Tag Archive | "Dan Duquette"

Duquette noncommittal on plans for free agent Cruz

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Duquette noncommittal on plans for free agent Cruz

Posted on 17 October 2014 by Luke Jones

At a quiet Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Friday, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette was asked to not only reflect on the Orioles’ 96-win season that resulted in their first division title in 17 years but also how he planned to attack the offseason in hopes of returning to the playoffs for the third time in four years in 2015.

One of the most prominent items to address will be the pending free agency of slugger Nelson Cruz, who was voted the club’s most valuable player after signing a one-year, $8 million contract last spring. Though several teams are expected to be interesting in his services should he hit the free-agent market, the Orioles are expected to at least make a $15.3 million qualifying offer to Cruz, which would mean they’d receive a draft pick if he’d sign elsewhere.

Asked about his plans for Cruz in the coming weeks, the Orioles executive was noncommittal.

“The important thing for our fans to know is that we’ve increased our payroll over the last couple years,” Duquette said. “I expect we have the foundation for an additional increase, and however we invest that, we’re going to give them the most competitive and compelling and entertaining team we can to support.”

With the sheer number of young players in line to receive raises through arbitration, an increase in payroll was all but guaranteed, but what does that mean for Cruz? After hitting a career-high 40 home runs in his first season with the Orioles, the slugger has expressed several times that he’d like to remain in Baltimore if possible.

The Orioles have engaged in some preliminary contract talks with Cruz’s representation since the All-Star break, but the 34-year-old recently changed agents and is now represented by Diego Bentz of Relativity Sports, according to a FOX Sports report from earlier in the month.

“It’s good to know that Nelson likes it here,” Duquette said. “I can tell just by watching him, he’s the leader of the ball club, and the young players look up to him, especially the young Latin players. He’s an excellent leader, he’s a very good role model, he led the league in home runs, and he had a great year. I really appreciate the veteran leadership that he gave the team.

“Having said that, he came here to have a platform year to get himself reestablished so he could get a long-term deal, and that’s something that we’ll have to consider.”

While Cruz is expected to garner plenty of attention, trying to assess the market for right fielder Nick Markakis will be more complicated as the Orioles are not expected to pick up the $17.5 million mutual option on his contract. The option includes a $2 million buyout should the club not use it.

Markakis has been one of the more productive players in franchise history, but his on-base plus slugging percentage was only .685 in 2013 and only .729 this season, which aren’t eye-popping numbers for a corner outfielder who lacks speed. A cornerstone of the organization for nearly a decade, Markakis is adored by manager Buck Showalter and ownership and has made his home in Maryland, making it likely the sides will eventually agree on a reasonable extension.

Duquette said it was “always a possibility” that the Orioles would negotiate a long-term contract with Markakis, who will turn 31 next month, during the World Series.

The Orioles are less optimistic that they’ll be able to retain the services of left-handed reliever Andrew Miller, who only made himself look more attractive to potential suitors by pitching 7 1/3 scoreless innings in the postseason. The 6-foot-7 southpaw is expected to be courted as a closer and receive lucrative money from another team this offseason.

“There’s a lot of interest in Andrew Miller,” Duquette said. “We knew that when we traded for him. He pitched well for us. Good for us that we had him because I think he was the difference in the Tigers series that allowed us to advance. Obviously, we like Andrew and we like to have pitchers of that ilk on our ball club.”

NOTES: Even though Chris Davis has one game remaining on the 25-game suspension he received for amphetamine use, the first baseman will be allowed to be a full participant during spring training and in Grapefruit League games. According to Showalter, the Orioles will benefit from not having to keep Davis on the 40-man roster during the winter, which is an advantage for an organization that manipulates its roster as much as any team in the majors. … Pitchers and catchers will report to spring training in Sarasota on Feb. 18 with the first day of workouts the following morning. Position players will participate in their first official workout on Feb. 24. … Asked his thoughts on the remainder of the postseason, Showalter offered a reply that many Orioles fans can appreciate as well as relate to. “Watching it makes me ill. I’m not one of those guys that likes watching other people do what we wanted to do.”

 

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Cruz on Royals: “They’re coming back” to Camden Yards

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Cruz on Royals: “They’re coming back” to Camden Yards

Posted on 13 October 2014 by Luke Jones

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — After two days of hearing questions about the inflammatory comments made by Kansas City Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson, Orioles slugger Nelson Cruz finally bit just a little after downplaying any significance of the bulletin board material.

Dyson said after Game 2 of the American League Championship Series that he didn’t expect to return to Oriole Park at Camden Yards later in the series and that Orioles players didn’t believe they would, either. A day later during the teams’ workout at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, the reserve outfielder — who’s 0-for-2 attempting to steal bases over the first two games of the series — questioned how much fight the Orioles might have left.

Cruz was asked Monday whether he expected the series to return to Baltimore later this week, and the 34-year-old took the opportunity to finally take a veiled shot at Dyson.

“Oh yeah, ” said Cruz as he cracked a smile. “They’re coming back, too.”

To this point, the designated hitter has allowed his bat to do the talking in the playoffs as he’s hit .476 with two home runs and seven runs batted in over 22 plate appearances this October.

In 39 career postseason games, Cruz has hit an incredible 16 home runs and batted .306 with a 1.059 on-base plus slugging percentage. The veteran said the Orioles aren’t concerned with how anyone outside their clubhouse feels about their chances with a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-seven series, and they’re eager to prove it upon getting back on the field after Monday’s Game 3 postponement.

“There’s going to be talk. You can’t help it,” Cruz said. “There’s going to be talk, but you stay in the present and focus on whatever you need to focus on and whatever you can control.”

Most players have taken the high road in responding to Dyson’s confidence, but manager Buck Showalter and a couple others have taken a different approach in agreeing that the Royals have a right to feel good about themselves after winning two games at Camden Yards.

But that doesn’t mean the Orioles haven’t made a mental note as the series is now scheduled to resume on Tuesday night. And you do wonder why a player who’s had such a small role in his club’s success in Game 1 and 2 would find the need to act as the Royals’ spokesman.

“He’s trying to get his team jacked up. It is what it is,” closer Zach Britton said. “They should be confident. They played some good games, but we’re not going to let what he says dictate the way we go out and play, and we understand that.”

Gausman embracing relief role with eye on future

With Monday’s rainout, the Orioles hope to potentially find themselves planning for who might start a deciding Game 7 with the teams now set to potentially play five straight days.

That responsibility could ultimately fall on normal No. 5 starter Kevin Gausman, who’s worked exclusively out of the bullpen to this point in October. In two appearances spanning 5 1/3 innings — one outing each against Detroit and Kansas City — Gausman has allowed only one earned run and four hits while striking out six and walking two.

“I hope that we’re back here next year and the near future, and hopefully, I’m starting one of these games,” Gausman said. “That’s what I would like, obviously, in the future. But anytime you have success in the postseason, it definitely helps not only yourself but your confidence level and it says a lot about your career.”

Gausman has proven to be a valuable piece out of the bullpen after he got his feet wet in that capacity as a rookie last year. In his 15 relief appearances a year ago, the 2012 first-round pick pitched to a 3.52 ERA and struck out 11.3 batters per nine innings.

Showalter hasn’t shied away from using Gausman as more than just a long man out of the bullpen as he was trusted to keep the Orioles close in Game 2 of the AL Division Series, allowing his offense to eventually stage the comeback win. The 23-year-old was then used in Game 1 of the ALCS to keep the Orioles within one run as they tied the score while he was still in the game.

“It’s not so weird for me,” said Gausman about once again having a relief role after starting all season. “I feel like if we put any other starter down in the bullpen, it might take him a little while to get used to it. When I was told I was going out there, I wasn’t mad or upset. I just kind of took it as a challenge, and I think it’s really fun coming out of the bullpen. That’s when you have your best stuff, and you get to kind of showcase [it].”

Duquette wheeling and meal-ing

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette expressed confidence Monday that his club would be ready to play whenever the weather would allow the series to resume.

But he may have offered the line of the day when a reporter asked if he planned on signing anyone else to a contract extension to provide some material for media on a slow news day after Monday’s postponement.

“I’m going to sign the room service [bill] at the hotel,” he said.

Duquette signed shortstop J.J. Hardy to a three-year, $40 million extension with a vested option last Thursday.

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Orioles sign shortstop Hardy to three-year extension

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Orioles sign shortstop Hardy to three-year extension

Posted on 09 October 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — On the eve of their first appearance in the American League Championship Series in 17 years, the Orioles didn’t wait to wait any longer to lock up shortstop J.J. Hardy to a three-year extension to keep him in Baltimore beyond this October.

The Orioles announced a new contract with the 32-year-old infielder Thursday evening. The deal is for three years with an option and worth upward of $40 million, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.

“I knew that I liked it here, I knew that I liked playing with all my teammates,” Hardy said. “The whole coaching staff, I enjoyed playing for them. I believe that Dan [Duquette], Buck [Showalter], and the Angelos family, they’re all going to continue doing everything they possibly can to make this organization better. Bottom line [is] it comes down to winning, and I think we’ve got a good thing here.”

Hardy has spent the last four years in Baltimore and was in the final season of a three-year, $22.5 million extension signed during the 2011 campaign, his first with the Orioles after he was acquired in a trade with the Minnesota Twins on Dec. 9, 2010. The two-time Gold Glove winner was expected to draw heavy interest from other clubs this winter with the New York Yankees topping the list as they look to replace the retired Derek Jeter.

While the Orioles remain focused on advancing to their first World Series in 31 years, the Hardy signing crosses one item off the list of offseason priorities that still includes the impending free agency of outfielders Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz as well as lefty reliever Andrew Miller.

“Why not now really?” said Duquette when asked about the unusual timing of the shortstop’s extension. “When we looked at the market, we thought the best chance to sign J.J. was before he went to free agency, because he’s distinguished himself as one of the top shortstops in the league, and J.J. let us know that he wanted to continue his career here in Baltimore.”

Battling back issues at two different points this season, Hardy hit .268 with nine home runs and 52 runs batted in over 141 games. The shortstop slugged 22 or more homers in each of his first three seasons with the Orioles and acknowledged his back issues impacted his swing, which likely explains the drop in power.

But Hardy’s value extends beyond his own defensive ability and power at the plate as manager Buck Showalter has credited the shortstop for playing a major role in the development of injured third baseman Manny Machado and rookie second baseman Jonathan Schoop. Baltimore has possessed one of the best defensive infields in all of baseball over the last three seasons as Hardy’s experience and baseball intelligence has helped with the positioning of fielders.

“I hope J.J. ends his career here,” Showalter said. “It makes us a better club. He’s been solid. You’re always looking for things you can count on, and you never take for granted what J.J. brings. It’s so hard to do. I’ve said it before, [but] I think he’s flashy in his own way because he’s not looking for attention. His biggest thing he wants to get out of a day’s work is a win.”

According to FOX Sports, the Orioles are also pushing to complete a contract extension with Cruz, who led the club with a career-high 40 homers and was named Most Valuable Oriole by the local media. However, Duquette said his focus remains on Game 1 of the ALCS when asked if he was working on extensions with any of the Orioles’ other scheduled free agents.

Markakis said Thursday he was unaware of any contract discussions between the Orioles and his agent.

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Fingerprints of Duquette all over Orioles’ Game 3 clincher

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Fingerprints of Duquette all over Orioles’ Game 3 clincher

Posted on 05 October 2014 by Luke Jones

Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter would be the first to tell you much of the foundation of the Orioles’ run to their first American League Championship Series since 1997 was in place before they arrived in Baltimore several years ago.

Others may have been responsible for bringing the likes of Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, J.J. Hardy, and Zach Britton to Baltimore years ago, but it was Duquette’s fingerprints all over the Orioles’ 2-1 victory to complete the three-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers on Sunday. In fact, a trio of acquisitions made over the last 15 months — winning pitcher Bud Norris, slugger Nelson Cruz, and lefty reliever Andrew Miller — played a critical part in Baltimore sweeping its first postseason series since 1971 and sending the big-name Tigers home for the offseason.

Acquired in exchange for unspectacular outfield prospect L.J. Hoes, 19-year-old pitching prospect Josh Hader, and a draft pick in late July of last season, Norris may not have made the difference in 2013 as the Orioles fell short of the postseason, but the reasonable asking price as well as two extra years of club control made the former Houston Astros pitcher more attractive to Duquette than other seasoned pitchers with expensive or expiring contracts on the trade market.

Making his postseason debut after Miguel Gonzalez was initially slated to pitch in Game 3, Norris pitched 6 1/3 shutout innings while striking out six and allowing two hits to shut down a formidable Detroit lineup that had given him plenty of trouble in two starts earlier this season. Commanding his four-seam fastball and keeping the Tigers scoreless as the Orioles faced 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner David Price, Norris offered a gutsy performance to build on a strong campaign that included a 15-8 record with a 3.65 ERA in 28 starts this season.

It was Cruz who provided Norris with just enough run support as he homered inside the right-field foul pole in the top of the sixth to give the Orioles a 2-0 lead. It was the 34-year-old’s second homer of the series and 16th career postseason homer to pass Babe Ruth on the all-time list, which came after a 40-homer season that resulted in him being named the club’s most valuable player in late September.

No, Cruz wasn’t a diamond in the rough despite no club being willing to invest a long-contract in a player tainted and suspended due to last year’s Biogenesis scandal, but Duquette saw the opportunity to add a slugger on the cheap for a lineup that needed another middle-of-the-order bat. A one-year, $8 million investment made during spring training has never worked out better for the Orioles as Cruz responded with the best season of his 10-year career.

After carrying the Orioles through the first 2 1/2 months of the season and heating up once again over the final few weeks of September, Cruz once again was the offensive hero as the Orioles faced a third straight Cy Young Award winner on Sunday at Comerica Park. His flick of the bat on a high and outside pitch from Price put the Orioles ahead and further depressed what was already a subdued crowd watching their Tigers try to climb out of an 0-2 hole.

The heroics of Norris and Cruz paved the way for Miller, the acquisition that most of baseball ignored while Oakland acquired Jon Lester and the Tigers traded for Price. Those high-profile trades for aces were viewed by many experts as the moves that would automatically send the Athletics and Detroit to a meeting in the ALCS

Miller retired all five hitters he faced in Game 3, including the top three hitters in the Tigers lineup in the bottom of the eighth inning. While many criticized — or at least questioned — the Orioles’ inability to land a top-of-the-rotation starter at the trade deadline, Duquette dealt pitching prospect Eduardo Rodriguez to the Boston Red Sox for the tall left-hander, who’s dominance has transformed the Orioles bullpen from good to great over the last two months.

Pitching to a 1.35 ERA and averaging 15.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 23 regular-season appearances for Baltimore, Miller’s 32-pitch performance in Game 1 matched his highest total of the year and he allowed only one runner in 3 1/3 innings in the ALDS.

No, it wasn’t the sexy move and it’s not as though Lester or Price pitched poorly in their new homes, but Duquette and Showalter have constantly preached the desire to acquire players that are the right fit for their club — not necessarily the biggest or most expensive names. Miller certainly fit the bill as a reliever with great strikeout ability and excellent numbers against hitters from both sides of the plate.

And it’s a move that’s been an integral part of the Orioles continuing to play in October while the Tigers and Athletics have already been eliminated.

The Orioles’ executive vice president of baseball operations has often been teased by outsiders for his decade-long absence from the majors as well as his off-the-wall moves that many have even labeled dumpster diving. Not every move has turned to gold — he did sign high-priced free agent Ubaldo Jimenez, after all — but you couldn’t help but tip your cap to Duquette in watching Sunday’s game play out with the Orioles earning the series win.

A one-year contract and two deadline trades that appeared solid but unspectacular couldn’t have paid off any better in Game 3. And while Duquette may not have built the entire core of the current club from the ground up, the pieces he’s added in recent months have helped put the Orioles four wins away from an American League pennant.

 

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Pearce HR 9-16

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SEVENTEEN YEARS IN THE WAITING

Posted on 17 September 2014 by Tom Federline

“Sweeeeeeeeet Emoooootion” – Aerosmith. Just keep playing that song in your head. How ’bout ‘dem O’s hun? WOW! 8 – 2 win over the whining, scum beaning Blow Jays. The Division East Title and then………. the celebration. If you were there, nice pull. If you watched it, baseball entertainment at its’ finest (and no Gary Thorne – in our side). If you heard it, someone should put a tape of it in a time capsule. If you are an Orioles fan……………it’s been a long time comin’. “O” what a feeling.

People keep saying it’s been 17 years since the last division title. And they are right – in 1997 the O’s went wire-to-wire in first place. The teams of 1996 and ’97 were a reflection of Angelos’ attempt to buy a World Series.  They were expected to win and they did. But the World Series appearance – didn’t happen. In ’96, they beat the Indians for the ALDS and lost to the Yankees in the ALCS. Yes, that was the year of  Jeffrey Maier/Rich Garcia incident. In ’97 they went 98 – 64 and beat the Seattle Mariners in the ALDS, then lost to the Indians in the ALCS (Armando Benitez blown game in 11 innings after the O’s had 10 hits to Clevelands 3). But this year, is different. It’s a different feeling, a different team chemistry, a different era. It feels like ………..brace yourself……….the “Oriole Way”!

Back in ’96 and ’97, there were names like Alomar, Palmeiro, Davis (Eric), Bonilla, Erickson, Key, Meyers, Wells, Davey Johnson and yes - Ripken, Murray. All great players. All with hefty paychecks.  All with hefty egos. Most of them brought in to simply take the dreaded “evil empire down”. And they did. They just didn’t make it to the big dance. The 2014 Division title winners has names like Pearce, Schoop, Flaherty, Caleb Joseph, Chen, Tilman, Britton, Buck-Buck and yes, Jones, Markakis and Hardy. All with a story, all without such egos, all with their own nuances of how this cast of characters combined to take the AL East by storm since July.

Three big reasons why they are where they are. Markakis, Cruz, Pearce. Pearces’ blast last night to clearly send the message to the Blow Jays – Not Tonight! “The Answer – in the first inning.”

This year is unique. They won when they weren’t expected to. Yeah, we all HOPED and thought they had a chance. But come on, Weiters going down, Manny on DL to start and to finish, the big Ubaldomore bust, Hunter blowin’ it in the closer role, Davis not hitting for any type of average and then pulling a numbnut move……….come on, our hopes were stretching it. But the O’s never gave up. Yes, I’ll say it………they “Grind it out” and it’s true…..it’s what they do. Very few blow-outs. Even up against tough pitching and unless that guy had enough in the tank to complete the game……….it always seemed they had a chance. They playing through adversity, have perseverance and faith that they have what it takes. You go O’s or should that be “Let’s Go O’s”!

How about that crowd last night? The Yard/pot was a brewin’ since the Friday afternoon game vs. the Yankees. There was an explosion of cheers after that 11th inning win, that rivaled the Blue Angels fly byes, that day. And last night, whether on the radio or television, you could feel the adrenaline pumping from Camden Yards. Pearces’ blast in the first inning set the tone. Jimenez working out of trouble was refreshing. Then the solidifier – De Aza’s triple. So cool. They were not going to be denied. Even with the whining scum Blow Jays attempting some sort of retaliation from the night before and for what it still baffles me. Toronto Blow Jays organization = Classless. You go Darren O’day – O’day! You earned a vote for Oriole MVP.

Speaking of which, who is your Oriole MVP of 2014? If they win the World Series, it’s hands down, Buck-Buck. As far as players, I’ll go with,  hmmmm, “I wonder who Fedman would pick?” Yes, the best right fielder in baseball – Markakis. ”Nicky” stepping up and taking on the lead-off roll, being the longest tenured Oriole and a stellar example of how the game should be played – It’s Markakis! With Steve Pearce a close 2nd.

They have put themselves in the position to excel. They have a shot. They have Buck-Buck. It would be nice if the O’s can make it into October intact as they are right now. It would be extremely undesirable to lose a key player now. Duquette has been playing a nice poker game so far. He’s brought in some nice “gold nuggets”, as Buck-Buck would say. They have been surprising. Now it’s time to hunker down, stay fresh and minimize potential injury. What a run. So cool. I would rather not see Detroit in the playoffs. But you know what? Hopefully, these Birds are going to continue to surprise us. What a Wednesday. What a celebration of Sweeeeeet Emoootion.

D.I.Y.

Fedman

 

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Nothing typical about these AL East champion Orioles

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Nothing typical about these AL East champion Orioles

Posted on 17 September 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — For years, the discrepancy was clear as the Orioles wallowed at the bottom of the American League East.

Lagging behind in payroll and player development, they looked up at the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays while being stuck in neutral with no apparent direction or plan of how to get better. The Orioles didn’t spend like New York or Boston and couldn’t cultivate their own talent like Tampa Bay while suffering through a seemingly endless run of fourth- and fifth-place finishes in the toughest division in baseball year in and year out.

When the Orioles finally broke through Tuesday night with an 8-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays to win their first AL East title since 1997, it was an atypical sum of the parts that put them on top. Yes, their payroll is higher now than it was for years, but it still remains in the middle of the pack and far below those of the Yankees and Red Sox. Their farm system has produced a number of key players, but it isn’t the well-oiled machine like those of other top organizations in baseball.

It started with Andy MacPhail using some savvy trades and top draft picks to put together a core group of All-Star talent and continued with the arrival of manager Buck Showalter and current executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, who began filling in the gaps with below-the-radar additions and, finally, a couple high-profile free agents this past winter. What’s resulted is a club that’s won more than 90 games for the second time in three years and appears poised to make a deep run in October.

The journey certainly hasn’t been easy as the season-ending injuries to catcher Matt Wieters and third baseman Manny Machado and the recent 25-game suspension of first baseman Chris Davis have provided easy excuses for the Orioles to wilt down the stretch. Not all has gone to plan as the $50 million free-agent addition of starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez has been an utter failure in the first season of a four-year commitment.

But Tuesday’s win provided the perfect microcosm of what’s made the Orioles continue to thrive in 2014.

You can expect the unexpected.

Making his first start in a month after being dumped from the starting rotation, Jimenez overcame a shaky beginning to pitch five solid innings to earn just his fifth win of the season. Ironically, it was the kind of important game in which the Orioles envisioned Jimenez pitching when they signed him in February.

A three-run home run in the first inning came off the bat of Steve Pearce, the journeyman who was designated for assignment in April before being re-signed a few days later when Davis went on the disabled list. The 31-year-old has gone on to hit a career-high 18 homers, which is more than he’d hit in his first seven major league seasons combined. More than any other player, Pearce might be the ultimate symbol of the 2014 Orioles when the final chapter is written sometime next month.

A solo shot came an inning later from third baseman Jimmy Paredes, who was claimed off waivers by the Orioles during spring training and then lost to the Kansas City Royals a couple days later. Duquette eventually reacquired the 25-year-old in time for him to provide a handful of big hits in his few weeks with the club.

T.J. McFarland pitched a scoreless sixth inning. He was the Rule 5 selection the Orioles stubbornly retained on the 25-man roster all last season.

Darren O’Day provided 1 1/3 innings of excellent relief as he has for the last three seasons. The sidearm pitcher was claimed off waivers from Texas before Duquette was even hired three years ago.

Left field Alejandro De Aza hit the three-run triple in the seventh to bust the game open after he was acquired for two nondescript minor-league pitchers at the waiver trade deadline late last month.

Dominant lefty Andrew Miller struck out the only two hitters he faced and has been exactly what the Orioles envisioned when they acquired the best relief pitcher on the market while the rest of baseball lauded Oakland and Detroit for acquiring Jon Lester and David Price, respectively. The Orioles now own a better record than the Athletics and the Tigers.

When Pearce fielded the final out for the club’s 91st win of the season, it was just the latest example of the sum being much greater than the parts appear on paper.

There hasn’t been a set formula apparent to the rest of the baseball world that explains the Orioles’ ascent over the last few years, but they play great defense, hit home runs, and have pitched as well as anyone since early June. Those strengths have allowed them to overcome the loss of All-Star position players and failed free-agent acquisitions.

For Duquette and Showalter, the question isn’t who is the best player as much as it’s who is the best fit. It hasn’t been about spending money as much as it’s been about making the smartest decision.

And it’s been perfectly imperfect as Baltimore wrapped up the division title with 11 games to spare.

Whether they have 11 wins in them next month remains to be seen, but the journey to this point has been both difficult and overwhelmingly rewarding.

And it paid off with a celebration at Camden Yards Tuesday night while the rest of the American League East was looking up at the Orioles for a change.

 

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With Saunders inked, would Orioles consider minor-league deal for Jim Johnson?

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With Saunders inked, would Orioles consider minor-league deal for Jim Johnson?

Posted on 01 August 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles added to their organizational pitching depth Friday by signing left-handed pitcher Joe Saunders to a minor-league deal, leading many to wonder whether former All-Star closer Jim Johnson could be the next former Baltimore pitcher to return to the organization.

After beginning the season in the Rangers’ starting rotation, Saunders was released twice in the month of July and went 0-5 with a 6.13 ERA in eight starts for Texas this season. After being released by the Rangers on July 4, Saunders signed a minor-league deal with the Royals and was let go earlier this week after posting a 6.75 ERA in four starts for Triple-A Omaha.

Of course, Saunders was acquired by the Orioles late in the 2012 season and went 3-3 with a 3.63 ERA in seven starts spanning 44 2/3 innings and was the winning pitcher in the inaugural American League Wild Card Game to send the Orioles to their first American League Division Series appearance since 1997. The 33-year-old went 11-16 with a 5.26 ERA in 32 starts for Seattle last season.

Realistically speaking, Saunders provides little more than some injury insurance as well as an option to pitch in long relief if he can work out the issues that have plagued him all season and prompted two other organizations to give up on him in the last month alone.

The more interesting question presented Friday came after the Oakland Athletics officially released Johnson, who pitched to a disastrous 7.14 ERA in 38 appearances and lost his closer job with his new — and now former — club at the beginning of the season. After Johnson collected a combined 101 saves for the Orioles in 2012 and 2013, executive vice president of baseball operations dealt him to Oakland for infielder Jemile Weeks and catcher David Freitas last winter.

Needless to say, the deal was an utter failure for Oakland while the Orioles haven’t really benefited with their return beyond saving the $10 million the 2012 All-Star selection was set to earn through arbitration in 2014. It’s clear that Johnson needed a change of scenery and a mental break at the very least, but would the Orioles consider bringing back the 31-year-old on a minor-league deal?

Manager Buck Showalter tried to dodge the question on Friday, but it’s no secret that Johnson was one of his favorites in Baltimore.

“We like Jimmy. He pitched real well for us here.” Showalter said. “He’s on his way to Sarasota. I know [pitching rehabilitation coordinator] Scotty McGregor is real close to him. If he becomes completely available, I’m sure a lot of people would have interest in him — including us.”

Showalter mentioning Johnson going to Sarasota was interesting considering it’s the club’s spring training home and the pitcher lives there, making it a compelling landing spot for him to clear his head and figure out his woes to get his career back on track.

Of course, the Orioles just acquired left-handed reliever Andrew Miller to sure up the back end of the bullpen and don’t have a pressing need, but Johnson’s track record wouldn’t make it a terrible idea to see if the organization can fix his problems — he averaged 5.1 walks per nine innings and posted a 2.06 WHIP in Oakland — and make him a middle relief option later this year or even next. Prior to this season, Johnson had pitched to an ERA under 3.00 in three consecutive seasons and was an above-average reliever in the AL for a number of years.

Just like the Saunders signing, a potential move to ink Johnson to a minor-league deal should be viewed with very little consequence and no serious expectations, but the familiar surroundings of the Orioles organization would seem to be a good fit if the reliever is to get his career back on track. Johnson was quite fond of his time in Baltimore and was quite emotional upon learning he had been traded last December.

Above all, it’s the kind of reclamation project that has Duquette and the Orioles written all over it, which would make his return not the least bit surprising.

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Orioles add “good piece” in Miller while Oakland, Detroit make colossal moves

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Orioles add “good piece” in Miller while Oakland, Detroit make colossal moves

Posted on 31 July 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles bolstered their bullpen at the trade deadline with the acquisition of relief pitcher Andrew Miller from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for pitching prospect Eduardo Rodriguez.

The trade appears to have improved Baltimore’s chances of winning the American League East, but a look ahead to October and the blockbuster deals pulled off by the Oakland Athletics and the Detroit Tigers created a more sobering tone as the deadline passed on Thursday afternoon. Make no mistake, the Orioles are better with the acquisition of one of the best lefty relievers in baseball, but Oakland landing Boston ace Jon Lester and Detroit securing 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner David Price certainly hurt Baltimore’s chances of winning the pennant should they advance to the postseason.

The Orioles may have improved, but the Athletic and Tigers took colossal leaps in their quest to advance to the World Series. But it’s a reality in which manager Buck Showalter and his club can’t dwell with only a 2 1/2 game lead over the Toronto Blue Jays entering Thursday’s series finale against the Los Angeles Angels.

“I’m not sure we had the wherewithal to land a top starter,” said executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, who indicated teams kept bringing up 23-year-old Kevin Gausman in trade talks. “We have some other really attractive players, but some of them are helping our current club, right?

“You just have to weigh what you can do to strengthen your ball club, and I thought adding Miller really strengthens our club, particularly when we have a lead. And it allows some of those other relievers to come into the game and pitch earlier. It shortens up the game a little bit when you have relievers who can get out both righties and lefties. This kid has been dominant against both.”

Right or wrong, the Orioles remained steadfast in not dealing any of their top young pitchers with Gausman currently in the major league rotation and 21-year-old Dylan Bundy working his way back from last year’s Tommy John surgery. The recent elbow injury to 2013 first-round pick Hunter Harvey certainly didn’t make the Orioles any more eager to deal one of their few top pieces.

And there’s no telling how absurd the asking price might have still been to try to acquire Lester or Price from an AL East rival — even if the Orioles were willing to deal one of their young pitchers.

Miller posted a 2.34 ERA in 50 appearances spanning 42 1/3 innings for the Red Sox this season. He has held right-handed bats to a .180 average and lefties to a .150 clip. The 29-year-old is averaging 14.7 strikeouts per nine innings pitched, which is also significant considering the Orioles rank 14th in the American League in strikeouts this season.

It remains to be seen who will be sent out to make room for Miller in the current bullpen as right-hander Brad Brach and left-hander T.J. McFarland would be the logical possibilities since they both have minor-league options.

“He’s just another good piece,” said Showalter, who added that Miller is expected to be in uniform and available to pitch in Friday’s series opener against the Seattle Mariners. “He goes with some other good pieces down there. He gives us more depth down there [to] keep passing the load around. I think he’s a little more than just a left-handed arm. You look at left-handed relievers, the ideal ones are the guys that you’ve got left-right-left and you can leave them in there for the [right-handed hitter].”

Miller is set to become a free agent at the end of the season, making the price of giving up Rodriguez a costly one as the Venezuelan lefty was viewed as the organization’s fourth-best pitching prospect entering the 2014 season. Slowed by a knee injury earlier this season, the 21-year-old Rodriguez was 3-7 with a 4.79 ERA in 16 starts for Double-A Bowie this season.

Duquette acknowledged a preference not to give up Rodriguez in the trade for Miller that was in the works over the last couple weeks before picking up steam in recent days.

“It wasn’t our first choice to trade him. The kid has talent and he has youth, but again, our team is in the race,” Duquette said. “We want to continue what we started, and we needed to add to our club to be competitive with the other clubs — not just in our division, but the other clubs in the American League in the playoff situation.”

Of course, that argument suffers when witnessing what else transpired around the league.

Miller’s career follows a similar narrative to that of current Orioles reliever Brian Matusz in that he’s a former first-round draft pick to have failed as a starter in the major leagues before settling into a bullpen role. However, he is an imposing option against hitters on either side of the plate while Matusz continues to struggle against right-handed hitters this season, a major factor that prompted the Orioles to make the move.

Duquette said the Orioles would still consider making some offensive upgrades to their lineup but made a point to praise the current combination of pitching and defense to go with the club’s power. Players must now pass through waivers in order to be traded, but a number of key moves have been made in that capacity around baseball over the last few years.

“We’ve got some hitters at Triple A that are swinging the bats pretty well,” Duquette said. “We picked up (Jimmy) Paredes, Dariel Alvarez is doing a good job at Triple A, and there will be some other opportunities for some bats through the waiver process. There won’t be much going on now because everybody needs waivers to get traded, so that won’t happen right away. But some time in the next couple of weeks there will be some opportunities for us to address those needs.”

The Orioles certainly took a step forward in their division on Thursday, but Oakland and Detroit may have lapped them in the race for the Fall Classic. And even if Duquette made the right call in keeping his young pitching, there’s no changing that possibility.

 

 

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Orioles pitching prospect Harvey done for season with elbow injury

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Orioles pitching prospect Harvey done for season with elbow injury

Posted on 30 July 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles received bad news about one of their top pitching prospects Wednesday as 19-year-old Hunter Harvey will be shut down for the rest of the season due to right elbow inflammation and a flexor mass strain.

The 2013 first-round pick went 7-5 with a 3.18 ERA in 17 starts covering 87 2/3 innings this season, earning an invitation to the Futures Game during All-Star weekend in Minnesota earlier this month. The right-hander last pitched on June 25 when he allowed four earned runs and eight hits over five innings but had allowed three or fewer earned runs in each of his previous four starts.

“Hunter saw our doctors [Tuesday], and he has an issue with his elbow, so he won’t be pitching anymore the rest of the season,” executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said Wednesday at Camden Yards. “I need to learn a little more about it. He’s had a good year, and he has distinguished himself as a top young pitcher. And he needs a rest period.”

Duquette added that the injury is not believed to require surgery at this time. The structure of Harvey’s ulnar collateral ligament is supposedly sound, but fellow top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy was given the same initial diagnosis last year before ultimately needing Tommy John surgery when a period of rest did not produce the desired healing.

Taken with the 22nd overall pick of last year’s draft, Harvey saw his stock soaring this season and was named the No. 13 prospect in all of baseball by ESPN’s Keith Law earlier this month. The North Carolina native is the son of former major league closer Bryan Harvey.

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Duquette dismisses report of Orioles closing in on Lester trade

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Duquette dismisses report of Orioles closing in on Lester trade

Posted on 30 July 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Addressing a flurry of trade rumors centering around the Orioles targeting Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Jon Lester on Wednesday afternoon, Dan Duquette did his best to throw a blanket on the fire.

The executive vice president of baseball operations reiterated his long-held position of not wanting to deal the organization’s top pitching prospects and dismissed reports that the Orioles were closing in on a deal for the three-time All-Star hurler.

“Well, that would be news to me,” said Duquette, who acknowledged an obvious interest in adding a top-of-the-rotation pitcher if possible. “Some of the long-term prospects for our pitching are very valuable to the long-term sustainability of the organization, and I think that’s a real important component to have a good team year in and year out. I think if we were to err with our young pitchers, we would be conservative and we’d try to give them a long trial in the big leagues before trading them.”

Duquette said Tuesday he was focused on adding depth to the rotation rather than making a blockbuster move, making it unlikely the Orioles would pull the trigger on a deal for Lester that would involve Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, or Hunter Harvey. Of course, Wednesday’s news of Harvey being shut down for the rest of the season due to right elbow inflammation and a flexor mass strain further diminished the likelihood of the Orioles moving a top prospect.

Lester was scratched for his scheduled start against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday as several teams remain interested in his services. A free agent at the end of the season, the lefty is 10-7 with a 2.52 ERA in 21 starts spanning 143 innings this year.

Multiple reports have stated the Orioles are interested in Chicago Cubs utility player Emilio Bonifacio, who has played center field as well as three infield spots this season. The switch-hitting 29-year-old is hitting .279 with two home runs, 18 RBIs, and 14 stolen bases and has posted a 1.024 on-base plus slugging percentage against left-handed pitching this season.

Baltimore also remains interested in adding another late-inning reliever to its bullpen for the stretch run.

“We’re still talking to a number of teams,” Duquette said. “We have not consummated a deal yet, but we’re talking to a couple of teams. We hope we’ll be able to add some people to our organization.”

 

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