By Dan Connolly
The Baltimore Sun
9:23 PM CST, December 5, 2012
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Orioles and outfielder Nate McLouth, one of their key stretch run players from last year’s playoff season, agreed to a one-year deal Wednesday, essentially shutting the door on acquiring more major league outfielders, including free agent Nick Swisher.
Although it is pending the completion of a physical, the Orioles came to terms on a one-year, $2 million deal with McLouth, a 31-year-old outfielder who batted .268 with seven homers and 12 steals in 55 games for the Orioles in 2012. The contract includes an additional $500,000 in potential bonuses ($50,000 each for reaching 300 and 350 plate appearances and $100,000 each for 400, 450, 500 and 550 plate appearances), which could represent a $750,000 increase over McLouth’s 2012 salary.
McLouth was plucked off the scrap heap in June after the Pittsburgh Pirates took him off their 40-man roster. By August, the former All Star was back in the majors with the Orioles, seizing the left field job and, eventually, filling in at leadoff when Nick Markakis broke his thumb in September. McLouth emerged as the club’s best hitter in the postseason with a .308 average and five RBIs in six playoff games.
“Nate did a great job for us last year when we brought him up,” said Dan Duquette, the club’s executive vice president. “He did a terrific job when Nick Markakis went down, moving into that leadoff slot, and he was one of our leading players during the playoff run. He’s a real gritty player, our fans connected with him. And he really liked the ‘football atmosphere,’ he termed it, at the ballpark. So, I mean, that looks like it is going to be a good thing for the team to bring him back.”
By returning McLouth to a stable of outfielders that also includes starters Markakis and Adam Jones, injured left fielder Nolan Reimold, recently acquired Trayvon Robinson and young reserves L.J. Hoes and Xavier Avery, Duquette said he believes the Orioles are done searching for big league outfield help. That would exclude Swisher, who can play outfield and first base and whose representatives Duquette met with on Tuesday.
“I think we have enough outfielders on our ballclub,” Duquette said. “We can take a look at the guys we’ve got in the spring.”
When pressed about the Orioles’ pursuit of the 32-year-old Swisher, who has been exceptionally consistent throughout his career but has drawn the ire of fans and opposing players for his boisterous persona, Duquette said, “I don’t think we need to worry about that for Baltimore fans.”
Duquette maintained that he is still seeking a power bat, though that addition will be targeted for either first base or designated hitter. Currently, Chris Davis could serve either role. Free agent Adam LaRoche and Washington Nationals outfielder-first baseman Michael Morse likely remain on the club’s radar, though the Orioles seemingly have no interest in free agent Kevin Youkilis or Minnesota first baseman Justin Morneau, sources said.
The Orioles met with “three to four” representatives of free agents Wednesday and also had “four to five” trade discussions. Duquette couldn’t predict whether he would be able to pull off a trade before the front office leaves Nashville on Thursday.
“I don’t know about these trades, sometimes they come together, sometimes they take a little while to percolate after the meetings,” Duquette said. “But we still have our eyes on a couple other things.”
The Orioles’ primary goal this week was to add an outfielder, and though McLouth was the top target, the Orioles looked at other possibilities. They explored several trade options, including one with the Arizona Diamondbacks involving Jason Kubel, and they made an offer to free agent outfielder Nate Schierholtz, who turned it down Wednesday.
“[It] wasn’t clear [the McLouth signing] was going to happen because we started our discussions with him quite a while back, but I thought it needed to happen this week because there were some other outfielders we had some interest in,” Duquette said. “And in fairness to the team we really needed to get some certainty on who was going to get that job.”
McLouth, who deferred comment until the deal is announced, said when the season ended that he wanted to return to the Orioles. But he also wanted to find a place where he could play regularly. Although there are no guarantees — especially with the right-handed hitting Reimold progressing from neck surgery and hoping to be fully healed by the spring — the left-handed hitting McLouth is expected to get a fair amount of playing time in left field, especially against right-handers.
“I don’t know if he is the everyday left fielder, I think that is a question for another day,” Duquette said. “But Nate, over the course of his career, has done very well against right-handed pitching. That has been a staple for him his whole career.”
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