Tag Archive | "Dan Duquette"

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Orioles continue stockpiling pitching inventory in minor leagues

Posted on 07 April 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette hasn’t let the start of the season stop him from continuing to build the 2017 roster.

In addition to acquiring young pitchers Andrew Faulkner and Miguel Castro for players to be named later or cash considerations, Baltimore officially signed veteran starting pitcher Edwin Jackson to a minor-league deal on Friday. In the cases of Faulkner and Castro, it’s all about the Orioles continuing to add young pitching inventory with minor-league options to potentially use in relief or the back end of the starting rotation.

“We’re talking about controllable, optionable, not-on-the-roster guys that we can [acquire],” manager Buck Showalter said. “All three are different, but like I’ve said before, it’s kind of who we are and who we’ve been. That’s the commodity that’s a separator when you can acquire it. It shows you how much confidence Dan and all of us have in our player-development system.

“If [the talent’s] there, it will come out.”

Jackson, 33, has sprinkled a handful of good years into his underwhelming career ERA of 4.64 over 14 major league seasons. He went 5-7 with a 5.89 ERA in 84 innings split between Miami and San Diego last season. He will report to extended spring training in Sarasota and is expected to work as a reliever initially.

The major league results for the lefty Faulkner and the hard-throwing Castro haven’t been impressive, but it’s all about buying low and hoping their imperfections can be ironed out.

Tillman heads to Sarasota

After spending the week with his teammates in Baltimore, starting pitcher Chris Tillman traveled to Sarasota on Friday to continue rehabilitation on his right shoulder.

Tillman’s recent bullpen sessions have gone well, meaning the next step will be pitching in an extended spring game. The right-hander will go two innings or throw 30 pitches — whichever comes first — on Tuesday.

The best-case scenario for Tillman’s return to the major league rotation would be in early May, but the Orioles will be cautious in hopes of him staying healthy for the duration of the season.

What’s next for D. Alvarez, Gunkel?

A day after the disappointing news broke that former outfielder Dariel Alvarez had suffered an elbow injury in his transition to pitching and would likely need Tommy John surgery, the Orioles raised some eyebrows by releasing him to make room on the 40-man roster for Faulkner on Thursday.

Showalter confirmed Friday that the club is attempting to re-sign the 28-year-old to a minor-league deal. It’s believed that the organization took care of Alvarez from a financial standpoint to help facilitate the release of the injured player.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Castro, right-handed pitcher Joe Gunkel was designated for assignment, but the Orioles hope to pass him through waivers to outright him to Triple-A Norfolk.

Sim games on Thursday

Having not appeared in either of the Orioles’ first two games this week, relievers Darren O’Day, Donnie Hart, Oliver Drake, and Vidal Nuno each threw one-inning simulated games during Thursday’s off-day to stay sharp.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts as spring training winds down

Posted on 22 March 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles in the midst of their final two weeks in Sarasota, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Ken Rosenthal fairly laid out positives and concerns related to Brady Anderson’s organizational role, but the big question is the future. With Dan Duquette’s contract expiring after 2018, is Anderson viewed as his successor and, if so, is he adequately preparing for that while still wearing so many other hats?

2. Anderson’s criticism of the handling of Jake Arrieta coincides with Baseball Prospectus’ latest look at the Orioles’ track record with pitching prospects. More scrutiny for both their talent evaluation and development remains in order from top to bottom despite the club’s success over the last five years.

3. Count me as a new World Baseball Classic fan. It’s refreshing seeing outward emotion without it leading to World War III. Cultivating more of this mindset in the majors would better grow the sport than obsessing over shaving 10 minutes from the time of game. Joy isn’t a four-letter word.

4. With baseball being a regional sport in terms of fan interest and player popularity, it’s been fun seeing Adam Jones shine in the WBC spotlight. In the process of pointing out what he isn’t, too many overlook just how important he’s been to the Orioles’ turnaround. He deserves this.

5. As the club counts down to Chris Tillman attempting a long-toss session this Sunday, you have to wonder what’s next if he again experiences shoulder discomfort after a platelet-rich plasma injection in December and a cortisone shot earlier this month. Plenty of folks have to be holding their breath.

6. You shouldn’t read too much into any spring numbers, but Trey Mancini is doing everything he can to make the club. In addition to posting a .926 on-base plus slugging percentage in the Grapefruit League, he is also learning the outfield. Finding a role for him is the obvious problem.

7. There’s much debate about whether Hyun Soo Kim is capable of hitting left-handed pitching, but he entered Wednesday just 2-for-5 with two strikeouts against southpaws in the Grapefruit League. It’d be tough to argue that Buck Showalter is committed to finding out if Kim can be an everyday player.

8. After Francisco Pena and Audry Perez were sent to minor-league camp on Tuesday, Chance Sisco remained as the only non-roster catcher in major league spring training. The 22-year-old isn’t making the club, but the Orioles wanting to take a longer look at him is a good sign.

9. Robert Andino will always be remembered for the final game of the 2011 season, but he’s appeared in only 13 major league games since 2013 and is just 4-for-39 with 11 strikeouts this spring. You have to wonder if the 32-year-old will be given a place in Baltimore’s minor-league system.

10. Perhaps Seth Smith doesn’t need a slew of at-bats to get ready for Opening Day, but he hasn’t played in two weeks because of a slow-healing hamstring injury. That’s an unsettling development for a 34-year-old right fielder who will likely be playing in cool conditions in April.

11. Despite his early success at the plate since re-signing, Pedro Alvarez going to the minors to learn the outfield should remain the plan. The corner outfield defense clearly hasn’t been prioritized recently, but run prevention needs to matter — at least somewhat — with a pitch-to-contact rotation.

12. After enduring headaches with fringe roster players being out of options in recent seasons, the Orioles’ only decision in that department is reliever Oliver Drake. The 30-year-old has had some limited major league success over the last two seasons, but he isn’t helping his cause with a 10.61 spring ERA.

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Sorting Orioles corner outfield spots begins with Kim

Posted on 21 February 2017 by Luke Jones

At first glance, veteran outfielder Michael Bourn brings obvious skills that the Orioles are lacking.

His speed and defensive ability can be assets for an outfield that ranked last in the majors in defensive runs saved a year ago, but it remains to be seen whether the 34-year-old is a great fit among a crowded group of corner outfielders with question marks. A below-average hitter, the left-handed Bourn is trying to crack a 25-man roster that already needs a viable platoon partner for the lefty-swinging Seth Smith in right field.

And that brings us to the biggest key in sorting out the corner outfield hierarchy for 2017.

The Orioles must find out if left fielder Hyun Soo Kim can be an everyday player. The 29-year-old more than proved himself as the starter against right-handed pitching to the tune of a sparkling .393 on-base percentage last season, but he went hitless in 22 plate appearances against left-handers. That’s hardly a fair sample from which to draw any real conclusion, but an 0-for-17 body of work doesn’t exactly bring confidence, either. His numbers from his final two seasons playing in the Korea Baseball Organization suggest he could be up to the challenge, but that success doesn’t guarantee to translate to the majors.

Either way, he deserves an extended look against southpaw pitchers to find out.

If Kim is able to handle a full-time role, Bourn becomes easier to carry on the bench as a late-inning defensive replacement and a pinch runner while the Orioles use a platoon in right with Mark Trumbo then serving as the everyday designated hitter. But if Kim can’t cut it against lefties, the need for platoons at both corner outfield spots becomes more problematic for the makeup of the roster.

Joey Rickard’s .861 on-base plus slugging percentage against lefties last year makes him the early favorite to serve as a platoon partner, but the Orioles are reportedly intrigued with the defense and speed of Craig Gentry so far in spring training. The problem is that the 33-year-old was little more than a league-average hitter at his best and has posted a .553 OPS over his last 353 plate appearances in the majors dating back to the start of 2014.

It’s worth noting that Bourn posted an .844 OPS in 75 plate appearances against lefties last season, but he owns a career .644 OPS against left-handed pitching. If the Orioles are putting that much stock in those numbers for a potential platoon, the 2016 struggles of both Adam Jones and Trumbo against lefties should be much bigger concerns than they’ll discuss. In other words, you shouldn’t draw anything definitive from one season of work against lefties compared to the larger body of work.

Manager Buck Showalter could always cite the defensive upgrade in left as justification for Bourn playing against left-handers over Kim. The Korean outfielder was worth minus-13 defensive runs saved in left field last season as he lacks range and a strong throwing arm. However, Bourn starting against lefties could create a big hole in a Baltimore lineup that already fared very poorly against lefties in 2016.

The Orioles could also elect to use Trumbo in right field against left-handed pitching, but finding the room to carry Trey Mancini as a designated hitter under such a scenario might be difficult with the addition of Bourn.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that Bourn even makes the club as Rule 5 picks Aneury Tavarez and Anthony Santander shouldn’t be dismissed from the roster discussion. Gentry could win a job to push either Rickard — who has minor-league options — or Bourn from the 25-man roster.

There’s plenty of time for Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette to evaluate and decide.

Regardless of how it all plays out, Kim showing the ability to hit left-handers would make life much easier for the Orioles.

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Looking at Davis’ 2016 season, outfield defense, Orioles catching

Posted on 10 February 2017 by Luke Jones

When discussing the “three true outcomes” in hitting, Orioles first baseman Chris Davis is one of the most extreme examples you’ll ever find.

Having struck out, walked, or homered in more than half of his plate appearances over the last two seasons, Davis can be frustrating to watch despite having good value, evident by the peaks and valleys of his performance over the last five years. His 2016 season wasn’t his finest but it was markedly better than his nightmare 2014 campaign that ended with a 25-game suspension for taking unapproved Adderall.

Looking beyond his unimpressive .221 batting average last season, Davis still clubbed 38 home runs and posted a strong .332 on-base percentage with a .792 on-base plus slugging percentage. It wasn’t the season he or the Orioles had in mind after agreeing to a seven-year, $161 million contract last winter, but Davis was still worth 3.0 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference.

It also wasn’t a secret that Davis was playing with a sore left hand for much of the season, and the 30-year-old clarified last month that he suffered a dislocated left thumb in late April. Missing just five games all season, the first baseman played through discomfort, citing his defensive contributions as a reason for not wanting to miss extensive time to rest the thumb.

“I was hoping there was no lasting effect, and it feels good,” said Davis at FanFest last month. “I really didn’t realize how much of an impact it was having on my swing until I took some cuts this offseason. It’s nice to have two hands to hit with again.”

Of course, determining how much a bad thumb might have impacted Davis’ performance isn’t easy, but it doesn’t take a genius to realize a hitter’s top hand is probably important. So, was there anything dramatically different about the slugger’s peripherals compared to previous years?

His 32.9 percent strikeout rate was just below his career-worst mark of 33.0 percent in 2014, but he still struck out 31.0 percent of the time in his strong 2015 season. His 65.7 percent contact rate was also a career low compared to his 67.6 percent career mark, but Davis struggling a bit more to make contact isn’t exactly news.

He posted a career-high 13.2 percent walk rate, continuing his streak of improving in that department every year since arriving in Baltimore in 2011. Still, a 0.7 percent increase from 2015 hardly raises eyebrows.

Where we start to see notable change was a dramatic decline in Davis’ pull and line-drive rates. After hitting the ball to right field well over 50 percent of the time the previous two seasons, Davis pulled the ball just 41.7 percent of the time last year. And just 19.8 percent of the balls he put in play were line drives, down from his 22.9 percentage for his career.

Davis’ plate discipline also changed substantially as he swung at just 42.7 percent of pitches, easily a career low compared to his 49.4 percent career mark. Seventy-nine of his 219 strikeouts were on called strike threes, which shattered his previous single-season high of 56.

In other words, these numbers reflect a hitter struggling to turn on pitches and more reluctant than normal to swing the bat. Sure, it could be the start of a decline for a power hitter suddenly trying to overcompensate by attempting to draw more walks, but those numbers would also reflect a batter dealing with a hand issue and possibly trying to pick his spots to swing the bat with authority.

Maybe the truth falls somewhere in the middle — we are talking about a streaky performer anyway — but the batted-ball data and noticeable change in aggressiveness support the idea that something in 2016 was out of whack beyond Davis merely getting a year older.

Outfield defense

Never one to shy away from speaking his mind, center fielder Adam Jones drew some criticism for his comments about Baltimore’s outfield defense, but he wasn’t wrong.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette stated last October that improving the club’s outfield defense was a top priority, but the addition of the 34-year-old Seth Smith — who is at least a better right fielder than Mark Trumbo — hardly quells concerns. The Orioles outfield finished last in the major leagues at minus-52 defensive runs saved in 2016.

With Jones now 31 and dealing with an array of nagging injuries over the last two seasons, the Orioles should really be making life easier for him in the outfield while pondering his long-term viability in center. Though never as good of a center fielder as Jones, Andrew McCutchen, 30, recently agreed to move to right field for Pittsburgh, a move made easier by the presence of Gold Glove teammate Starling Marte.

Instead, Jones is working harder than ever to cover up for too many plodders in the outfield.

A chance for Chance

With projected starter Welington Castillo playing for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic and backup Francisco Pena being designated for assignment on Friday, catching prospect Chance Sisco could reap the benefits of more extensive action this spring.

Manager Buck Showalter probably isn’t thrilled about Castillo being away from the club instead of getting better acquainted with pitchers in his first spring with the Orioles, but Sisco is considered the catcher of the future and would surely benefit from more opportunities in the Grapefruit League. Duquette has openly discussed the possibility of Sisco being ready to contribute in the majors at some point during the 2017 season.

A good spring would seemingly expedite that process.

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Orioles reach agreement with Gausman to avoid hearing

Posted on 05 February 2017 by Luke Jones

Just days away from their second arbitration hearing of the month, the Orioles have instead reached an agreement with starting pitcher Kevin Gausman on a one-year contract.

Reported first by FOX Sports, the sides agreed to a $3.45 million salary plus incentives based on the number of starts he’ll make this season. In his first year of arbitration as a player with “Super Two” status, the 26-year-old right-hander was seeking $3.55 million while the Orioles countered at $3.15 million when the sides exchanged figures last month.

Reliever Brad Brach is Baltimore’s final unsigned arbitration-eligible player. Backup catcher Caleb Joseph lost his arbitration case last week as the organization won its ninth consecutive hearing dating back to 1996.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette reiterated the club’s intent to go to hearings with all three of its unsigned arbitration-eligible players last month, but the Orioles were wise to avoid the process with Gausman, who was their best starter in the second half of 2016. Finishing with a career-high 179 2/3 innings, the 2012 first-round pick pitched to a superb 2.83 ERA over his final 12 starts spanning 76 1/3 frames.

Gausman turned in the finest start of his career on Sept. 14, pitching eight shutout innings in a 1-0 victory over Boston at Fenway Park. Despite an underwhelming 9-12 record due to poor run support, the right-hander finished his first full season as a starter with a 3.61 ERA and struck out 8.7 batters and walked 2.4 per nine innings.

Under club control through the 2020 season, Gausman is considered a critical component of the Orioles’ efforts to return to the postseason for the fourth time in six years.

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Orioles, Trumbo agree to three-year, $37.5 million deal

Posted on 19 January 2017 by Luke Jones

For the second offseason in a row, the Orioles will re-sign baseball’s reigning home run champ.

Baltimore and slugger Mark Trumbo agreed on a three-year deal that was completed after he passed a physical on Friday. The total contract is worth around $37 million with some money deferred, according to Yahoo’s Jeff Passan.

The deal comes just a few days after the one-year anniversary of the Orioles agreeing to a seven-year, $161 million contract with Chris Davis, the 2015 home run champ. Of course, this negotiation involved far less money than last year’s with the Baltimore first baseman, but it played out in a similar fashion with highs and lows in the midst of a lukewarm market that included no other serious bidders for either slugger’s services.

Having already been traded three times in a two-year period, Trumbo made it clear near the end of the 2016 season that he hoped to stay in Baltimore where he felt comfortable playing at Oriole Park at Camden Yards and fit in well with the rest of the clubhouse. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette had recently expressed a preference to receive a compensatory pick for Trumbo’s potential departure, but the sides remained a fit with spring training less than a month away.

“We are happy that we were able to bring Mark Trumbo back to the Orioles,” Duquette said in a statement on Friday. “We like his presence in our lineup and professional work ethic along with the elite power he brings to our ballpark.”

Acquired from Seattle in exchange for backup catcher Steve Clevenger last offseason, Trumbo had a career year in Baltimore by hitting 47 home runs to go along with a .256 average, 108 runs batted in, and an .850 on-base plus slugging percentage. A sensational first half that included a .288 batting average and 28 home runs in 87 games earned Trumbo his second trip to the All-Star Game, and he accounted for the only Orioles scoring with a two-run shot in the American League wild-card game loss to Toronto.

Despite that success and a cheaper-than-expected price, Trumbo’s re-signing does not come without risk after he struggled mightily in the second half with a .214 average and a .284 on-base percentage over his final 292 plate appearances. The right-handed batter also finished with a putrid .173 average and .608 OPS against left-handed pitching in 2016.

The 31-year-old was also worth minus-11 defensive runs saved in the outfield, zapping much of his offensive value and bringing his wins above replacement to an ordinary 1.6.

Having acquired veteran Seth Smith from the Mariners earlier this month, the Orioles would be wise to play him in right field with Trumbo serving as their designated hitter as much as possible. However, Smith struggles mightily against left-handed pitching, which could open the door for Trumbo to play right field against southpaw starters.

With Thursday’s pending agreement, the Orioles are now projected to have a payroll north of $160 million on Opening Day, which would be a franchise record.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts counting down to spring training

Posted on 18 January 2017 by Luke Jones

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

1. There are valid reasons for the Orioles not to re-sign Mark Trumbo, but nothing about Dan Duquette’s history in Baltimore makes me believe he truly values a compensatory draft pick for the departure of the slugger.

2. Entering Wednesday, Baltimore’s 2017 estimated payroll of $157.9 million ranked eighth in the majors, according to Baseball Reference. I question how wisely the Orioles are budgeting for their roster more than the amount they’re spending these days.

3. Zach Britton is worth every penny of the $11.4 million he’ll be paid in 2017, but I still believe it was organizational malpractice not to pursue a trade this offseason with the lucrative market we saw for closers. A club with other needs and a shrinking window missed an opportunity.

4. Former Orioles prospect Josh Hader is MLB.com’s top left-handed pitching prospect, which will make fans groan in light of their current system. It’s easy to call the Bud Norris trade a failure given his disastrous 2015, but his 2014 season and playoff win against Detroit make it easier to stomach.

5. It’s difficult to believe the 25th anniversary of the opening of Oriole Park at Camden Yards will arrive this April, and Stadium Journey again recognized it as the top stadium experience in North America. Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium also ranked 14th and topped all NFL facilities on the list.

6. My fondness for Camden Yards aside, the Orioles donning jersey patches and using special baseballs all season for the 25th anniversary after making such a big deal out of the ballpark’s 20th feels excessive.

7. I like the acquisition of Seth Smith and believe he will be a solid addition to the lineup, but the Orioles’ potential reliance on multiple platoons is going to be problematic in this era of extreme bullpen use. Finding another bat who can hit left-handed pitching is a must.

8. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised since Scott Boras represents him, but I’m surprised that Matt Wieters hasn’t found a new home yet. The Orioles were still wise to sign Welington Castillo on the cheap and not endure the waiting game for a catcher turning 31 in May.

9. The retrospectives to Wieters’ time with the Orioles only reminded me that Chris Hoiles is one of the most underrated players in club history. Per Baseball Reference, Hoiles was worth 23.4 wins above replacement in 894 career games while Wieters is at 16.3 in 882 games.

10. I’m interested to see what lingering effect Brad Brach’s arbitration case could have as the 2016 All-Star selection reportedly filed at $3.05 million while the Orioles offered $2.525 million. The right-hander took his second-half struggles hard and undoubtedly would be reminded of those in a February hearing.

11. The Orioles defense led the American League with 50 defensive runs saved in 2014 and followed that with minus-9 in 2015 and minus-29 last year. The outfield ranked last in the AL in 2016 at minus-52. Smith and Castillo alone aren’t fixing such a steep overall defensive decline.

12. Adam Jones is coming off a rough year, but he’s a solid bet to bounce back despite entering his age-31 season. His .280 batting average on balls in play was a career low and suggests tough luck while his walk rate, strikeout rate, and average exit velocity improved from 2015.

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Orioles swap Gallardo for Seattle outfielder Seth Smith

Posted on 06 January 2017 by Luke Jones

With a crowded collection of ho-hum options for the back of the rotation and a need for a corner outfielder, the Orioles addressed both issues on Friday.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette traded veteran starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo and cash considerations to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for outfielder Seth Smith. The swap will reportedly save the Orioles around $4 million for the 2017 season while upgrading the roster, making it a good trade on paper.

Smith, 34, immediately becomes the favorite to start in right field and batted .249 with 16 home runs, 63 RBIs, and a .342 on-base percentage in 2016. He holds a career .344 OBP, a skill the Orioles clearly have been lacking in recent seasons.

He also wore out Baltimore pitching in 2016, going 10-for-28 with four home runs and 12 RBIs. He is signed through the 2017 season and will make $7 million. He spent the last two seasons with the Mariners after previous stops in San Diego, Oakland, and Colorado.

“Seth Smith brings veteran leadership, experience, and an accomplished bat to the Orioles,” Duquette said in a statement. “We look forward to him contributing to the 2017 club.”

The left-handed hitter does not come without flaws, however, as he owns a career .594 on-base plus slugging percentage against lefty pitchers, making it clear that he needs to be matched with a platoon right-handed bat. Smith was worth minus-seven defensive runs saved in the Mariners outfield this past season, but he fared much better in right field than in left.

His addition would not prohibit the Orioles from still re-signing 2016 home run champion Mark Trumbo to serve as the full-time designated hitter.

The trade closes the book on Gallardo, who will go down as one of the worst signings of the Duquette era. After concerns rose about his right shoulder last February, Gallardo signed a two-year, $22 million contract that also required the Orioles to forfeit their 2016 first-round pick. The deal included a club option for the 2018 season worth $13 million with a $2 million buyout.

The 30-year-old right-hander spent two months on the disabled list and posted a 6-8 record with a 5.42 ERA. He walked a career-high 4.7 batters per nine innings and finished with a career-worst 1.59 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) in 118 innings, his lowest total since 2008.

His departure leaves a projected 2017 Opening Day rotation of Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Wade Miley, and Ubaldo Jimenez.

Of course, this wouldn’t the first time the Orioles have felt good about a trade with the Mariners in recent years. They acquired Trumbo in exchange for backup catcher Steve Clevenger last winter and famously plucked Tillman and future All-Star center fielder Adam Jones from Seattle as the biggest pieces in the famous Erik Bedard trade nine years ago.

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Orioles thoughts on Wieters decision, Britton snub, Showalter as finalist

Posted on 08 November 2016 by Luke Jones

The Orioles gambled by extending a qualifying offer to catcher Matt Wieters last offseason and ultimately chose not to do it again.

Yes, they were able to keep the 30-year-old for another season when he accepted, but the $15.8 million price tag wasn’t cheap and likely altered the rest of their offseason plans. Wieters earned his fourth trip to the All-Star Game in 2016, but his .243 average and .711 on-base plus slugging percentage were his lowest marks since 2013. In fact, his league-adjusted OPS (OPS+) of 87 was the worst of his career and he was worth a decent but unspectacular 1.7 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference.

Those are numbers unlikely to improve — or to be maintained — as he gets older.

It’s easy to point to Caleb Joseph’s abysmal 2016 campaign as validation for keeping Wieters last year, but there’s no telling how the backup might have fared had the latter moved on. Joseph had been acceptable at the plate with regular playing time in the previous two seasons, and the Orioles would have added another veteran catcher to the mix anyway.

We also don’t know what executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette might have done with an extra $15.8 million at his disposal last winter. As just one example, would the Orioles have been able to sweeten their multi-year offer to outfielder Dexter Fowler — the kind of player they needed at the top of the order in 2016 — to make him change his mind about returning to Chicago?

A year later, arguments for extending Wieters a $17.2 million qualifying offer with thoughts of fetching a compensatory draft pick were certainly valid. Another year removed from Tommy John surgery, the veteran backstop quelled concerns about his right elbow by playing in 124 games and throwing out 35 percent of runners attempting to steal, making him more appealing to potential suitors than he would have been last year. There’s also the reality of Wieters being the top catcher on the open market after Wilson Ramos suffered a torn ACL in September.

Observers have pointed to recent deals awarded to Russell Martin (five years, $82 million) and Brian McCann (five years, $85 million) as benchmarks for Wieters even though Martin is a superior defensive catcher with similar offensive production and McCann was substantially better as a hitter at the time of his signing.

But a qualifying offer would have also depressed Wieters’ value to other teams, who would have then been required to forfeit their first-round pick to sign him. Would that reality coupled with an underwhelming season at the plate have prompted Wieters and super agent Scott Boras to take another great one-year payout from the Orioles with thoughts of being in decent free-agent position again next year?

It’s hard to say, but you can understand the Orioles’ trepidation.

Replacing Wieters will hardly be a slam dunk, but the Orioles proved in 2014 that his presence isn’t the be-all and end-all of their success as they won 96 games despite him missing most of the season and Joseph and journeyman Nick Hundley handling the catching duties. Manager Buck Showalter and teammates have long praised Wieters’ leadership and ability to handle a pitching staff, but there’s also his below-average pitch-framing numbers, his struggles blocking pitches, and sometimes-questionable pitch-calling to consider.

Wieters does offer intangibles that are difficult to quantify, but the perception of him has always been better than the actual player who never met the unreasonable expectations laid out before he even debuted in the majors.

It will be interesting to see how an over-30 catcher already with 7,000 major league innings behind the plate will be valued in the open market without a qualifying offer attached to him.

A draft pick would have been great had Wieters rejected the qualifying offer, but the possibility of having to pay him $17.2 million was too risky with other needs to address and significant raises owed to younger players in arbitration.

He may have been the right player, but it wasn’t the right price.

Britton “snubbed”

I was surprised when All-Star closer Zach Britton wasn’t named a finalist for the 2016 American League Cy Young Award.

Considering the amount of discussion surrounding his candidacy over the last few months, I assumed he would sneak into the top three in the voting conducted at the end of the regular season. However, the Baseball Writers Association of America correctly concluded that very good starting pitchers are still far more valuable than an exceptional closer over the course of a 162-game season.

There’s no disputing that Britton had a historic season with a 0.54 ERA in 67 innings while going 47-for-47 in save opportunities, but the lefty also tossed less than one-third of the innings recorded by Rick Porcello, Corey Kluber, or Justin Verlander and only 16 of Britton’s 47 saves came in one-run victories, meaning he was working with some margin for error in roughly two-thirds of those save chances.

That’s not intended to diminish what Britton did, but the context is necessary. A better argument probably could have been made with a bigger workload, but the 28-year-old pitched more than one inning just seven times.

None of the aforementioned AL Cy Young finalists posted an ERA below 3.00, but there’s a reason why virtually all relief pitchers are former starters. It’s far more difficult to succeed going through a lineup multiple times in an outing, and that should still be recognized despite no AL starter standing out with a truly great season in 2016.

Britton absolutely earned the Mariano Rivera AL Reliever of the Year Award and warranted far more consideration for the Cy Young than any relief pitcher in recent years. It would have been great to see him as a finalist, but I can’t go as far as saying it’s a travesty, either.

Showalter as a finalist

It’s unfortunate that Showalter being named a finalist for the AL Manager of the Year now looks like a punchline after his decision not to use Britton in the wild-card game cost the Orioles a better chance of advancing.

A club almost universally picked to finish in fourth or fifth place in the AL East this season qualified for the playoffs for the third time in the last five years, a reflection of the exceptional work Showalter has done since arriving in Baltimore in 2010. You can still consider Showalter to be an excellent manager while also believing he made a terrible move that he’ll likely hear about for the rest of his career.

Great doesn’t mean perfect as the Orioles and their fans painfully learned that night.

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Orioles announce plans for 2017 FanFest on Jan. 28

Posted on 28 October 2016 by Luke Jones

The 2016 World Series isn’t over, but the Orioles have announced the date for their annual FanFest at the Baltimore Convention Center.

After the unusual timing of holding the event in mid-December last year and long before first baseman Chris Davis was re-signed to a seven-year, $161 million contract, the Orioles have moved FanFest back to later in the offseason on Jan. 28, 2017 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. As always, it will feature autograph sessions with current and former players as well as question-and-answer forums with management and players, clinics, exhibits, and games for kids.

Access for season-ticket holders begins at 10 a.m.

An event designed to celebrate baseball and drive ticket sales for the new season, the Orioles will have interesting decisions to make between now and then with a group of free agents headlined by 2016 All-Star selections Matt Wieters and Mark Trumbo. In 2017, Baltimore will be attempting to qualify for the postseason for the fourth time in the last six seasons.

Tickets are not yet on sale, but more information will be released at Orioles.com/FanFest as the event approaches.

 

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