We’ll call this the FanFest version of “Myriad Orioles Thoughts.”
Start with one of the more interesting items to come out of Saturday’s annual event at the Baltimore Convention Center – which was absolutely packed, by the way.
Center fielder Adam Jones was asked about the team’s moves this offseason and Jones, as he usually does, offered his honest opinion.
He said he thinks Seth Smith and Mark Trumbo are excellent athletes and their presence will bolster the lineup, but he’d like to see a strong defensive player with good speed occupy one of the spots next to him.
My take on that: Yup.
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette has talked about wanting to upgrade the outfield defense this offseason, and he hasn’t yet. There are a few solid fits that are still on the board – Angel Pagan and Michael Bourn, for instance – and I’m sure finances play a part as to why the Orioles haven’t added a defensive outfielder yet. Hard to argue with Duquette’s track record when it comes to getting solid, late-offseason buys at a good price.
But it is the most important void that Duquette hasn’t filled yet. And though Jones isn’t the assistant general manager, I have no problem with him expressing his thoughts here. He didn’t name names, just what he thought was a pressing need.
Jones, after all, is the one who has been most affected by the Orioles’ lack of strong defensive outfielders over the past few years. Think about it. Who was the last speedy corner outfielder the Orioles have had for the majority of a season? Nate McLouth, back in 2013. I don’t count Nick Markakis, who played the right field wall at Camden Yards better than anyone in the stadium’s history, but is not known as a speed-burner.
Jones has had to make up for that lack of range to his left and right – and that has taken a toll on his body. He has every right to want an upgrade around him – and, frankly, someone who can back him up at center field on occasion – for 2017.
Joey Rickard could be the answer, but let’s not put too much responsibility on him. Rickard certainly has talent, but he’s played 85 games in the majors. The Orioles could use a veteran with a defensive track record until Rickard shows he can be a consistent, all-around performer.
No movement toward contract extensions
One of the constant themes of FanFest is that the Orioles really aren’t in active talks to extend any of their key players who are nearing free agency. That concept was confirmed by starter Chris Tillman, who can be a free agent at the end of this season, and third baseman Manny Machado, closer Zach Britton and Jones, all of whom are free agents after 2018.
I’m sure that doesn’t sit well with fans, but it is to be expected. The front office is putting its 2017 team together, and those decisions affect the 2018 and 2019 clubs.
That said, talking contract extensions during arbitration negotiations is natural, and it appears that was only done – and done briefly and without resolution – with Britton’s camp.
Machado said he’s heard of absolutely no recent negotiations between his representatives and the club, but he quickly pointed out that he understands the front office has more urgent priorities.
My take on this is that the Orioles’ No. 1 issue – now that the roster is nearly together and no big pieces likely will shake loose — should be making an earnest effort to re-sign Tillman. Give him one less thing to think about before he enters this season as the club’s top starter and as a pending free agent. Tillman said at FanFest that he doesn’t want to negotiate in-season, He said it’s not fair to his teammates if he is distracted.
I believe that. I believe that Tillman isn’t just parroting the typical ballplayer line. There are very few players I have been around that are more unselfish than Tillman. I believe he thinks he’ll ultimately get what he is worth from some team, and will let things play out. Tillman, after all, has believed in himself even when many, many others didn’t.
I don’t know what is fair market price for Tillman. I could only guess. But I do think the Orioles should determine what that is and make him a legitimate offer soon – and if it gets turned down, well, then at least both sides can progress into the season knowing that there was a real attempt.
Looking for another veteran starter
Duquette said at FanFest that he is still pursuing a starting pitcher and admitted that it could be someone the club signs to a minor-league deal. That would seem to take them out of the running for the best pitchers still available such as Jason Hammel and Doug Fister.
As I’ve written before, the Orioles are at a disadvantage when quality pitchers are forced to take one-year deals, because no one wants to base their future on a year pitching in the AL East with half their games at hitter-friendly Camden Yards.
So, my guess is the Orioles’ veteran starter acquisition is more reclamation project than steady performer. Unless, of course, they offer a whole lot more money than other contenders.
By the way, my apologies to the fan who asked at our FanFest media forum about the Orioles interest in Fister. I mistakenly said I thought he had just signed a deal. I was getting him mixed up with Scott Feldman, another immensely tall right-hander who also pitched in Houston in 2016 (before being dealt to Toronto). Feldman signed a deal with the Cincinnati Reds last week. Fister is still available.
Shout out to FanFest visitors
The Orioles said more than 15,000 people attended FanFest. Not all of them stopped by the BaltimoreBaseball.com booth, but, at times, it felt like it. It was tremendous meeting so many of you, signing books, answering questions and helping you download our free app.
For those who didn’t get by, you can still sign up through the end of today to be entered in our sweepstakes to win an autographed Brooks Robinson or Cal Ripken Jr., jersey. If you don’t win those, a few of you will still get a tremendous consolation prize: an inscribed copy of my book. That’s BaltimoreBaseball.com’s version of a year supply of Turtle Wax.