Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter met with the media Thursday to wrap up the 2016 season and look ahead to what may happen this offseason.
A whole lot of ground was covered; some of the answers were illuminating, others were cryptic and some didn’t reveal a whole lot.
I figured what I’d do with this is capsulize some of the questions, provide a quote from either Duquette or Showalter and then give my take on the subject.
What are Orioles’ chances of re-signing their top free agents?
Duquette: “We have our work cut out for us in the offseason. We have a couple significant free agents so we’re gonna need to address that. Matt Wieters is a free agent, Mark Trumbo is a free agent. … We’ll have a chance to address those. Both those guys had good years. Trumbo had a really good year and Matt showed that he was healthy and capable of playing every day.”
My take: The Orioles have other pending free agents too, like Michael Bourn, Pedro Alvarez and Steve Pearce, but the full-time guys are Wieters and Trumbo. Both are going to be costly because a power bat and a solid all-round catcher are desired commodities every year. I don’t know how it will play out – I was dead wrong with Wieters and Chris Davis last year – but my gut says the Orioles will bid for both, and fall short on both.
How much will the Orioles spend this offseason?
Duquette: “I think a lot of the payroll flexibility will be absorbed (in arbitration) by these good players that had really good years. Zach Britton had an historically good year, the top ERA among major league relievers. (Manny) Machado, what, he hit over 30 home runs with almost 100 RBIs? These guys are going to be getting big raises. I think our fundamental team is a little stronger this year going into the offseason. I don’t really see the need to recommend a lot of long-term investments.”
My take: They’ll take a shot at re-signing their own guys and, as the offseason wanes, they’ll look for an established major leaguer or two who is a buy-low candidate. Big dollar guys need not apply.
Will the Orioles seek pitching help in free agency?
Duquette: “Do you ever have enough starting pitching? One of the reasons we traded for (Wade) Miley is that he’s a workhorse, he’s pitched close to 200 innings a couple times. … We thought it was a reasonable price to pay for a left-handed starting pitcher that we could get some help from this year and going into next season. And we needed a left handed pitcher. Yeah, we’re going to be looking for left-handed pitching. We are going to be looking for starting pitchers. We don’t necessarily have the urgency we’ve had the last couple years. And I expect those veteran pitchers (currently on the roster) to pitch well.”
My take: The Orioles have six starters heading into the offseason. The free-agent starting pitching market is exceptionally weak (former Oriole Rich Hill may be the best of the group). And because everyone needs pitching, the prices will be mind-blowing. Yes, the Orioles could use a top-of-the-rotation starter. No, they won’t get one. If the rotation is improved, it will be a marginal increase. Sorry, that’s the way it is.
Does Chris Tillman qualify as a big-league ace?
Duquette: “I think Tillman is a legitimate ace, OK? If you look at what he has done over the last several years in the American League, he is one of the top pitchers. He’s up there in terms of wins and innings pitched. He is a workhorse. He does the work. He is a legitimate stopper for us. When we lose three, four, five games, Chris Tillman stepped up this year and he put an end to that. He was a legit, top-of-the-rotation starter and he has been for us for a couple of years.”
My take: Tillman’s not Clayton Kershaw or Madison Bumgarner or, gulp, Jake Arrieta. But there are few teams that have a pitcher who dominates nearly every time he gets the ball. Would Tillman drop to second or even third on some other staffs? Sure. But if the rest of the Orioles’ rotation can be consistently solid, Tillman’s presence at the top is plenty acceptable. When he’s healthy, you expect him to keep his team in the game, even if he is facing another club’s No. 1.
How does the rotation improve if no moves are made?
Duquette: “I’m kind of encouraged about our starting pitching for next year. When you take a look at the veteran pitchers, they are all in the option years of their contracts, so they are all pitching for a contract for the future. And those two young pitchers, (Dylan) Bundy and (Kevin) Gausman … to have those guys back to go with some veteran pitchers that have a lot of incentive to pitch well. They should come into camp in good shape, ready to compete.”
My take: Duquette better be encouraged. He’s the one that brought in Miley, Yovani Gallardo and Ubaldo Jimenez. If they collectively tank, that’s on him. That said, this rotation is in better shape than it was going into last year’s offseason, simply because of the steps made by Bundy and Gausman and the promise again teased by Jimenez. If those three and Tillman pitch to their capabilities, then Miley and Gallardo as a club’s No. 5 is fine. But, boy, there are ‘ifs’ there.
What happened to the supposed focus on improving on-base percentage?
Duquette: “Obviously, you score more runs if you got guys on base. And you can leverage that power for additional runs. So that’s something we are going to continue to work on. I thought we did a really good job of that earlier in the season. … Would you like to see more on-base capability throughout the lineup? Absolutely, yes. And we’ll keep working on that. But there’s about 25 other teams looking for the same thing.”
My take: The Orioles finished first in homers in the majors by almost 30 longballs, yet finished 12th in runs scored and 21st in on-base percentage (.317). Only two Orioles had more than 350 at-bats and an OBP higher than the league average of .321: Manny Machado (.343) and Chris Davis (.332). Hyun Soo Kim (.382) and Pedro Alvarez (.322) were also better than average, but were platoon players. To me, this is the Orioles’ biggest problem that needs to be fixed by next April.
Will Duquette attempt to diversify the offense with fewer swing-and-miss players?
Duquette: “I don’t think the guys we bring in are all-or-nothing. We like to have power throughout our lineup, OK? That’s been a consistent theme … We can do a better job in on-base capability. Absolutely. But the power plays pretty well in our ballpark, it helps us. We had 50 wins at home this year. I think our fans enjoyed seeing that. When you get into a close game, yes, you have to execute offensively. But the power plays. They don’t have any fielders on the other side of the fence.”
My take: I think the fans would enjoy more runs being scored, period. Homers are exciting, but wins are more exciting. I don’t blame the one-dimensional approach on hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh. These are the types of players he was given. He only can instruct — not swing for them. Duquette and Showalter must find two legitimate OBP guys to round out the lineup.
Will the Orioles attempt to extend the contracts of Tillman, Machado and Jonathan Schoop?
Duquette: “I’m sure we’ll have time to take a look at that. All those players have done a great job for us. We have explored extensions in the past. In fact, a couple of times each with Tillman and Machado. We haven’t approached Jon Schoop on a long-term basis yet, but I’m sure we’ll have time to do that when it’s appropriate.”
My take: You can throw Zach Britton in there, too. Only Tillman can be a free agent after 2017. He should be the priority, given what starting pitching costs. I’d call it a successful offseason if two of those players sign new deals before April. I’d still call it a success if it were only one, and that one was Machado.
With time to think, what’s Showalter saying now about not using Britton in the Wild Card loss?
Showalter: “Yeah, there’s a lot of coulda, shoulda woulda. You’re a human being; you have those emotions. There are certain things in my capacity that you just have to wear. And I’m used to it. … We live in a result-oriented society and I understand that. That’s the world we live in. … You are judged on the results. It didn’t work out, so I’ll take that judgment.”
My take: There is no smoking gun here. No veiled injuries on the grassy knoll. Showalter went with his gut, which told him to keep Britton in the bullpen until the team had a lead. I, and many of you, disagree with that call. But that’s why he’s the manager.
If there is an opening in right, could Davis move there and Trey Mancini take over first?
Showalter: “I think they both have some versatility, potentially, to them. Yet to be seen what we’ll be doing at the DH position. But we’d have to feel pretty good about it to take a guy that should be strong consideration for Gold Glove (at first base) and put him in right field. … There’s a lot of unknown about Trey defensively at the major league level. But he’s presented himself very well defensively down (in the minors) and works very hard at it. I’m glad we have options there, and somebody from our system.”
My take: It’d be unusual to make such a young player, such as the 24-year-old Mancini, a primary DH. But it also would be tough to move Davis back to right field after he’s played so well at first. These things usually have a way of working themselves out.
Would the team consider trading Machado or Britton for a bevy of players this winter if it looks like an extension can’t be reached?
Duquette: “I haven’t thought about that that much, but that’s something we can think about for the offseason. I like those guys on our ballclub. I like the work they do. And I like watching them every day. Those guys, one is a MVP candidate the other is a Cy Young Award candidate. Those guys are tough to find, and they are young and they are good and they play for the Orioles. So we like them on our ballclub.
My take: I understand the concept, but with a few tweaks, there’s no reason this team couldn’t be a legitimate contender next year. So trading them this offseason seems foolish. I’d keep them both and work hard at an extension now. And then revisit dealing them before the 2018 season if extension possibilities seem hopeless.