Tag Archive | "Dan Duquette"


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Twelve Orioles thoughts on start of spring training

Posted on 20 February 2018 by Luke Jones

With Orioles spring training underway and Grapefruit League action beginning later this week, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After signing Andrew Cashner and Chris Tillman, the Orioles will have an estimated 2018 payroll of just south of $130 million after an Opening Day payroll of $164 million last season, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Explain again why they’re not serious players for Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb?

2. We scoff whenever a free agent says it’s not about the money, but I believe free-agent-to-be Adam Jones when he said the chance to win will be more important than compensation. The 32-year-old obviously won’t play for nothing, but a ring is very important to him.

3. That said, how the Padres perform in 2018 would be an interesting variable to throw into the Jones mix after they signed Eric Hosmer. They have one of baseball’s top farm systems, so perhaps the San Diego native would be intrigued about going home if the Padres show they’re ascending.

4. Not that Tim Beckham has had any leverage in the matter, but I’m impressed with the way he’s handled himself in the wake of Manny Machado moving to shortstop. Showing he can be a solid third baseman would only enhance his value moving forward.

5. Dylan Bundy astutely noted at FanFest that he got away from his curveball and changeup too much down the stretch as he posted a 7.53 ERA in his three September starts. His 2017 workload was a major topic of discussion, so you pray that he has a healthy spring.

6. Chris Davis knows he needs to be more aggressive. His contact and chase rates have held fairly steady since 2014, but he swung at a career-low 60.0 percent of pitches in the zone last year, down from 64.1 percent in 2016 and 72.2 percent in 2015. That’s a disturbing trend.

7. One of Baltimore’s more cerebral players, Mark Trumbo said he was probably too caught up in swing analytics last year. He denied any negative impact from serving as the designated hitter so frequently, but that role sure provides a lot of time to overthink struggles at the plate.

8. A healthy Darren O’Day would go a long way in the bullpen’s effort to endure the extended absence of Zach Britton. Little went right for the Orioles last September, but the 35-year-old quietly posted a 0.96 ERA with 24 strikeouts over his last 18 2/3 innings of the season.

9. If the best Dan Duquette can do in adding a lefty-hitting outfielder is 32-year-old journeyman Alex Presley, the Orioles need to give Austin Hays every opportunity to show he can be an everyday player and this year’s version of Trey Mancini despite lacking the same minor-league seasoning.

10. There’s much evidence supporting concerns about Cashner, but citing his 42-64 career record pitching mostly for bad teams tells us very little about his performance. Pitcher win-loss records are baseball tradition, but they should induce an eye-roll if used in attempts at meaningful analysis.

11. I’m skeptical just how much baseball’s new initiatives to improve pace of play will move the meter, but limiting the number of mound visits is long overdue. You’d think some pitchers and catchers had never met before with how frequently they congregate.

12. Many of the spring training caps introduced around baseball in recent years have been cringe-worthy, but I do like this year’s Orioles version. It was a smart call taking the logo from the deer hunter caps used for “Players Weekend” last summer.

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Tillman a fine flier, but Orioles shouldn’t view him as safe bet

Posted on 19 February 2018 by Luke Jones

A reunion with Chris Tillman made sense for the Orioles.

Entering the winter with three vacant spots in the rotation and rarely ever spending extravagantly on pitching, the organization re-signing the 29-year-old as a bounce-back candidate always felt like a likely outcome. Frankly, there are worse ways to spend $3 million, a drop in the bucket compared to the cash wasted on the likes of Ubaldo Jimenez, Yovani Gallardo, and Wade Miley in recent years.

Given the familiarity and his track record over the five seasons prior to 2017, Tillman is a fine flier with the potential to reap good value if his shoulder issues are behind him and he rediscovers his old arm slot, a problem examined in great detail by Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs last June. However, he shouldn’t just be penciled in as the No. 4 starter if the Orioles are truly serious about trying to make noise in 2018.

Not after Tillman had one of the worst seasons by a starting pitcher in major league history, a significant reason why Baltimore suffered its first losing season and last-place finish since 2011.

That’s why it’s encouraging that executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said the club was still in search of starting pitching after coming to terms with Tillman on Monday. Whether that means only scouring the waiver wire for a fringe minor-league arm or two or still being in play for a legitimate free-agent starter like Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb remains to be seen.

Based on last year’s payroll, the Orioles should still have upwards of $30 million to spend on the 2018 club, but that’s assuming Duquette is working under a similar budget. Baltimore reportedly deferring $3 million of Andrew Cashner’s two-year, $16 million deal is a red flag suggesting that may not be the case.

Finding another starter for one of the top three spots in the rotation would not only improve the context of the Cashner and Tillman signings by moving them to the No. 4 and No. 5 spots, but it would give the Orioles a group more in line with where it stood a few years ago and that’s not factoring in the upside offered by both Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. Of course, that still isn’t going to prompt anyone to pick Baltimore ahead of New York and Boston in the heavyweight American League East, but adding Lynn or Cobb would make wild-card discussions more realistic if some other variables were to break the Orioles’ way like in 2012, 2014, or 2016.

No matter what he did prior to 2017, Tillman really shouldn’t be viewed as anything more than a candidate for the fifth starter job competing with Miguel Castro, Nestor Cortes, and others. Both he and the Orioles will try to call last season an aberration, but it still happened as Tillman became the eighth pitcher since 1929 to produce an ERA of 7.50 or higher with at least 90 innings of work, according to Baseball Reference.

Throwing fewer fastballs than ever with diminished velocity, he allowed an obscene 2.3 home runs and 4.9 free passes per nine frames, his highest walk rate since 2010. No peripherals can soften these brutal numbers as he was worth minus-2.2 wins above replacement in 2017, meaning the Orioles could have expected better performance from a pitcher at Triple-A Norfolk.

To his credit, Tillman never used the shoulder problems that began late in 2016 as an excuse and repeatedly insisted he was healthy over the course of his nightmare season. But if all parties are being honest a year later, that hopefully wasn’t the case and perhaps he’s finally right physically.

The Orioles know him better than anyone else, making their reunion a good fit as he tries to get his career back on track and the club tries to improve its chances for 2018. He was never a bona fide ace at his best, but the right-hander was still the backbone of the rotation for the better part of five seasons.

It’s a fine bet at such a low cost to see if Tillman can rediscover his old form.

But the Orioles shouldn’t yet view their efforts to fill the starting rotation as being complete.

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Orioles officially sign veteran starter Cashner to two-year deal

Posted on 15 February 2018 by Luke Jones

(Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles)

It may have taken until the first week of spring training, but the Orioles have finally added a veteran to their shallow starting rotation.

Right-handed pitcher Andrew Cashner officially signed a two-year, $16 million contract on Thursday. The deal includes performance incentives as well as a vesting option for the 2020 season if he reaches a total of 340 innings over the first two years.

The 31-year-old went 11-11 with a 3.40 ERA in 28 starts covering 166 2/3 innings after signing a one-year, $10 million deal with Texas last offseason. He was able to rebound from the worst season of his career — a 5.25 ERA split between San Diego and Miami in 2016 — with a career-best 4.6 wins above replacement for the Rangers.

In eight major league seasons, Cashner is 42-64 with a 3.80 ERA in 893 innings. He’s averaged 7.0 strikeouts and 3.2 walks per nine innings with a very solid 49-percent ground-ball rate over the course of his career. He throws a four-seam fastball, sinker, changeup, curve, and a slider-cutter.

Having arrived in Sarasota with the only definite members of the 2018 rotation being Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, Baltimore is adding an established starter to the mix who should be a clear upgrade over the likes of Ubaldo Jimenez and last year’s version of Chris Tillman. However, Cashner repeating his 2017 ERA could prove to be a tall order when considering his worrisome peripheral numbers that will remind some of the Yovani Gallardo signing two years ago that proved to be a major disappointment.

Though possessing a fastball that still sat at 94 miles per hour last year, Cashner saw his strikeout rate plummet to a career-worst 4.6 per nine innings as the opposition made more contact than ever against him. That coupled with a career-low .267 opposing batting average on balls in play would suggest the right-hander was very fortunate to post the third-best ERA of his career. His Fielding Independent Pitching mark (FIP) was 4.61 in 2017 while the Steamer system found on FanGraphs projects a 5.40 ERA for Cashner in 2018.

Durability has also been an issue in the past as he’s pitched 160 innings just three times in his career. He had stints on the disabled list last season with right biceps tendinitis and an oblique strain.

Ultimately, the Orioles are adding a legitimate major leaguer to a rotation that had nothing established behind Bundy and Gausman. The cost is reasonable and he brings 2017’s 15th-best ground-ball rate among qualified pitchers to Camden Yards, but this move should really be judged based on what else executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette does between now and the start of the season.

If the Orioles are serious about competing, they’ll add at least one more veteran such as Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn to slot ahead of Cashner as he should be no more than a No. 4 starter on a contending club and ideally would be the No. 5 guy. But if he remains their biggest acquisition and the Orioles fill out the rest of the rotation with internal options or only throw in a Tillman re-signing, Cashner could prove to be little more than a marginal upgrade from Wade Miley in the No. 3 spot for a rotation that finished last in the majors in ERA last year.

Either way, the Orioles will cross their fingers that Cashner won’t be the second coming of Gallardo and is able to outperform his peripherals for a second straight year. Such an outcome would better help them compete or at least provide the club another decent piece to sell off at this summer’s trade deadline.

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Orioles’ lack of direction taking optimism out of spring

Posted on 14 February 2018 by Luke Jones

Orioles pitchers and catchers have reported to Sarasota and participated in their first workout on Wednesday.

This is supposed to be a warm and fuzzy time for those longing for baseball and warmer weather while reminding themselves that hope springs eternal, right?

You’ve read the primers with the top five or 10 biggest questions going into spring training, but what’s currently happening on the back fields of the Ed Smith Stadium complex feels rather inconsequential. Musings about another left-handed bat, the utility infielder competition, or even the vacancies in the starting rotation simply don’t measure up to the colossal question emanating from this organization.

What the heck is going on?

The Orioles finished in last place in 2017 and posted the worst starter ERA in the major leagues and worst in club history, but the most notable rotation candidate added this offseason has been Rule 5 pick Nestor Cortes. The loudest and most consistent buzz about a veteran signing continues revolving around Chris Tillman, who last year posted the worst ERA (7.84) by any major leaguer throwing more than 90 innings since Scott Erickson (7.87) in 2000. His track record prior to 2017 makes him an acceptable flier to compete for the final rotation pot, but he’d currently be penciled in as the No. 3 or No. 4 starter.

According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the projected 2018 payroll is currently around $40 million lower than last year’s, but reports and speculation continue to suggest reluctance to commit to long or even medium-term contracts, making one wonder if the decrease is deliberate. Players who’ve meant so much to their recent success like Adam Jones have indicated that the club isn’t even engaging in extension talks. And Baltimore still hasn’t traded Manny Machado as the 25-year-old superstar is now nine months away from walking away as a free agent.

Why, why, and why?

The Orioles certainly don’t appear to be “going for it” with Machado, Jones, Zach Britton, and Brad Brach all scheduled to become free agents at the end of the season and haven’t yet signaled a rebuilding process by dealing any of the aforementioned names. Blame executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette if you want, but both he and manager Buck Showalter are also in the last year of their contracts, only adding to the perceived lack of direction exhibited by ownership.

Do Peter Angelos and family have a plan for 2019 and beyond?

Of course, excuses are there if you want to entertain them. Duquette has regularly conducted business late in the offseason and well into spring training and an abnormally-stagnant market has left dozens of free agents still looking for jobs, but you’d assume that increased supply will be accompanied by more demand from other clubs whenever the thaw occurs.

Perhaps the Orioles will silence critics by still signing an Alex Cobb or a Lance Lynn, but we know they historically don’t win bidding wars and rarely even engage in them. Would such an addition make enough of a difference anyway or only increase the likelihood of the organization keeping Machado and others through the trade deadline with ill-advised thoughts of chasing the second wild-card berth as we saw in 2015 and last year? Those pondering the future should feel conflicted about that possibility since the current club is hardly devoid of talent despite its clear deficiencies.

You could try to argue that the rotation can’t be any worse than it was a year ago and the removal of Ubaldo Jimenez, Wade Miley, and Tillman — at least the 2017 version — is addition by subtraction, no matter who ends up making those starts. Of course, that “glass half full” outlook still doesn’t translate to consistently competing with a group currently comprised of Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, and three shoulder shrugs. The bullpen also isn’t as strong on paper with Britton sidelined indefinitely and former All-Star reliever Darren O’Day another year older and having dealt with different ailments over the last two seasons.

Even with baseball’s bizarre market, the organization isn’t proceeding all that differently from recent offseasons, but the reality is that it’s entering the ninth inning of the current era with the same old flaws more magnified than ever. It’s no longer 2012 or 2014 when most of the club’s top commodities remained comfortably under contractual control, meaning there should have been much more urgency.

The organization deserves credit for accumulating the most wins in the American League from 2012-16 and ownership has steadily increased the payroll over the last six years, but frustrating peculiarities have remained such as the philosophical refusal to participate in the international market. The farm system is quietly improving, but the shortage of impactful starting pitching has hindered the major league club for years and crushed it in 2017.

No one will forget the surprising 2012 team, the 2014 AL East champions and Delmon Young’s double, or the wild-card appearance two years ago, but the Orioles are now an unimpressive 113-124 since the 2016 All-Star break and only four games above .500 over the last three seasons. After years of proving naysayers wrong and outperforming projection models, that old mojo feels like it’s on life support at best with the futures of so many key individuals in doubt.

The 2018 club will grind it out to the best of its ability, using the doubts and criticism as fuel for competitive fire. The group will once again be led by Showalter in the dugout and Jones on the field, the two most important individuals in this decade of Orioles baseball. Both will say and do the right things, but they deserve better in what could be their final year in Baltimore.

A last-place team from a year ago begins spring training after treading water all winter, neither making one last big run with the current core nor taking meaningful steps to start building for future success.

The current Orioles, the future Orioles, and those fans typically excited for spring deserve better.

At least some semblance of a direction would be nice.

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Orioles continue leaving their fans twisting in wind

Posted on 11 January 2018 by Luke Jones

The Orioles should probably be thanking the Ravens.

The latter’s embarrassing loss to Cincinnati to miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five years has kept most fan disenchantment in Baltimore squarely on Steve Bisciotti’s franchise over the last two weeks. Perhaps the Orioles should even take a page out of Buffalo’s book and ship 20 cases of crab cakes to the Bengals to show their gratitude.

Anything to keep the spotlight away from an organization showing no evidence of a plan or a direction despite spring training only being a month away. We’re also two weeks from FanFest, that event designed to spark enthusiasm for the upcoming season and — more importantly — drive ticket sales.

Good luck with that.

Yes, it’s very fair to note the frigid temperature of the “hot stove” this offseason, which hasn’t helped an Orioles club that’s never moved swiftly in the Dan Duquette era and has rarely shown the necessary urgency during most of Peter Angelos’ reign as owner. At the same time, the Orioles are also coming off their first losing season and last-place finish since 2011 and still have three-fifths of their starting rotation to fill. Unlike some recent winters, they don’t have the luxury of pointing to the previous year being competitive as an excuse for not needing to move all that quickly or to do all that much to try to be in contention.

Suggesting bullpen arms or Rule 5 picks could be real candidates to start isn’t a solution; it insults your fans’ intelligence if you’re claiming to want to be competitive.

What is the direction?

Where is the urgency?

Are the Orioles making a final run with the current group, rebuilding, or just doing nothing?

Amidst recent reports of the club being interested in veteran starting pitcher Andrew Cashner — a sign you’d interpret as at least trying to be somewhat competitive, right? — former Oriole Miguel Gonzalez agreed to a one-year, $4.75 million deal to rejoin the Chicago White Sox on Thursday. It’s the latest development making fans shake their heads and ask questions.

To be very clear, neither Gonzalez nor Cashner is anything more than a mediocre piece to help fill out the back of a starting rotation, and these guys aren’t moving the meter in any meaningful way. However, a cheap one-year deal for Gonzalez sounds like a better investment for a team trying to make at least a halfhearted attempt to be competitive for one more season than potentially giving Cashner more money and additional years as some project he’ll command. Despite Cashner’s shiny 3.40 ERA in 2017, his peripheral numbers — a career-low 4.6 strikeouts per nine innings and a .267 opposing batting average on balls in play — suggest some real regression is ahead. He could be Yovani Gallardo all over again.

If Dan Duquette’s claims earlier in the offseason about the club still wanting to be competitive in 2018 are true, what exactly is the organization waiting for?

If the Orioles aren’t trying to win in 2018, that’s fine. Short of a massive bump in payroll to go sign a couple of high-impact starting pitchers, I’ve already stated my belief that they’re drawing dead in a loaded American League East anyway. Even with a major increase in spending, it’s extremely difficult seeing a realistic path to a division title for this club.

If the plan is to rebuild, then get to it. And, oh yeah, it might be to the organization’s benefit to communicate some semblance of that vision to the many fans doubting there is one. Just use “youth movement” in place of “rebuild” and start pulling the trigger on some deals to inject some talent for the future. That’s better than continuing to do nothing and talking in circles at FanFest two weeks from now. That strategy isn’t selling tickets and creates even more frustration for a fan base already disappointed about the prospects of Manny Machado departing at some point in the next 10 months.

Perhaps the Orioles haven’t truly found a reasonable package in exchange for one year of Machado — notice I said reasonable and not miraculous — but that shouldn’t stop them from pursuing trades for other expiring commodities in the meantime such as Brad Brach. If they’ve thrown in the towel on 2018, keeping Brach to be the closer simply because Zach Britton is hurt is nothing short of foolish.

It’s all one big shoulder shrug.

The 33-year-old Gonzalez signing on the cheap elsewhere is hardly a real issue, but it’s the latest bullet point that makes you ask what the heck the Orioles are trying to do this offseason.

I’m not sure even they know.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts counting down to spring training

Posted on 08 January 2018 by Luke Jones

With Orioles pitchers and catchers reporting to Sarasota for spring training in a little over a month, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. It bears repeating how problematic it is having a general manager whose contract expires in less than a year navigating one of the more pivotal offseasons in club history. The lack of evidence of any direction or long-term thinking from ownership is maddening.

2. That hasn’t been helped by the overall inactivity of the market as MLB Network reported only 31 of 166 free agents had signed deals entering Monday. That sounds fishy, regardless of whether you believe it’s collusion or the effect of the luxury tax and next year’s free-agent class being better.

3. No one’s suggesting the Orioles should just give Manny Machado away, but this is what happens when you punt on the future for so long. This current process should have started from the moment they knew a long-term deal very likely wasn’t in the stars.

4. Speaking of long-term deals, signing Jonathan Schoop to one should be a top priority right now, but you wonder if watching the organization’s handling of his close friend leaves him more inclined to wait for free agency after 2019.

5. Kevin Gausman changing his jersey number to honor the late Roy Halladay is a touching gesture, and the Orioles hope the 27-year-old builds off his 3.41 ERA in the second half of 2017. Home runs remained an issue, but his strikeout and walk rates improved markedly after the All-Star break.

6. Part of that improvement should be credited to Caleb Joseph as pitchers posted a 4.23 ERA throwing to him compared to a 5.60 mark with the departed Welington Castillo. I don’t think it’s coincidence that the staff has usually fared better when Joseph has caught over the last several years.

7. Chris Davis was worth minus-0.2 wins above replacement in 2017, according to Baseball Reference. He’ll only be 32 and can still turn things around, but the seven-year, $161 million deal he signed two years ago is looking more disastrous than many feared it could be at the time.

8. Looking at 2017 batting average on balls in play and remembering the league average is just below .300, Machado is a no-brainer pick to rebound after a career-worst .265 mark. On the flip side, Trey Mancini’s .352 clip makes him a candidate for some regression in his second full season.

9. The club has high hopes for Richard Bleier and Miguel Castro, but the former’s 3.7 strikeouts per nine innings and .263 opposing BABIP are worrisome for projecting future success. Castro’s 5.2 per nine strikeout rate and .231 BABIP should also temper expectations about a possible move to the rotation.

10. Hunter Harvey is a bright spot for an organization still lacking pitching prospects, but you hope the Orioles aren’t so desperate for starting pitching that they potentially compromise the 23-year-old’s health and development. Unlike Dylan Bundy two years ago, Harvey has minor-league options remaining.

11. You’ll hear plenty about Nestor Cortes and other Rule 5 picks over the next few months, but this annual exercise that’s put numerous strains on the roster has netted a total of 1.7 WAR during the Dan Duquette era, according to Baseball Reference. Way too much effort for minimal value.

12. Maybe they’ll prove us wrong in the coming weeks, but the Orioles’ approach to this offseason with a slew of expiring contracts after 2018 feels like a basketball team running a Four Corners offense while trailing by 10 points. Where’s the urgency?

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Orioles select three pitchers in this year’s Rule 5 draft

Posted on 14 December 2017 by Luke Jones

While the baseball world waits to learn the fate of All-Star third baseman Manny Machado, the Orioles’ version of Christmas came Thursday with the Rule 5 draft at the winter meetings.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette selected three pitchers: left-hander Nestor Cortes and right-hander Jose Mesa from the New York Yankees organization and right-hander Pedro Araujo from the Chicago Cubs organization. All three have been placed on the 40-man roster and must remain on the 25-man club throughout the 2018 season to remain with the organization.

Cortes, 23, went 7-4 with a 2.06 ERA in 104 2/3 innings this past season with most of that time split between Double-A Trenton (52 innings) and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (48 1/3 innings). He averaged 9.0 strikeouts and 2.8 walks despite not possessing overwhelming stuff.

Duquette told reporters in Florida that Cortes could compete for a spot in the major league rotation that currently sports only Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman.

Mesa, 24, is the son of former Orioles pitcher and All-Star closer Jose Mesa and split the 2017 seaosn between Trenton and Single-A Tampa. The right-hander posted a combined 1.93 ERA and struck out 101 batters while walking 32 in 84 innings.

The 24-year-old Araujo finished the 2017 campaign with a 1.76 ERA in 66 2/3 innings split between Single-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Tennessee. He averaged 11.7 strikeouts and 2.4 walks per nine innings.

The Orioles must also begin the 2018 season with former Rule 5 pick Anthony Santander on the 25-man roster after the outfielder missed most of last season with an elbow injury. They are now set to take four Rule 5 picks to spring training in Sarasota.

Baltimore did not lose any prospects in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft as only 15 other players were selected by the other 29 clubs.

Since Duquette took over in the fall of 2011, the Orioles have made at least one Rule 5 selection every year, but those picks have combined for only 1.7 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference. The organization has often expressed its affinity for this outlet, but the minimal value that’s come to fruition has been accompanied by roster crunches that have frequently hamstrung contending clubs over multiple seasons.

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Orioles appear to finally be facing reality with Machado

Posted on 12 December 2017 by Luke Jones

Perhaps the Orioles have finally concluded they’re drawing dead.

There’s little sense in going for a straight or a flush if the other players at the poker table are already holding a full house, and that’s what the American League East is once again looking like after some leaner years — relatively speaking — for its two behemoths.

Even if executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette were to sign a pair of accomplished starting pitchers such as Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn this offseason, that may not be enough to seriously challenge the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Of course, there are no indications owner Peter Angelos is willing to make such steep financial commitments anyway after the disastrous Ubaldo Jimenez contract finally came off the books at the end of last season.

All the talk about the Orioles making a final run with their group of pending free agents sounds nice, but aggressively spending is the only realistic way to make that happen now and that’s just not in this organization’s DNA despite some success in recent years. Trading a part or two in an already-barren farm system for a mediocre-at-best starter and signing minor-league free agents are not realistic means to the end as the last few years have proven.

That brings us to Manny Machado, one of the best players in baseball who’s less than a year away from becoming a free agent. The rumors and reports are rampant this week about the Orioles finally being willing to part with their All-Star third baseman, who apparently now wants to play shortstop with J.J. Hardy no longer in the picture. What that would mean for Tim Beckham is anyone’s guess.

Of course, the Orioles have known for years that Machado was scheduled to hit the open market at the end of 2018, but Duquette confirmed to reporters Tuesday that they haven’t engaged in contract talks in a long time. That truth reflects the organization’s lack of any long-term vision, a reality reinforced by ownership entrusting a general manager entering the final year of his contract to manage this delicate situation in the first place.

Using hindsight, the optimal time to sign the 25-year-old likely would have been after the 2014 season when he underwent his second knee surgery in as many years. It would have been risky — and we know how the Orioles scrutinize medical records — and far from cheap, but the financial commitment to buy out the first few years of Machado’s free agency would have paled in comparison to what they would need to pay to keep him now.

But that’s ancient history as is the chance to have fetched a bigger return for him last winter or last July.

It’s better late than never if Angelos isn’t willing to extend Machado — a fair position considering the anticipated price and competition for his services next offseason — and is now open to him being dealt, but there’s no telling whether the Orioles will properly execute such a franchise-defining decision. And that’s what makes the developments at the winter meetings all the more unsettling.

According to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, the Orioles are seeking two young starting pitchers with controllable years, but how realistic is that in exchange for just one year of Machado? Even if that is doable, is Duquette looking for major-league-ready starters with limited potential in hopes of merely being competitive in 2018 or prospects a bit further away from the majors with much higher ceilings?

If you’re going to trade Machado, you should be seeking the best deal possible — pitching or positional talent — from any potential suitor and shouldn’t be doing it with any major regard for the present. If your goal is being competitive next season, you wouldn’t be trading your best player in the first place. If that means you then look to trade other pending free agents such as Zach Britton, Brad Brach, or even Adam Jones, so be it.

You can’t play it both ways, no matter what you try to tell fans or the media.

But Duquette’s own status complicates that since he’s no more invested in the organization beyond next season than Machado is at the moment. The Orioles finishing in last place again in 2018 wouldn’t exactly bode well for his résumé if this is his own finale in Baltimore.

The Orioles engaging in trade talks doesn’t mean a deal will be completed this week — remember we’re talking about Angelos here — but it is a hopeful sign that they won’t allow one of the most talented players in club history to simply walk away for an inconsequential draft pick next fall. The idea of parting with a special talent like Machado really hurts, but Baltimore can improve its long-term outlook by accepting the strong likelihood that the current group’s window has closed and trading assets unlikely to be here for the next competitive window.

Even if you like your hand, folding it with eyes toward the future sometimes proves to be the best move.

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By not selling, Orioles continue course toward 2019 cliff

Posted on 31 July 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Monday’s trade deadline came and went with the Orioles taking no detour from their path toward that 2019 cliff.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette offered few specifics about any potential deals that were on the table for two-time All-Star closer Zach Britton or 2016 All-Star setup man Brad Brach. He did allude to Britton’s market being depressed because of his two-month absence for a left forearm strain in the first half and referenced the lucrative returns that the New York Yankees received for relievers Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman at last year’s deadline.

“He’s one of the top relievers in the American League,” Duquette said. “There’s a steep price paid for the relievers that were traded last year, and that really wasn’t the market this year.”

Make no mistake, the Orioles were smart to aim high and not trade Britton if they couldn’t find a fair offer, especially with him being under club control through next season. He wasn’t just a rental for a contending club, but you’d certainly hope they plan to deal the talented — and increasingly expensive — closer this winter and not wait until a year from now when his hypothetical value would be considerably lower.

Keeping the likes of Britton, Brach, and third baseman Manny Machado for now isn’t necessarily the end of the world that many are making it out to be, but the Orioles remain on that ominous path when those three as well as veteran center fielder Adam Jones become free agents at the end of next season. You can’t help but feel that the longer they wait to deal such valuable pieces, the longer it will be until their next competitive window opens.

And just because the Orioles can still trade any of those individuals at some point over the next year doesn’t mean they will, which is an even scarier proposition.

Duquette talked at length about the organization not giving up on 2017, a notion that left many rolling their eyes as Baltimore entered Monday tied for the fifth-worst record in the American League. The acquisitions of veteran starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson — who’s only under contract through the end of the season — and 27-year-old infielder Tim Beckham are hardly the moves of a club that considers itself a serious contender.

At least Beckham, the first overall pick of the 2008 draft, is under control through the 2020 season and has developed into a useful major league piece after years of underwhelming results. The Hellickson deal reeks of pointlessness as even he admitted surprise when the fourth-place Orioles acquired him from Philadelphia late Friday night.

No, Duquette didn’t trade away the organization’s high-end minor-league pieces for a long-shot chance at a playoff berth, but middling activity such as these two deals once again left us wondering about the Orioles’ overall direction. Beckham could be the club’s starting shortstop for the next few years, but he’s not someone you’d point to as a difference maker, either.

“I still like this team. I like this team for this year; I like this team for next year,” said Duquette, whose contract expires at the end of next season. “You’ve seen fits and spurts of this team playing very, very good baseball. The consistency will come when we get a consistent, stable rotation.”

Duquette chuckled when asked how his and manager Buck Showalter’s contract status as well as the age of owner Peter Angelos — who turned 88 on July 4 — might impact the club’s overall plans, but those uncertain futures are even more problematic than what to do with the likes of Machado and Britton. It makes little sense to have a lame-duck general manager begin a rebuilding process, and he has little incentive to want to start such an arduous task without assurance of being able to see it through.

Angelos should have already decided what the future holds for Duquette and shouldn’t continue with him in charge if he isn’t going to be the architect after next season.

Instead, it appears to be all about the present, whether not selling at the deadline or continuing to move international signing bonus slots.

Are the Orioles committed to keeping the band together for a final run in 2018? If so, they’ll need to do a ton of heavy lifting to revive a starting rotation that’s been an utter disaster this season, and a veteran like Hellickson isn’t going to cut it. While they’re at it, the offense hasn’t been very good in 2017, either.

Will the Orioles start showing any regard for what happens beyond 2018 or stubbornly continue marching forward with a club that doesn’t appear to be good enough anymore?

Important questions, but no clear direction in sight.

Other than that cliff ahead.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 9-7 win over Houston

Posted on 23 July 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles salvaging the finale of a three-game set in a 9-7 win over Houston, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. It was a long time coming, but Zach Britton set a new American League record with his 55th consecutive save conversion and first since April 14. If he is indeed traded before the Orioles return home next Monday, it was a fitting final appearance for him at Camden Yards.

2. A balanced offensive attack was the difference as seven different Orioles collected an RBI. The offensive showing could have been even better if not for grounding into four double plays in the first six innings.

3. Dylan Bundy will continue receiving extra rest when off-days allow it, but he’s now posted a 7.85 ERA over his last seven starts after surrendering a career-high seven runs. He handled quite a workload over the first 2 1/2 months, and you wonder how much fatigue is factoring into his struggles.

4. Houston hitters were able to work their way back from multiple 0-2 counts as Bundy wasn’t able to finish them off. The walk to Alex Bregman preceding Nori Aoki’s game-tying three-run home run in the sixth was particularly frustrating for the young pitcher.

5. Mark Trumbo reminded us why he only plays sparingly in the outfield, but he made up for it with the game-tying home run in the last of the seventh. He was one of three Baltimore hitters to collect their 50th RBI of the season on Sunday.

6. Trey Mancini drove in two runs and improved his average with runners in scoring position to a whopping .431. You keep waiting for him to start looking more like a rookie at the plate, but it hasn’t happened.

7. Jonathan Schoop saw his streak of five straight games with multiple RBIs come to an end, but he’s had at least one in seven consecutive contests. His three-hit afternoon raised his season average to .307.

8. Jose Altuve’s greatness is hardly breaking news, but he collected four hits to finish off a .500 batting average for the series. He sure is something special to watch.

9. A move to the leadoff spot has sparked a recent surge for Adam Jones, who had four hits and passed former teammate Nick Markakis to move into sole possession of sixth place on the Orioles’ all-time hit list. He’s been in the middle of plenty of scoring rallies of late.

10. The sixth inning is a separator in today’s game as teams need starters capable of getting through six innings or an incredibly deep bullpen to survive. The Orioles gave up 11 runs in the sixth frame over this series.

11. Much was made about Dan Duquette’s trade deadline comments Saturday, but remember he was addressing season-ticket holders as players were within earshot. His actions, not his words, are what matter over the next week.

12. Had the Orioles gone 7-3 or better on this homestand to get back to .500, I could maybe understand not selling, but they have no more than six wins in any 10-game stretch since May 9. Winning five of seven isn’t enough to overlook 2 1/2 months of .379 baseball.

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