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Orioles considering options in the outfield

Team is still interested in Nate McLouth, but has also checked into Nick Swisher and Nate Schierholtz

By Dan Connolly

The Baltimore Sun

7:38 PM PST, December 4, 2012

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Orioles are pushing to add another outfielder, and if they can't re-sign free agent left fielder Nate McLouth, they are trolling for other options, including former New York Yankees first baseman-outfielder Nick Swisher and former Philadelphia Phillies right fielder Nate Schierholtz.

During the second day of baseball's annual winter meetings at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said he met with about a half dozen representatives of free agents and another five teams about potential trades.

"We've talked to a couple free agents along with Nate McLouth, obviously, who we'd like to come back. But we want to be prepared in the event that we can't reach an agreement with Nate," Duquette said. "So we want to make sure, while there are other people on the market, that we avail ourselves to the whole market and hopefully we'll come home with a signed player."

Although Duquette normally doesn't reveal whom he has talked to, he admitted he had spoken to the representative of McLouth, who batted .268 with a .342 on-base percentage in 55 games with the Orioles after he was summoned from Triple-A. McLouth solidified left field and, eventually, the leadoff spot when Nick Markakis broke his thumb in September.

"I think Nate liked Baltimore, he played very well there and we like him in Baltimore," Duquette said. "He did a good job for us when he came up. He did a good job baserunning. He did a good job defensively. He hit the ball. He made the plays in the field. So there is a natural interest in re-signing him to the team."

McLouth, 31, is currently entertaining one- and two-year offers and reportedly has garnered interest from several teams. He said when the season ended that he'd like to return to Baltimore, but he also wants to remain a starter and it's possible that he could be competing with incumbent left fielder Nolan Reimold, who was lost for most of the 2012 season with a neck injury that required surgery.

"There is opportunity for another outfielder. How much they are going to play? That really depends on how well they play," Duquette said. "But we're not in the business of talking about playing time as much as we talk about opportunity. But there is an opportunity for another hitter in our lineup and McLouth, when he was with us, did a good job up in the front of the lineup, right?"

Manager Buck Showalter called McLouth on Tuesday to talk. He said he believes the Orioles would be a better team with both Reimold and McLouth.

"We'd like to have Nolan and Nate playing and healthy, but you have to have contingency things set up in case it doesn't happen," Showalter said. "You value a player a certain way, and all of a sudden somebody comes in and values him completely different [than] the way you do, you have to have the ability to say no. I think Nate understands, that as much as we'd like him back … he has to do what's best for him and his family, just like we have to do what's best for the Baltimore Orioles."

Swisher is a 32-year-old switch hitter who had 24 homers and batted .272 in 148 games for the Yankees last year. The Orioles' discussion with his representatives on Tuesday, which was first reported by ESPN.com, was the first time the sides had talked seriously about Swisher this winter.

Swisher was initially considered too expensive — he made $10.25 million in 2012 — for an Orioles team that wasn't looking for a big-ticket item, but his ability to play first base and the outfield would fit well for a club that did not tender a contract to starting first baseman Mark Reynolds. The Orioles have not had discussions with Reynolds' representatives since they non-tendered him on Friday, Duquette said.

Schierholtz, 28, would be a lot less expensive than Swisher. Traded midseason from the San Francisco Giants as part of the Hunter Pence deal, Schierholtz was non-tendered by the Phillies after hitting .273 in 37 games. He made $1.3 million in 2012 and still could be arbitration eligible after next season.

Although he has played all outfield positions, he's almost strictly a right fielder. Duquette wouldn't bite when asked if Schierholtz could move to left if signed.

"I can't really comment about a player we don't have at a position he's not familiar with, that wouldn't be a good idea," Duquette said. "But we are looking at some other qualified options because we want to make sure that we have somebody on our team."

The Orioles have had multiple meetings with Schierholtz's agents, about the outfielder and free agent pitcher Kevin Correia, according to an industry source.

Correia, a 32-year-old right-hander, was 12-11 with a 4.21 ERA in 32 games, 28 starts, for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012. He was a National League All-Star in 2011 and, for his career, is 60-65 with a 4.54 ERA in 10 seasons with the Pirates, San Diego Padres and Giants.

On Tuesday, Duquette also met with representatives for lefty Joe Saunders, who was 3-3 with a 3.63 ERA in seven starts with the Orioles after coming to Baltimore in a deal from the Arizona Diamondbacks in August.

"We've had some preliminary discussions with Saunders," Duquette said. "But that's going to take some time."

Pitching isn't a top priority for the Orioles, but adding a free-agent starter would make it easier to trade one of their younger pitchers to get a power bat. To that end, the Orioles are still trying to make a deal, Duquette said, and he had repeat discussion with a few teams on Tuesday.

"I like to add pitchers more than I like to trade them away. But I can tell you there is more interest in them now," Duquette said. "It was a little slow, but … it kind of picked up. I was heartened by the fact people like our pitchers. Because we have some good ones and they are young and we can bring them back."

Ultimately, Duquette is still optimistic that the Orioles will add a player soon.

"We're gonna come home with a signed player, hopefully, by the end of the week."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

twitter.com/danconnollysun

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