I had a chance to sit down with Orioles Executive Vice President Dan Duquette for an inning last week during an exhibition game at Ed Smith Stadium.
We talked about his 2018 team, about what needs to happen for this club to get back to the postseason and about his own future, since his contract expires at the end of this season.
Duquette has come a long way in dealing with the media since he came to Baltimore in 2012 after nearly a decade’s hiatus from Major League Baseball and the Boston media.
But he remains guarded in many of his answers – no reason in revealing trade secrets, I figure he supposes – and so some of this is left to interpretation. I stayed away from some issues that have been asked to death, and that have yielded no fruit in the recent past, and tried to focus on this current team and, for the most part, Opening Day 2018.
I decided to do this in a Q&A format. I wouldn’t say it is overly enlightening; yes, sometimes he just sidesteps the questions. But I think it is worth sharing with you, and you can interpret the answers how you like. Here is a large excerpt of our talk:
Q: You are a few weeks away from Opening Day. Is this the team you want it to be?
A: “Well, we’re getting there. We’re getting a little more depth. We get some decent pitching, we can be a contender. We’re getting a little more depth throughout the organization. I still believe if we can get the pitching organized, we can contend. Our everyday lineup is pretty good. Pretty good power, decent defense.”
Q: Obviously, starting pitching is the continual concern of this organization. Are you comfortable with what you have right now?
A: “Well, the age and the track records of the pitchers we have projects for us to have a competitive team. We should be able to supplement that during the year. Our bullpen is still strong. We’ve got some more work to do. We need to find some left-handed pitching, left-handed starting pitching. We’re gonna take a look at some of the candidates that we have in camp. It’s tough to compete without a decent, left-handed starting pitcher.”
Q: Could Rule 5 pick Nestor Cortes Jr., be that guy?
A: “Maybe, we’re gonna find out.”
Q: There are three accomplished starting pitchers still on the market in Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn. Initially, all three were viewed to be out of the price range you wanted to pay. Do you have plans on more actively pursuing them now?
A: “It’s getting kind of late in the spring training period for pitchers to get ready, right? We’re gonna monitor the market, the trade market and the free agent market, and see if there is an opportunity for us to add to the club.”
Q: You recently signed veteran Danny Valencia to a minor league deal. And he said he’s only interested in being in the majors. How do you see him fitting onto this club?
A: “Valencia is a platoon bat versus left-handed pitching, he has some versatility. He can play in the outfield and he can play a couple infield positions. We’ll have to see how that goes. We have (four) everyday infielders.”
Q: If this is, indeed, the personnel you will have going north in late March, are you comfortable with that?
A: “We need to find some answers to our pitching staff. I do like some of the things I’ve seen from some of the young pitchers. Tanner Scott looks pretty good. We need to find a left-hander in the bullpen, we need to find a left-handed starting pitcher, a utility infielder. We’re looking for an outfielder … amongst the candidates we have in camp. So, there is some opportunity here and some jobs open, and we’ve got a little bit more time to evaluate what we have.
“I’m encouraged by the depth of our farm system. If you look at what MLB Pipeline and Baseball America has said about us, we have more players in the pipeline for the major league club coming through the farm system that could impact the club later on in the year like (Ryan) Mountcastle, who has looked pretty good here in the spring, DJ Stewart, Tanner Scott, Cedric Mullins, Hunter Harvey. And then we’ve got some others down below that we haven’t seen up here yet.”
Q: Outfielder Austin Hays is one of your organization’s best prospects. He’s been slowed (by a right shoulder injury), but if he is one of the best 25, will he go to Baltimore?
A: “He’s in competition to earn a spot here. This is his first major league spring training camp obviously, and he’s got a little issue with his shoulder. Shouldn’t be anything long term. But he is one of the top prospects in baseball and one of the top prospects in our system, and he has all the tools to be a good major league player. We’ll see how it goes. We also like (Anthony) Santander, and Santander has got a few weeks left in his Rule 5 sentence that need to be served before he is a free man.”
Q: In your mind, are Santander and Hays linked, since Santander needs to stay in the majors for 44 more days, and Hays could be kept in the minors for a couple months for future arbitration schedule purposes?
A: “We did recall Hays last year and we thought he could impact and help our club. At the time we were looking for a spark. It didn’t work out that way, but Hays still has all the tools. He has youth, speed, arm, a good arm, he can hit and we’re gonna get a chance to take a look at him here once he’s healthy. We like Santander. He’s a 23-year-old, switch-hitting power hitter and looks like he can play in the outfield capably. We like Austin Hays, too. Both of them have the tools to be everyday major league ballplayers.”
Q: Could they both make the roster?
A: “To start the season? We’ll have to wait and see how that goes.”
Q: What’s your take on the open utility spot on the roster?
A: “The utility job is open. That’s a job that (Ryan) Flaherty did for us for a number of years, Every time we went to look for another utility man, we saw the versatility of Flaherty. That was very helpful. So that job is wide open. There’s a number of candidates we can take a look at.”
Q: Anyone in particular catch your interest so far?
A: “Well, (Engelb) Vielma was late to camp; we had trouble with his work papers. (Luis) Sardinas has gotten off to a slow start. (Ruben) Tejada, we know about Tejada. We had him some of last year, he’s a veteran.”
Q: Is it possible your 2018 utility player isn’t in camp, but currently playing with someone else?
A: “Yeah, that’s possible. There will be some utilitymen available. Other clubs will have utilitymen available at the end of the spring too, maybe via a trade.”
Q: You’ve had success adding players during and at the end of spring training. There are still a lot of players out there. Does that benefit you and your style?
A: “I don’t know. We just try to figure out what we need and then try to find that player in the market, and try to be active in all the markets, But, there are some more players on the market this year than there usually is at this time of year. We’ve sent our scouts over to see the IMG (free-agent camp) games, we have scouts in Arizona, we have scouts in Florida.”
Q: So, you don’t view yourself as done adding to the roster?
A: “We should be able to add some more pieces to our team between now and the start of the season.”
Q: What about adding another outfielder to the mix from free agency or a trade?
A: “We looked at a number of options and possibilities and we like our guy, DJ Stewart, who had a really good year at Double A, and we also like Colby Rasmus. We need to find some left-handed hitting for our ballclub, but we want to take a look at DJ Stewart and also Colby Rasmus and see if they fit.”
Q: So, the door is closed on outfielders from the outside?
A: “I think we need to take a look at some of the guys we have first.”
Q: Do you believe this team can be competitive in the American League East the way the division looks this year?
A: “Well, that’s the question, right? (He laughs.) See what the Yankees did? They’re good. And the Sox are good too, they won the division the last two years. So, we’ve got our work cut out for us, but we have a competitive group of players and we’ve shown we’re capable of competing.”
Q: One thing those clubs have done well is scout internationally, something the Orioles barely do due to ownership philosophy. How difficult is it to not be able to participate in that arena?
A: “It’s a challenge to compete against the American League East. These folks are by far out resourcing us, so we have to be as resourceful as we can. And put together as good of a team as we can every year. That’s what we try to do. We try to do as best as we can with what we have. And we’ll compete with those teams.”
Q: What are your thoughts about your future and security, being that your contract expires at the end of the year?
A: “I appreciate the opportunity I got to come back and work here in Baltimore, the opportunity that Mr. Angelos gave me. I’m looking forward to having another competitive season. We’ve made the playoffs in ‘12, ‘14 and ‘16 and so it’s another even year. Hopefully, we’ve put together a club that can make the postseason again. And then those things will take care of themselves in due time.”
Q: Do you view it similarly to a free-agent player in his walk year, that a good season will guarantee you a job somewhere?
A: “Having been out of baseball for nine years, I appreciate every day and the opportunity I have here in Baltimore. We have another opportunity to have a competitive team. So, I have some longer-term goals. I had some successful teams, made the playoffs several times, but haven’t been able to win a pennant or win a World Series. So, I have some long-term goals. Well, they’ve turned into long-term goals. (He laughs). When I started out, they were short-term goals.”