By Eduardo A. Encina
The Baltimore Sun
5:00 AM PST, February 8, 2013
Now that former Orioles left-hander Joe Saunders has reportedly agreed to terms with the Mariners on a one-year deal, we know who is not going to be in Sarasota when spring training opens next week.
Right-hander Jair Jurrjens could be on that list, too. As of Thursday evening, the Orioles were still receiving medical evaluations on Jurrjens, according to one team source. At this point and pace, we’re not sure he will be in an Orioles uniform.
As for Saunders, it appears that the Orioles stood their ground on their initial one-year deal. It was reported that a mystery team had offered Saunders a two-year deal, but he settled for a one-year contract with Seattle.
Last month, as the Saunders waiting game played out, Saunders told our Dan Connolly that he’d love to return to Baltimore. A Northern Virginia native, Saunders enjoyed his brief time in an Orioles uniform and wanted to play for a contender – a label the Orioles suddenly attained last season.
Saunders said he was willing to be patient, but with report day just around the corner, he ultimately turned to the Mariners, which makes a lot of sense for him given two factors. First, spring training is close to his Arizona home. But more significantly, he’s been lights out at Seattle’s Safeco Field, where he is 6-0 with a 2.13 ERA in nine career starts there. He’s just 5-2 with a 4.93 ERA in seven career starts at Camden Yards.
So if you’re going to sign a make-good, one-year deal with the hopes to cash in the free agent market after 2013, where do you go? Do you go to the pitcher-friendly Pacific Northwest or sign up for a full season of facing the AL East?
All along the Orioles were interested in bringing back Saunders. His veteran presence was important, especially in the postseason, when he allowed just two runs over 11 1/3 innings in two starts. But seeing their starting pitching depth and knowing that Saunders figured to be a No. 4 of No. 5 starter, they offered their one-year deal and didn’t waver.
As for Jurrjens, it is becoming increasingly unclear whether the one-year deal between him and the Orioles will come to fruition. Vetting his physical has become a week-long process and it doesn’t seem like it’s heading in a positive direction.
The Orioles have long had concerns about Jurrjens’ health, especially the strength of his right knee. That dates back to last offseason, when the team tested the trade waters with the Braves in a possible deal involving Adam Jones. And that was before the velocity on his fastball continued to diminish and he pitched to a 6.89 ERA last season. They were concerned then, and they’re concerned now.
The Orioles are still working toward resolutions with their three unsigned arbitration-eligible players: closer Jim Johnson, reliever Darren O’Day and starter Jason Hammel.
Johnson, who set a new club record with 51 saves, would seem to be the most likely deal to get done first. The sides were only $1.4 million apart on the arbitration figures they filed last month. One possibility is to offer Johnson a two-year deal now to take up his final year of arbitration eligibility, but at this point the Orioles are likely to settle on one-year with Johnson.
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