Tag Archive | "Dan Duquette"

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Final week of spring anything but smooth for Orioles

Posted on 28 March 2016 by Luke Jones

The final days of spring training are supposed to be used for determining the last couple roster spots and setting the starting rotation for the first few weeks of the regular season.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette are doing that, but the process couldn’t look much rockier than it does right now.

The future of newcomer Hyun Soo Kim remains in flux as he was out of the starting lineup for the sixth time in the last seven Grapefruit League games on Monday. Chris Tillman was named the Opening Day starter on Monday, but that decision was made by default with none of the projected members of the rotation having even a decent spring. The Tillman news came shortly after Showalter confirmed that the talented Kevin Gausman would begin the season on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis.

Questions about the rotation were going to persist no matter how starters performed this spring, but the Kim situation is surprising after the Orioles lauded the South Korean product as a projected starter from the moment they signed him to a two-year, $7 million deal in December. Instead, he’s been outplayed by Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard and speculation persists about him being returned to the Korean Baseball Organization since the Orioles can’t option him to the minors without his permission. A similar situation played out last March with Korean pitcher Suk-min Yoon requesting his release and the Orioles obliging.

Making the situation more bizarre is the fact that Kim’s benching has come with him going 8-for-21 since beginning the spring in an 0-for-23 slump, but he has yet to record an extra-base hit and has just one walk while playing underwhelming defense in left. Despite struggling to make hard contact, Kim has struck out only six times in his 44 at-bats, which isn’t an indication that he’s completely overwhelmed against big-league velocity and off-speed pitches.

But the red flags have been there since early in the spring with Kim not expressing much confidence when speaking to reporters through an interpreter and Showalter not providing many ringing endorsements over the last month. The Orioles really must not like what they see to potentially part ways with a player at a position where they have such little depth.

Whether the Orioles are giving up on Kim much too soon and are putting too much stock in Rickard’s tremendous spring or they simply signed a player who was poorly scouted and has since shown that he’s in over his head, the situation is not a good look for an organization that’s had other missteps in the Pacific Rim since the successful signing of Wei-Yin Chen four years ago.

No matter what happens with Kim, the corner-outfield situation will not doom the Orioles in 2016 in the same way that the starting pitching could. The projected rotation entering the spring — Tillman, Gausman, free-agent pickup Yovani Gallardo, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Miguel Gonzalez — has posted an astronomical 11.51 ERA in 45 1/3 innings in the Grapefruit League.

The only member of the bunch with an ERA under 9.31 is Gausman (4.50), who hasn’t pitched since March 16 due to his shoulder ailment. Showalter said Monday that Gausman could still return as soon as April 10, the first time the Orioles would need a fifth starter, but it remains to be seen whether that’s realistic.

In the meantime, the performance of Mike Wright (5.74 spring ERA), Vance Worley (4.61), and Tyler Wilson (2.92) over these final spring games becomes more important to watch.

We know the spring may not mean anything — whether evaluating good or bad performances — but it really is staggering how poor the starting pitching has been statistically. The common refrain from starters is that they’re feeling good and still getting their work in despite the results, but you’d think there would have been a few more decent outings even by accident.

Fans would like a couple reasons for optimism at this point after the starting pitching was the biggest reason why the Orioles fell to 81-81 last year.

The good news is that the games don’t count until next Monday. The bad news is, well, that the games count starting next Monday, creating more scrutiny for the final turn through the rotation this week.

With Kim’s uncertain future and the starting rotation’s nightmare spring, the final week before the Orioles’ return to Baltimore is less than ideal.

But it will be interesting.

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Trying to find “right” choice not easy for Orioles at this point

Posted on 29 February 2016 by Luke Jones

A week ago, Dexter Fowler appeared destined to be the starting right fielder and leadoff hitter for the Orioles in 2016.

How wrong we were.

Instead, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette’s search for a corner outfielder continues as the Orioles prepare to open Grapefruit League play on Tuesday. Beyond the bizarre confusion the Fowler saga created was the frustration in knowing Baltimore couldn’t secure a player who appeared to be the perfect fit for a promising lineup.

The Orioles are now left trying to fit a square peg into a round hole with the imperfect options remaining on the market. Of course, they could always allow in-house candidates such as veteran Nolan Reimold and Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard to compete for the job, but that’s a difficult sell when you’re already counting on Korean newcomer Hyun Soo Kim to hold down the starting duties in left field.

Three names who have been linked to the Orioles at some point this offseason remain available.

The first isn’t an outfielder at all as signing Pedro Alvarez would prompt the Orioles to move projected designated hitter Mark Trumbo to right field, a position at which he’s struggled in his major league career and already owns a miscue this spring. The left-handed Alvarez — whose poor defense at both first and third base ideally makes him a full-time DH — brings the potential of 30 home runs, but the Orioles have a starting rotation dependent on strong defense and you worry how Trumbo’s regular presence in right field would harm the club’s overall prevention.

Would Alvarez’s offensive value be negated by Trumbo’s defensive limitations in the outfield?

Alvarez, a Scott Boras client, would offer impressive power to a lineup already looking to be fine in that department, but he brings little else to the table and the defensive ramifications of his potential signing make him a lukewarm fit.

Cincinnati Reds right fielder Jay Bruce has been the subject of trade rumors dating back to last July and was part of a trade that would have sent him to Toronto last week before it fell through due to medical concerns about the other players involved. The Orioles have been linked to Bruce in trade rumors throughout the offseason as the 28-year-old enters the final season of a six-year, $51 million contract that will pay him $12.5 million this season and includes a $13 million club option with a $1 million buyout for 2017.

The price for Bruce in a trade likely wouldn’t be more than a middling prospect or two — we know how limited the Orioles’ farm system currently is — but what are you really getting at this point? The left-handed outfielder looked to be blossoming into a star when he posted an on-base plus slugging percentage of .807 or better from 2010-2013, but his production has plummeted over the last two seasons with a combined .288 on-base percentage and .695 OPS.

You might be able to forgive his nightmare 2014 campaign in which he hit .217 with 18 homers and a .654 OPS when you remember that he underwent surgery for a torn meniscus in his left knee in early May and probably came back too quickly. That theory appeared to be validated when he hit 17 homers and posted an .827 OPS through late July of last season, but he then batted .178 with nine home runs and a .575 OPS over his final 60 games.

Will the real Bruce stand up?

His .251 batting average on balls in play last season suggests that Bruce hit into plenty of bad luck, but his ability to hit the ball with authority the other way hasn’t returned since injuring his knee, making you wonder if he will ever be the hitter he was earlier in his career. It’s one thing to pay Bruce $12.5 million for 2016, but the Orioles aren’t in a position to be trading away what few minor-league commodities they have for an expensive player who might not even be very good on top of that. At the very least, Bruce has a strong throwing arm and was worth five defensive runs saved in 2015, which would be a clear improvement over Trumbo playing right field.

That brings us to Austin Jackson, who is the best remaining outfielder on the free-agent market and just turned 29 a few weeks ago. Since posting a career-high .856 OPS for Detroit in 2012, Jackson has seen his career trend downward and has been traded in each of the last two seasons.

After being dealt to Seattle as part of the David Price trade in 2014, Jackson posted an awful .527 OPS with the Mariners the rest of the way and followed that with a .696 OPS in 2015. He was dealt to the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 31 of last season and did little to help their fortunes with a .236 average in 72 at-bats.

Jackson brings speed and good defense to a club — he played right field for the first time last season after spending his entire major league career in center — but his upside with the bat appears limited at this point and his .310 OBP over the last two years doesn’t make him a good option as a top-of-the-order hitter. He also recently turned down a one-year deal believed to be between $5 million to $6 million from the Los Angeles Angels, making you wonder how much more he might be demanding.

Also a Boras client, Jackson represents an upgrade over what the Orioles currently have — at least we think — but his recent production suggests he’s bordering on no longer being a full-time starting player. At the very least, you would be paying him less than Bruce and wouldn’t need to give up anything else to add him.

There’s less downside with Jackson, but he offers a lower ceiling than the other two as well.

Of the three aforementioned names, there may not be a wrong answer in the end.

There just may not be a right one, either.

And that’s what makes the Fowler outcome that much more disappointing for the Orioles.

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Orioles address outfield by coming to terms with Fowler

Posted on 23 February 2016 by Luke Jones

As concerns persisted over Yovani Gallardo’s physical on Tuesday, the Orioles wasted no more time coming to an agreement with free-agent outfielder Dexter Fowler.

The sides agreed to a three-year deal worth about $35 million, according to MASN and ESPN. Of course, the agreement is pending a physical, a caveat carrying extra importance in light of the holdup with Gallardo’s three-year contract.

Because Fowler rejected a $15.8 million qualifying offer at the start of the offseason, the Orioles would need to forfeit their highest remaining draft pick, which would be the 28th overall selection of the June draft if Gallardo’s deal doesn’t fall through. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette was prepared to relinquish the 14th pick to sign Gallardo to a three-year, $35 million contract before the physical hit a snag and prevented an announcement on Tuesday.

Fowler’s arrival quells concerns about a corner outfield situation that was nothing short of abysmal in 2015 and is already depending on Korean newcomer Hyun Soo Kim to produce in his first year in the major leagues. The switch-hitting Fowler is expected to serve as the leadoff hitter, which will allow manager Buck Showalter to move All-Star third baseman Manny Machado to more of a run-producing spot in the starting lineup.

In 156 games for the Chicago Cubs last season, Fowler hit .250 with 17 home runs, 46 RBIs, and a .757 on-base plus slugging percentage.

Baltimore has finished 10th or worse in the AL in on-base percentage over the last four seasons, and Fowler’s .363 career mark will be ideal setting the table for Machado, Adam Jones, and Chris Davis. Even his career-low .346 OBP last year would have ranked third behind only Machado and Davis on the 2015 Orioles.

Though his fielding metrics suggest he’s been a below-average defensive player for much of his career, Fowler has played exclusively in center field and would presumably make the transition to either left or right field at a satisfactory level. Fowler turns 30 next month and has stolen 11 or more bases in each of the last seven seasons.

Fowler isn’t a superstar, but his unique skill set gives a powerful lineup more balance and a chance to be one of the best in the AL in 2016.

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Seven questions for Sarasota: 2016 Orioles spring training

Posted on 16 February 2016 by Luke Jones

It’s about that time.

Pitchers and catchers officially report to the Ed Smith Stadium complex on Thursday as the Orioles begin preparations for their 63rd season in Baltimore. With their arrival comes the annual optimism of spring training, but there are plenty of questions to be answered as the club tries to bounce back from its first non-winning season since 2011.

Below are seven questions that will begin to be answered in Sarasota this week:

1. Are any high-profile additions still on the way?

Having already invested more than $250 million this offseason, the Orioles don’t appear to be finished spending with multiple reports indicating they were moving closer to a deal with free-agent starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo last week. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette also remains interested in adding another bat with free agents Dexter Fowler and Pedro Alvarez as well as Cincinnati Reds right fielder Jay Bruce all being mentioned as possibilities. Of course, any additions of this caliber would have a substantial impact on not only the club heading north to Baltimore in April but on the 40-man roster that the Orioles have manipulated as frequently as anyone in baseball over the last few seasons. Duquette hasn’t hesitated to make substantial moves with spring training already underway in the past, so we’ll see if the Orioles are willing to spend a little more than they already have.

2. Can the Orioles win with the current starting rotation?

Of course, the addition of Gallardo would figure to help — even if there are real questions about him moving forward — but the Orioles lost their most reliable starter in Wei-Yin Chen and finished 14th in the AL in starter ERA last year. We won’t know whether Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez have recaptured their pre-2015 form until the season begins, but it would be encouraging to see both pitch well in Grapefruit League action. Meanwhile, Kevin Gausman enters the spring knowing he will be in the rotation after being bounced between starting and relief and Baltimore and Norfolk over the last three years. The Orioles need the 25-year-old to put it together for a full season. Then, there’s the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez, who had a 2.81 ERA in the first half and a 5.63 mark after the All-Star break in 2015. If Gallardo isn’t signed, the fifth starter competition is less than encouraging for a club hoping to contend.

3. Just how good is Hyun Soo Kim?

The Orioles signed the Korean outfielder to a two-year, $7 million contract in December, an indication that they believe he can be a starting-caliber player in the major leagues. However, there haven’t been many players to come to the majors from the Korean Baseball Organization, a league many consider to be comparable to the Single- or Double-A level of the American minor leagues. Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang was a big success story last season, but the Orioles hope Kim’s ability to get on base and to consistently hit line drives will translate into major league success. Early projections have compared him to Nick Markakis and Melky Cabrera, and the organization would be thrilled to get that kind of production from the 28-year-old. Kim handling a starting job would go a long way in quelling concerns about a corner outfield situation that was a nightmare in 2015 and is still a major concern.

4. How healthy is J.J. Hardy’s shoulder and back?

I discussed this situation in depth on Monday, but the Orioles must figure out a way to maximize whatever production the 33-year-old shortstop has left after the worst season of his career in 2015. Manager Buck Showalter is known for leaning hard on his veterans, but it may be time to take the foot off the gas in terms of expecting Hardy to play close to 162 games like in 2012 and 2013 when he missed a total of just seven games. It will be interesting to see if Manny Machado takes more reps at shortstop during the spring with thoughts of him playing games at his natural position when Hardy is out of the starting lineup like we saw last September. Of course, before any discussion or tinkering can take place, the Orioles need to see that Hardy’s left shoulder is healthy after he elected to forgo surgery on the torn labrum sustained late last spring. The health of his back is always something to monitor as well.

5. Will Dylan Bundy be ready to pitch in the big leagues?

The 2011 first-round pick made his major league debut as a 19-year-old more than three years ago and has pitched a total of 63 1/3 professional innings since then because of Tommy John surgery in 2013 and a shoulder problem last year. Bundy is only 23, but he’s out of minor-league options, meaning the Orioles must carry him on their 25-man roster if they don’t want to risk him having to clear waivers. Even if he is healthy — a question that will be of great interest this spring — the organization must try to marry his development with the reality of him occupying a spot in the bullpen. In a perfect world, Bundy would report to Sarasota healthy and gradually emerge as an effective middle reliever in a deep bullpen, but little has gone to plan with the prospect. His presence will resemble that of a Rule 5 pick, but there’s no finish line in sight as Bundy is now stuck in the majors unless he lands on the disabled list yet again.

6. How will Showalter handle the catcher situation?

The Orioles may not have expected Matt Wieters to accept the $15.8 million qualifying offer they made in November, but you would have to think Showalter intends to use the three-time All-Star selection as his primary catcher over Caleb Joseph. That being said, there are compelling arguments in favor of Joseph catching more and Wieters was just getting to a point in the final month of the season when he was able to catch on consecutive days, something he did only five times after returning in early June. Wieters said in December that he was happy to finally be finished with the rehabilitation process and to have a normal offseason, but he will still need to see how his elbow responds to a full spring training and full-time catching duty. The Orioles hope that Wieters stays healthy and lives up to his lofty salary, especially after Joseph showed the last two years that he was capable of being a solid starter for a fraction of the cost.

7. Who will be the biggest surprises of the spring?

Adding Gallardo and Fowler would shrink the number of open jobs, but there are a few players who could force the club’s hand in deciding who heads north in April. Outfielder Joey Rickard was considered one of the shrewder picks of the Rule 5 draft, and the Orioles are intrigued by the combined .427 on-base percentage the 24-year-old posted at the Single-, Double-, and Triple-A levels in Tampa Bay’s system in 2015. With at least one corner outfield job still open, could Dariel Alvarez or a returning L.J. Hoes have a spring strong enough to make the club and beat out veteran Nolan Reimold? And though the Chris Davis re-signing seemingly blocks Trey Mancini, could the 2015 Orioles minor league player of the year hit at such a high clip this spring that he forces the club to find a way to make room? Will someone off the radar do what Jimmy Paredes did last spring (a 1.005 on-base plus slugging percentage) to win a spot?

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Fowler would bring needed skills to Orioles lineup

Posted on 12 February 2016 by Luke Jones

As the Orioles try to close an agreement with veteran starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo, much discussion has shifted to their desire to add another hitter for the 2016 season.

Free agents Dexter Fowler and Pedro Alvarez as well as Cincinnati Reds right fielder Jay Bruce have been mentioned in multiple reports, but all carry concerns — or at least a hang-up of some sort.

According to MLB Network, the Reds believe the Orioles have the necessary prospects to make a trade for the 28-year-old Bruce, but should they want to do it? Not only is the left-handed hitter owed $12.5 million in the final year of his contract that includes a club option for 2017, but he’s posted a combined .695 on-base plus slugging percentage and minus-0.3 wins above replacement over the last two seasons.

In 2015, Bruce hit .226 with 26 home runs, 87 RBIs, a .294 on-base percentage, and a .729 OPS, unappealing numbers that were a marked improvement from a nightmare 2014 season in which he posted a .654 OPS and hit a career-worst 18 homers.

Those struggles coupled with a switch from the NL to the AL shouldn’t make the Orioles eager for his services, even if Bruce posted an OPS of .800 or better from 2010-2013. If you’re going to surrender what few valued commodities you have in a depleted minor-league system, Bruce isn’t one to target as he doesn’t bring defensive value, either, and is expensive.

A free agent whom the club could sign without forfeiting a draft pick, Alvarez would make sense if the Orioles didn’t already have Mark Trumbo penciled in as their primary designated hitter. The 29-year-old Alvarez hit 27 home runs and posted a .787 OPS in 2015, but he is a poor defensive player at either first base or third base and should only be considered as a DH.

Hypothetically, the Orioles could sign Alvarez and move Trumbo to right field, but the latter is not a good defensive outfielder and most of his offensive value would be wiped away from his shortcomings in the field. On top of that, Alvarez holds a .309 career OBP and would be just another one-dimensional power bat to add to a lineup already sporting plenty of those.

Again, not a good fit if you value defense, which the Orioles certainly have over the last few years.

That brings us to Fowler, who rejected a $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Chicago Cubs and would require the Orioles to give up a draft choice to sign him. It’s a hefty price in addition to whatever you’d have to pay in the contract, but his .363 career OBP would be a godsend for the top of the order and allow Manny Machado to shift into more of a run-producing spot hitting second or third.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has annually expressed a desire to improve the club’s ability to get on base — the Orioles have finished 10th or worse in the AL in OBP over the last four seasons — and Fowler would provide that skill ahead of the likes of Machado, Adam Jones, and Chris Davis. Even his career-low .346 OBP in 2015 would have ranked third behind only Machado and Davis on last year’s Orioles.

Turning 30 next month, Fowler has also reached double-digit stolen bases in seven straight seasons. It’s no secret that the Orioles have lacked speed on the bases for several years.

Despite being a below-average defensive player in his career, Fowler has played exclusively in center field and could presumably make the transition to right field at no worse than an satisfactory level. He’s not a superstar, but Fowler brings unique skills to a lineup needing someone at the top to set the table.

Of course, it makes sense for the Orioles to have multiple options for negotiating purposes, but Fowler is the clear choice among these three to give the offense what it sorely needs. Truthfully, he’s the only one who makes sense.

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Could Orioles be planning free-agent repeat of 2014?

Posted on 10 February 2016 by Luke Jones

Spring training is only a week away, but the Orioles appear far from finished building their 2016 roster.

With multiple reports indicating movement toward striking a three-year deal with veteran starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo, the Orioles are also reportedly interested in free-agent outfielder Dexter Fowler. Both free agents rejected qualifying offers from their previous clubs at the start of the offseason and would require forfeiting a draft pick to sign, but executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and Baltimore could be willing to sign each using a strategy we witnessed two years ago.

In February of 2014, the Orioles forfeited the 17th overall pick of that June’s draft to sign Jimenez, a move that received mixed reaction and hasn’t worked out in the first two seasons of a four-year, $50 million contract. However, the Jimenez signing prompted Duquette to ink outfielder Nelson Cruz to a one-year, $8 million deal that only required the club to surrender its second-round pick (55th overall) since the first-round choice had already been relinquished. Needless to say, that deal worked extremely well as the slugger hit 40 home runs to help the Orioles win the American League East that season.

If the Orioles were to forfeit the 14th overall pick to sign Gallardo, they would only need to part with the current 29th overall selection awarded to them for losing Wei-Yin Chen in order to sign Fowler. Though that would be a bigger sacrifice than the pick given up to sign Cruz two years ago, the switch-hitting Fowler owns a .363 career-on-base percentage and would fill an obvious need at a corner outfield spot.

In 2015, Fowler hit .250 with a career-high 17 homers, 20 stolen bases, and a .346 OBP to help the Chicago Cubs to the National League Championship Series. His addition would also allow manager Buck Showalter to lower Manny Machado to more of a run-producing spot in the batting order.

Even if the thought of parting with their first-round pick to sign Gallardo to a pricey three-year deal isn’t appealing, the Orioles could recoup some of that value by adding Fowler for a lesser pick to improve a shaky corner outfield situation currently flanking All-Star center fielder Adam Jones.

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Pot-committed Orioles may need to push chips in on Gallardo

Posted on 06 February 2016 by Luke Jones

The Orioles have pushed plenty of chips to the center of the poker table this winter.

A seven-year commitment to first baseman Chris Davis worth $161 million, the richest contract in franchise history.

Making All-Star relief pitcher Darren O’Day one of the highest-paid setup men in the majors.

Paying just under $25 million for the services of three-time All-Star catcher Matt Wieters and designated hitter Mark Trumbo for the 2016 season.

In other words, the Orioles are what the poker world labels as “pot-committed” with a projected payroll now north of $130 million. But there’s still a problem with that spending.

They’re currently no better than they were a season ago when they finished 81-81. In fact, they’re worse on paper after the free-agent departure of starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen and his 3.72 ERA over the last four seasons.

It’s reasonable to expect Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez to rebound — at least somewhat — from last year’s difficulties, but that doesn’t mean a return to their exceptional performances of 2014, either. Kevin Gausman could be ready to take off at age 25 and the Orioles may see more good Ubaldo Jimenez than the bad Jimenez in 2016, but that would still be too much hoping and not enough improving.

After turning their nose up to the cost of starting pitching all winter, the Orioles find few viable options remaining. The likes of David Price or Zack Greinke were never realistic, but second- and third-tier options such as Scott Kazmir (three years, $48 million) or even Doug Fister (one year, $7 million) were still available to slot into a thin rotation.

That finally brings us to Yovani Gallardo, the man linked to the Orioles throughout the offseason and probably the best option remaining on the market. Soon to be 30, the veteran right-hander is far from a sure bet despite a career-best 3.42 ERA in 2015 and a 3.66 lifetime mark in the majors.

Signing him would require the Orioles to forfeit the 14th overall selection of the 2016 draft after Texas made him a qualifying offer at the start of the offseason. That is an understandable deterrent for an organization in need of restocking its farm system, and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has said several times this offseason that the Orioles would prefer not to forfeit the pick.

Despite a strong ground-ball rate hovering around 50 percent that would figure to be perfect for Oriole Park at Camden Yards and a strong infield defense, Gallardo has seen his average fastball velocity dip from 92.6 miles per hour in 2011 to 90.5 with the Rangers last season. His strikeout rate has declined in three straight seasons and fell to a career-low 5.9 per nine innings in 2015 after averaging more than a strikeout per inning in his first six major league seasons.

Those numbers make a long-term commitment to Gallardo a risky one, but he’s still a much better option than the newly-acquired Odrisamer Despaigne, Vance Worley, Mike Wright, or Tyler Wilson, who are more scratch-off lottery tickets than good starting candidates for a club already lacking dynamic talent in its first four starter spots. Even if you’re not keen on the Orioles giving Gallardo a long-term contract, he would instantly move to the top half of the rotation and slide the aforementioned names into more appropriate roles as relievers or depth at the Triple-A level.

Losing the 14th overall pick would be disappointing, but the Orioles would still hold five selections in the first 100 spots. An increased financial commitment to international talent — something the organization should be making anyway — could also offset that sacrifice.

At the start of the offseason, Gallardo would have been far from the top choice, but the Orioles are now less than two weeks away from spring training and haven’t replaced their best starter from a year ago when their rotation finished 14th in the American League in ERA. Beggars can’t be choosers when you’re in need of starting pitching at this late stage of the winter.

Gallardo’s addition wouldn’t guarantee a trip to the playoffs, but it would be foolish to spend as much as the Orioles have this winter without seriously addressing a rotation that was the biggest reason for their downfall in 2015. There’s no sense in playing a high-stakes hand of poker if you’re just going to muck your cards after committing more than $200 million earlier this offseason.

If you’re going to do it, go all the way.

The Orioles’ spending says they’re in win-now mode — especially with both Manny Machado and Adam Jones hitting free agency after the 2018 season — but their starting rotation suggests otherwise. There isn’t enough depth, and there certainly isn’t enough quality depth.

Signing Gallardo comes with risk and sacrifice, but he could help a neglected rotation compete in 2016.

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Orioles haven’t found pitching they like for prices they like

Posted on 22 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Having just signed the richest deal in franchise history, first baseman Chris Davis stated the obvious when asked Thursday what else the Orioles still need for the 2016 season.

“Obviously, we lost [Wei-Yin] Chen,” Davis said, “so I think we need another starting pitcher.”

The answer probably wasn’t music to the ears of Dan Duquette after the organization awarded the 29-year-old slugger with a seven-year, $161 million contract, but the executive vice president of baseball operations said at the start of the offseason that upgrading the starting rotation would be a top priority. And that was before Chen, their most consistent starter over the last four seasons, signed a five-year, $80 million contract to join the Miami Marlins.

With spring training less than a month away, the remaining options are few for a club that finished 14th in the American League in starter ERA in 2015, which included Chen’s 3.34 mark over 31 starts.

“We’re still looking for additions to our pitching staff,” Duquette said. “It takes a lot of energy to sign a star player for an organization. Obviously, we have a long-term deal with Chris, and we’re happy to have him here. We’re always cognizant of what we need to add to our pitching staff. We haven’t found the pitching that we really like at the prices we like. That’s been a very, very expensive market this offseason, but I’m confident we’ll be able to come up with the pitching that we need to compete.”

How costly has it been?

Even Davis’ agent, Scott Boras, commented on the high demand for starting pitching this offseason after he negotiated five-year contracts for Chen and Kansas City starter Ian Kennedy and even fetched a two-year, $16 million deal for Mike Pelfrey — and his career 4.52 ERA — in Detroit. Boras said this has affected the timing of the market for position players such as Davis.

Of the 10 contracts worth $80 million or more that have been signed this winter, seven have gone to starting pitchers.

“We’ve had eight pitchers sign five-or-more-year contracts in this market,” Boras said. “That’s unheard of. The demand on pitching quelled the market on offensive power, because the teams were so focused. So many teams needed pitching and needed offense, but the competitiveness for the pitching took a focus.”

So, who’s left?

Right-hander Yovani Gallardo turns 30 next month and has posted an ERA below 4.00 in six of his seven full seasons in the majors, but his strikeout rate has rapidly declined from 9.0 per nine innings in 2012 to just 5.9 last year and the Orioles would have to forfeit their 2016 first-round pick to sign him.

The 28-year-old Mat Latos was an above-average starter in the National League — he had a 3.34 career ERA entering 2015 — until injuries derailed his last two seasons and questions arose about his attitude after his trade from Cincinnati to Miami last offseason. At this point, he could be looking for a one-year pillow contract to re-establish his value, but Camden Yards wouldn’t be the ideal setting for that from his perspective.

Like Latos, signing right-hander Doug Fister wouldn’t require a draft pick, but he will be 32 and has seen his strikeout and groundball rates decline as well as his velocity. However, he does have experience pitching in the AL and won 16 games and posted a 2.41 ERA in 2014.

There isn’t much out there beyond that, unless you want to try to take Tim Lincecum for a ride in your DeLorean.

“There are some pitchers out there that we like, and then we have talked to some other teams about pitching,” Duquette said. “The problem with the pitching market is there have been more teams chasing fewer pitchers. There’s not enough to go around. That’s an age-old problem. But it was very acute this winter.”

Even if the Orioles are to pluck one of the aforementioned options from the market, none would be a guarantee to settle into the top half of the rotation, much less headline the group. Depth will remain a concern with the likes of Vance Worley, Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, T.J. McFarland, or a stretched-out Brian Matusz waiting in the wings.

The need for Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez to return to pre-2015 form and for Kevin Gausman to take a a major step forward has been discussed ad nauseam, but injuries — at least minor ailments — are inevitable over the course of a 162-game schedule and Baltimore appears ill-equipped to endure that reality. Duquette’s statements about the pitching market on Thursday may have contained truth, but the Orioles annually lament a free-agent market that’s more expensive than they anticipated.

That won’t make fans feel any better about the state of the rotation.

“We should have a good defensive team,” Duquette said. “We’ve got a lot of the core back. We should be strong up the middle. We have Buck’s leadership and the bullpen, and I think those are all strengths of the team that we can build on. We’re going to have to get some good performance from the pitchers that we have and then continue to add to that.”

The Orioles still have a lot going for them, and there is some reasonable upside to help fill the void left by Chen. Doubts entering the season certainly existed prior to 2012 when the club unexpectedly returned to the playoffs for the first time in 15 years and before 2014 when the Orioles endured season-ending injuries to Manny Machado and Matt Wieters to win their first AL East title since 1997.

It’s a reality in which the Orioles have thrived, according to Davis.

“That’s kind of been our MO the last few years,” Davis said. “We’ve never been the sexy team, so to speak — the easy pick to win the AL East. I think we kind of like that role.”

Hopefully, the starting rotation will feel the same way.

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Orioles running out of time, excuses while waiting on Davis

Posted on 13 January 2016 by Luke Jones

The Orioles never expected to keep Wei-Yin Chen.

Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that the starting pitcher was overrated or wasn’t worth the five-year, $80 million contract — opt-out clause and vesting option included — he was awarded by the Miami Marlins on Tuesday. The Taiwanese lefty isn’t a bona fide ace, but the Orioles were more than happy having him in the top half of their rotation over the last four years and the price was in line with what others of similar age and value have fetched on the open market.

Entering the offseason, you knew that Chen was replaceable, but not easily replaceable for an organization lacking quality arms in the minor leagues. You can either pay for quality arms or develop them, but being in between is a dangerous place.

As the curtain fell on the 2015 season, Dan Duquette said he wanted to acquire a starting pitcher for the front half of the rotation — to presumably replace Chen — but he’s yet to address the Achilles heel of the 2015 team unless you consider yourself the president of the Vance Worley fan club. Spring training is a month away, and the available free-agent options are dwindling with Yovani Gallardo, Mat Latos, Ian Kennedy, and Doug Fister topping the list.

Signing Gallardo or Kennedy would require the Orioles to forfeit their first-round pick, which should be a deterrent for an organization needing to rebuild its farm system. Neither provides the kind of upside you’d like to have before surrendering a draft choice.

The Orioles always figured they would have to depend on bounce-back seasons from Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez as well as a big step forward from Kevin Gausman to contend in 2016, but the No. 5 spot in the rotation remains wide open while the rest of the group — which also includes the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez — already faces questions.

That’s less than ideal if you’re trying to compete.

Shortly after the news broke about Chen, outfielder Gerardo Parra agreed to a three-year, $27.5 million contract with the Colorado Rockies. Again, the departure wasn’t surprising as the 2015 trade deadline acquisition was a flop in his two months with Baltimore, but the Orioles still have a gaping hole in right field — and that’s with left field already being occupied by the difficult-to-project newcomer Hyun Soo Kim.

With Colorado now having a surplus of outfielders that includes two-time All-Star Carlos Gonzalez, the reports of the Orioles engaging in trade discussions with the Rockies have resurfaced, but they’ve been down this road before. Short of trading Gausman and opening another hole in a thin rotation, what exactly does Duquette have to offer for Gonzalez — whose career is trending in a concerning direction — or one of the other Colorado outfielders who have benefited from hitting at Coors Field?

Meanwhile, All-Star outfielders Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes are jumping up and down in the free-agent corner, waiting for someone — anyone — to notice them.

Alas, the Orioles seem content waiting on first baseman Chris Davis, even though they said more than a month ago that they’d pulled their offer. Owner Peter Angelos is willing to give Davis $150 million over seven years, but that money doesn’t appear to be in play for anyone else — even options that could be more desirable in the long run — or won’t be until it’s likely too late. You can’t tell people you’ve moved on if you’re not truly willing to pony up comparable funds for other high-quality players.

It’s easy to understand the allure of the home run and that Davis has become a fan favorite over the last few seasons, but when did he become Mike Trout or Cal Ripken? Why will Angelos give lucrative money to a player who two years ago hit .196 and was suspended 25 games for testing positive for Adderall but not to a younger and steadier player like Upton, who also addresses a clear need?

The 28-year-old Upton may have never developed into the superstar many anticipated, but he is also less likely to turn into present-day Ryan Howard over the course of a long-term contract.

Signing next-tier players such as the combination of outfielder Alex Gordon and starting pitcher Scott Kazmir would have been cheaper in the long run and, arguably, more valuable than Davis in the short term, but the Orioles continue to play the waiting game with agent Scott Boras. They’ve allowed the slugging first baseman to take their offseason hostage while other commodities gradually disappear from the free-agent market.

How much longer can they afford to wait if they have real interest in competing in 2016?

The willingness to offer Davis nine figures — an amount some already feel is a bad investment — and to wait out the entire offseason to do so makes it all the more baffling why the Orioles weren’t willing to give Nelson Cruz a fourth year on a more reasonable contract last winter.

And what will the excuse be if they don’t land Davis and other viable options are gone? The Orioles stood on the returns of Davis, Matt Wieters, and Manny Machado as reasons why they’d be able to overcome last year’s free-agent exodus, but there is no such crutch this time around.

They can say they tried, but attempting to sign a high-priced free agent and actually doing it are different things entirely. Continuously underestimating market prices and complaining about opt-out clauses don’t make you any better on the field.

Despite Wieters’ acceptance of the $15.8 million qualifying offer — a development that shouldn’t cripple a club’s long-term plan — the Orioles made some solid moves early in the offseason in trading for first baseman/designated hitter Mark Trumbo, re-signing All-Star reliever Darren O’Day, and taking a two-year, $7 million flier on Kim. But the offseason has come to a screeching halt since then with major holes still needing to be addressed.

Baltimore continues to wait on Davis as if he were the Holy Grail, the only direction they can possibly go this offseason.

But a month after saying they’ve moved on, the Orioles appear stuck on plan A and have apparently forgotten what comes next in the alphabet.

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Orioles free agents Chen, Parra find new teams

Posted on 12 January 2016 by Luke Jones

After months of waiting, the Orioles have finally lost their first free agents of the offseason.

Though his departure was always expected, starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen agreed to a five-year, $80 million contract with Miami, according to multiple reports. Represented by Scott Boras, the Taiwanese lefty will have an opt-out clause after two years and a vesting sixth-year option worth an additional $16 million.

Outfielder Gerardo Parra also agreed to a three-year deal, $27.5 million deal with the Colorado Rockies, per MLB Network.

The loss of Chen is clearly the more damaging blow after the 30-year-old served as the steadiest member of the Baltimore starting rotation over the last four years. Originally signed to a three-year contract with a club option prior to the 2012 season, Chen went 46-32 with a 3.72 ERA over 117 starts while earning a total of $15.466 million, less than the average annual value of his new contract with the Marlins.

Though the Orioles saw their starter ERA fall to 14th in the American League at 4.53, Chen remained the bright spot in 2015 as he posted a career-best 3.34 ERA in 191 1/3 innings. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette never expressed optimism at the prospects of re-signing Chen, but he did say at the start of the offseason that he wanted to acquire a starter for the top half of the rotation, something he has yet to accomplish with spring training roughly a month away.

Because they made Chen a qualifying offer at the beginning of the offseason, the Orioles will receive a compensatory pick at the conclusion of the first round of June’s amateur draft.

The Orioles currently have a starting rotation consisting of Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Miguel Gonzalez, and Ubaldo Jimenez with the fifth spot appearing wide open. Veteran newcomer Vance Worley, Mike Wright, and Tyler Wilson would appear to be the top candidates for the No. 5 job if no additions are made.

Acquired from Milwaukee at last July’s trade deadline in exchange for minor-league pitcher Zach Davies, Parra was a disappointment in his two months with the Orioles, batting just .237 with five home runs, 20 RBIs, and a .625 on-base plus slugging percentage and struggling in the field. The 28-year-old was worth -1.1 wins above replacement with the Orioles, according to Baseball Reference.

With the Parra signing, the Rockies immediately appeared to have a surplus of outfielders and the Orioles have been linked to two-time All-Star Carlos Gonzalez in past trade talks. However, a limited farm system would appear to make a high-impact trade a difficult chore.

According to FOX Sports, the Orioles were having “ongoing trade talks” with the Rockies immediately after news of the Parra signing broke.

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