Whenever the Orioles make a move like they announced Tuesday – the re-signing of little-used right-hander Logan Ondrusek to a one-year, $650,000 deal with a $1.5 million option for 2018 – fans begin to grouse.
All four of the Orioles’ American League East division rivals have purchased at least one veteran free agent on a multi-year deal this offseason while the Orioles have made some waiver claims, inked some minor leaguers, selected two players in the Rule 5 draft and re-signed Ondrusek to a major-league deal when a minor one seemed more likely.
So, executive vice president Dan Duquette’s going to be a target of criticism right now. He is every year in November and December (and January and February, too).
Cue the “print the playoff tickets now” jokes. But, here’s the deal: The Orioles have printed those tickets more seasons than not with Duquette at the helm.
Strange but true. So, frankly, it’s premature to blast Duquette for the club’s early offseason inactivity. With this regime, you have to give it time and see what happens.
Duquette said this at last week’s winter meetings: “We work at building our team year-round. We’re trying to build our team so that we’re good in October. But we have to work at it on a year-round basis.”
I’ve been around plenty of GMs. No one takes that “year-round” mantra more seriously than Duquette. Eventually, you assume that the kick-back-and-wait mentality is going to backfire. That a Nelson Cruz or a Delmon Young or a Pedro Alvarez won’t be standing around with his hand out one February, and the Orioles’ roster will pay dearly for it.
For the most part, though, Duquette’s made the most of collapsing markets and players on the fringes while escalating the payroll to its highest perch in club history.
Sure, offseasons around here are frustrating to watch. Established players go elsewhere and the Orioles plod along, collecting shiny trinkets.
During those times, just keep telling yourself there’s a track record.
Duquette’s never had a losing season in Baltimore. He’s been in charge of three different teams in 15 seasons, and has had just one full year in which his club didn’t play .500 or better (1997 in Boston; the 1994 Red Sox were also under .500 in a strike-shortened year, but Duquette didn’t join them until just before spring training and the team he built that offseason, the Montreal Expos, was terrific).
That kind of consistency in different locales is pretty hard to do.
There have been busts in Duquette’s Baltimore tenure, for sure. Trading away Jake Arrieta, Josh Hader and Zach Davies and not getting to the playoffs in those years certainly hurts. The Travis Snider deal was a bust and the free-agent signings of Ubaldo Jimenez and Yovani Gallardo haven’t been worth the money. But there’s a flip side, too.
No one was excited about Hyun Soo Kim last winter; heck, even Duquette wanted him in the minors last March. But Kim emerged as one of the club’s best hitters in 2016. Alvarez was an afterthought last winter, and he provided solid production in 2016. And then there’s the Mark Trumbo deal with Seattle that barely made a blip nationally last December and may go down as one of the better trades in franchise history.
The point is: This is what happens with a Duquette-run club, especially one without an open checkbook. It’s nothing new. He’s going to keep making small moves. And the occasional calculated splash. Some will pay off, some won’t. Most won’t be talked about outside of the 410 area code.
Then, in October, we’ll stand back and evaluate all of those moves. Whether they were shrewd or completely irrelevant. There likely will be a mix of both.
We can evaluate the current transactions – or lack thereof — now, too. But I caution that.
As a GM, Duquette exhibits an abundance of patience with the market.
As fans of the team Duquette runs, it’s probably best to exhibit nearly as much patience with him as well. Or you’ll drive yourself crazy before April. Or October, for that matter.
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