NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland — Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said in his Monday afternoon briefing with local media that he believes the market for doing something at the winter meetings is “robust.”
And he said he’s not really leaning more toward making a trade or signing a free agent – on Monday he met with player agents and other teams to talk about potential deals.
“That’s the market we’ve been working in today,” Duquette said.
The rub is this: The Orioles seemingly don’t have the money to buy a headline-grabbing free agent. And if they really want to upgrade right field, they probably would have to deal from the club’s unquestioned strength: its bullpen.
Earlier on Monday a Fox Sports report surfaced that the Orioles have talked with the New York Mets and have some interest in veteran outfielder Curtis Granderson (but not as much in Jay Bruce). The report said the Mets were interested in Orioles’ set-up man Brad Brach.
Technically, Brach is expendable. The Orioles have Zach Britton to close and Darren O’Day and Mychal Givens to set up Britton. In one sense, having a 30-year-old All-Star set-up man who is going to make a couple million dollars in arbitration this year and — like Britton — will be a free agent after 2018, is a luxury.
“There’s a lot of interest in our bullpen because it’s a good bullpen and that’s been one of the staples of our team and we want to keep it that (way),” Duquette said. “We think we have some depth also in the minor leagues to help the bullpen issue.”
Britton would unquestionably command the best package in a trade, but Brach and Givens are cheaper. Givens, who is basically entering his fifth year as a pitcher after years playing infield, is 26 and has considerable upside on the mound. He could be a future closer.
What Duquette and Orioles manager Buck Showalter really have to decide, however, is whether the starting pitching in 2017 could handle one less quality reliever in the bullpen. It couldn’t last year.
The primary reason the Orioles were in contention in 2016 is because a rotation that posted the third worst ERA (4.72) and third least number of innings was saved by a bullpen with the best ERA (3.40) and the fourth most innings logged in the league.
If you take away a Brach, for instance, then you better be able to get more length out of your starting pitchers. And, really, who is confident that that will happen with the current rotation’s alignment? You’d have to see a considerable step forward by Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy while also getting more innings out of Yovani Gallardo, Ubaldo Jimenez and or Wade Miley (Duquette, by the way, doesn’t foresee trading a member of that trip right now).
My guess is that the Orioles sign a veteran catcher at some point this winter and trade for an outfielder if the market for a free-agent right fielder doesn’t develop to their liking.
Reading between the lines of Duquette’s media session Monday, it’s apparent that the club’s best trade chips reside in the bullpen. And if he can’t find what he is looking for in free agency – a solid catcher and a left-handed right fielder who can get on base – he might be forced to deal a reliever.
It makes sense, but it’s also a definite risk giving this club’s roster alignment.