Tag Archive | "Dan Duquette"

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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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Lost weekend sweeps away any glimmer of hope for 2017 Orioles

Posted on 17 July 2017 by Luke Jones

You may have talked yourself into there being hope for the Orioles coming out of the All-Star break after they’d defied logic so many times in the Buck Showalter-Dan Duquette era.

Then came the bucket of ice water to the face that was the weekend sweep at the hands of the Chicago Cubs. The reigning World Series champions may have entered Friday only a game ahead of Baltimore, but it was evident that these were two teams moving in opposite directions in 2017 and beyond.

Friday night felt like the final nail in the coffin for the 2017 Orioles, who impressively managed to erase an 8-0 deficit to tie the game in the eighth inning before Brad Brach surrendered the game-winning home run to Addison Russell in the ninth. In a season filled with painful losses, that one was the most deflating as the Orioles were outscored 18-3 the rest of the weekend to fall a season-worst seven games below .500.

Yes, it’s time for the Orioles to start thinking about improving their outlook for the future. It’s no secret that they’re set to fall off a cliff at the end of next season when the likes of Manny Machado, Zach Britton, Adam Jones, and Brach hit free agency, but going 20-39 since May 9 offers similar imagery.

Desperation has been there for a while now as we’ve seen Jonathan Schoop shift to shortstop to make room for journeyman second baseman Johnny Giavotella and Jones move back into the leadoff spot, a role not suited for someone with a .301 on-base percentage no matter what anyone tries to tell you about last year. The mere fact that Kevin Gausman, Wade Miley, and Ubaldo Jimenez started the first three games of the second half really says all you need to know about the state of the Orioles and their starting rotation. The four 20-game winners from 1971 aren’t magically walking through that clubhouse door.

The truth is that the Orioles haven’t played like contenders for a long time now despite qualifying for the postseason for the third time in five years last October. Dating back to the beginning of last July, they hold an 84-91 record. An offense once feared around baseball ranks an underwhelming 11th in the American League in runs scored over the last calendar year. Their minus-94 run differential for 2017 is the worst in the American League and indicates that the Orioles have actually been fortunate to be as good as 42-49.

Yes, there’s plenty of blame to go around, but the failure of the 2017 club begins and ends with a starting rotation on track to be the worst in club history — the 2008 Orioles currently own the worst starer ERA at 5.51 — and one of the worst in baseball in over 100 years. The Orioles entered Monday with an AL-worst 6.02 starter ERA that’s more than a full run worse than 14th-ranked Chicago and a staggering 1.3 runs worse than last year’s rotation that was already viewed as a major weakness.

The starting rotation has been astonishingly terrible.

Amazingly, Cincinnati owns an even worse starter ERA at 6.04. According to Baseball Reference, the Reds currently sport the seventh-worst starter ERA and the Orioles the 10th-worst in major league history going back to 1913.

Misery loves company, right?

It’s easy to view the Orioles as sellers at this point as FOX Sports insider Ken Rosenthal reported as much on Sunday, but will it happen to the degree that it needs to under owner Peter Angelos? The Orioles do not have to trade their biggest chips in the next two weeks if they don’t find the right deal, but the longer they wait, the more diminished the return will be — at least in theory. Everything should now be on the table, however, making the indication that the Orioles won’t even listen to offers for Machado disconcerting.

But there’s a bigger question that needs to be addressed, one that could shape the club’s outlook for the next decade.

Do the Orioles want to retain Duquette beyond 2018 and does he even want to stay? Allowing a lame-duck executive to begin a rebuilding process would be unwise, so you’d hope there’s some resolution — at least privately — in the coming weeks and months as we move toward the offseason. His successes and shortcomings have been discussed at length in recent years, but it’s certainly fair to question whether Duquette would be the right choice to undertake a rebuilding effort.

If he isn’t going to be around after next season, there’s no sense waiting to find his replacement at such a critical time for the organization. That’s also a potential argument for the Orioles to abstain from dealing their best pieces now and instead wait until a long-term general manager is in place.

Of course, we know how the Orioles typically proceed on matters such as these. It’s rarely conventional and can often be detrimental despite their overall success in recent years.

How they handle Duquette’s status would undoubtedly impact the future of Showalter, who will also see his contract expire at the end of next season.

With most attention shifting away from the ugly results on the field and toward what’s happening behind the scenes, the Orioles are at a crossroads full of uncertainty.

It became painfully obvious over the weekend that contention in 2017 isn’t in the cards.

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Orioles pitching staff making history for wrong reasons

Posted on 23 June 2017 by Luke Jones

Frustration turned to astonishment at some point over the last week watching the Orioles try to pitch.

Even the best clubs endure a poor stretch from time to time, but a streak of 19 consecutive games allowing five or more runs is nothing short of historic. It’s the kind of American League record a team never wants to set, but the Baltimore staff has been a special kind of bad over the last three weeks after merely being below average before that.

That reality begs the question of where it ranks among the most infamous periods of futility in franchise history. A 6-13 record over the streak isn’t anything memorable from a historical context, but a 7.33 ERA over that long of a stretch is difficult to fathom. Since starting a surprising 22-10 with a respectable 3.85 ERA, the Orioles have gone just 13-27 while pitching to a horrendous 6.13 ERA.

Those pitching numbers are worse than virtually any other stretch that Orioles fans have tried to forget over the years.

Remember that 14-42 conclusion to 1986 that sent the Orioles to the first last-place finish in club history? The team ERA of 5.05 over that stretch pales in comparison to the current club’s streak.

The historic 0-21 start for the 1988 Orioles was accompanied by a 5.96 ERA. That number is worse than it looks today in what was a lower scoring environment at the time, but it still doesn’t measure up to the current pitching streak on the precipice of a major league record.

The Orioles posted a 5.63 ERA over their unthinkable 4-32 finish to complete the 2002 season. It was an incredible collapse after that young club had reached the .500 mark in late August, but the pitching still wasn’t historically poor.

The only notable period of time that stands out as being worse statistically than the current staff’s run is a 3-18 stretch for the 2007 Orioles that included an absurd 8.95 ERA as well as the previous club record for the most consecutive games (11) allowing five or more runs. That run included the humiliating 30-3 loss to Texas – which does skew the team ERA during that stretch – but removing that outlier still leaves a 7.89 ERA over the other 20 contests.

Even if you give the 2007 Orioles the nod for the most pathetic run of pitching in club history, there’s no denying the current staff being on a very short list of the worst.

“The Streak” has just put it under an unwelcome spotlight for the entire baseball world to see.

Positive signs for Gausman

If you’re looking for any semblance of hope in regards to the starting rotation, Kevin Gausman showed positive signs despite so-so final results in Wednesday’s 5-1 loss to Cleveland.

The right-hander struck out a season-high nine batters and walked only two, showing improved fastball command and throwing strikes on 66 percent of his pitches. An obvious difference in his performance was the increased use of his split-changeup, which had been his best secondary pitch in the past and has fallen by the wayside too frequently this year. Gausman threw it a season-high 23.2 percent of the time against the Indians, inducing swings and misses on nine of the 26 he threw.

It’s worth noting that the Cleveland order did include six left-handed bats and the split-change plays better against lefties, but Gausman also threw it effectively against right-handers, twice striking out the dangerous Edwin Encarnacion with the pitch. It was a welcome change after seeing the 26-year-old rely too much on his slider this season with such underwhelming results.

Another potentially interesting development from his start came from BrooksBaseball.net. According to the data-collecting site, Gausman threw his sinker more than 54 percent of the time after barely throwing the pitch all season. Statcast data still reported his fastball as a four-seamer, however, and Gausman made no mention of a change in his post-game interview Wednesday. It’s worth noting that his average fastball velocity was down a bit from recent starts, which could also support the possibility of him using a different grip.

Of course, Gausman ran into trouble in a three-run fifth inning as his command wasn’t as sharp and he relied too heavily on his fastball at times despite getting into plenty of favorable counts that called for secondary stuff. But the overall eyeball test showed a better Gausman than we’ve seen throughout 2017.

Now he needs to prove whether that was a turning point or a mere aberration.

Buyers or sellers?

Much has been made about reports of the Orioles’ intentions to be buyers at the trade deadline, but we’re still four or five weeks away from any definitive calls needing to be made.

It’s understandable not to want to concede anything publicly as Baltimore entered Friday just 2 1/2 games out of the second wild card, but even the eternal optimist would have to scoff at the notion of the Orioles being a legitimate contender if there isn’t some substantial on-field improvement sooner than later. And then there’s the issue of what exactly the Orioles have in their system to give up if they want to try to add any pieces to truly move the meter.

Keep in mind there are various degrees of buying or selling that could play out. Even if executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette concludes that contention isn’t in the cards by the time late July rolls around, that doesn’t mean a full-blown fire sale would take place. Moving the likes of Seth Smith, Welington Castillo, Hyun Soo Kim, and Wade Miley in the short term might fetch a complementary piece or two and not necessarily wreck the potential to make another run in 2018, regardless of whether that’s the wisest way to proceed.

However, it’s difficult envisioning the Orioles trading Manny Machado or Zach Britton before ownership at least determines the long-term status of Duquette and manager Buck Showalter, who are both under contract through only next year. At this point, moves of that magnitude feel more like offseason agenda items.

Regardless of how the next few weeks play out on the field, these conversations need to happen before any meaningful roster decisions should be made to shape the present and, more importantly, the future of the organization.

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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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