2014. Morales turned down a $14.1 million qualifying offer earlier this winter from Seattle.
With the signings of Jimenez and Suk-min Yoon, the Orioles’ projected 25-roster for 2014 sits at about $96 million.
— Baltimore Sun