Tag Archive | "Dan Duquette"


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Duquette, Nats deny having discussions about team president job

Posted on 12 April 2016 by Luke Jones

Even after a 6-0 start, the Orioles apparently can’t avoid some off-field drama.

A report from the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Tuesday indicated that executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette is being pursued as the next team president of the Washington Nationals. This comes just over a year after Duquette was interested in becoming the president of the Toronto Blue Jays, but owner Peter Angelos ultimately would not let the executive out of his contract that runs through the 2018 season.

Both Duquette and the Nationals have denied having any contact with the other side.

“I don’t know anything about this,” Duquette wrote in a text message to multiple outlets, “nor has anyone contacted me.”

A spokesperson for the Nationals told the Washington Post that the organization was not in discussions with Duquette and is not in the market for a team president.

Whether there is more to this story or not, it would be difficult to believe that Angelos would be willing to let Duquette join Washington amidst the ongoing litigation over the MASN television rights fees that has created much acrimony between the two franchises.

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Five things that can’t happen for 2016 Orioles

Posted on 01 April 2016 by Luke Jones

At the start of every season, we try to pinpoint what must go to plan and what cannot happen if the Orioles are to have a successful year.

In truth, there are very few absolutes you can count on over the course of a marathon 162-game schedule filled with twists and turns.

No one would have predicted a division title if they knew the Orioles would lose both Matt Wieters and Manny Machado to season-ending injuries in 2014. Last season, the discussion centered around the offseason departures of outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis and the Orioles ended up scoring more runs than they did the year before — and still finished 81-81 and out of the playoffs.

You just never really know and that’s what makes the game great.

With that truth in mind, below is a stab at five things that can’t happen for the Orioles in 2016 after looking at the factors that must go right. In an effort to not be too redundant in the wake of the first piece, I tried to avoid discussing the previous points needing to go well.

1. The starting pitching collapses

Yes, we touched on the starting pitching in the previous piece, but what else could possibly top this list — the entire starting lineup adopting Marty Cordova’s tanning bed strategy for the season?

In the AL in 2015, the Baltimore starting pitchers finished 14th in in ERA, 10th in strikeouts, sixth worst in walks, and second worst in home runs allowed. On top of that, the club’s most dependable starter, Wei-Yin Chen, signed with the Miami Marlins in the offseason.

Veteran newcomer Yovani Gallardo was tabbed as the man to replace him and carries a 3.66 ERA for his career, but his strikeout rate and velocity have plummeted over the last few seasons and the Orioles renegotiated his original three-year contract because of concerns with his right shoulder. The hope is that an impressive ground-ball rate keeps the 30-year-old effective pitching at Camden Yards.

Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman provide the most upside, but the former dealt with a hip issue early in camp and is coming off his worst season since 2011. Meanwhile, Gausman will begin the season on the disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis and the Orioles have already pushed back his projected return date from April 10 to April 19, making you wonder if the ailment is more serious than they first indicated.

You never know what you’re going to get from Ubaldo Jimenez, but he’s been more bad than good in his first two seasons with the Orioles. And now with the Orioles having severed ties with Miguel Gonzalez, they’ll be counting on the likes of Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, and veteran newcomer Vance Worley to fill out the last spot in the rotation with Wright getting the first shot.

If this group can bring middle-of-the-pack quality — probably the most upside you could reasonably hope for — the Orioles are strong enough elsewhere to be in contention. A repeat of 2015 or worse could lead to a long summer in Baltimore.

And then you’d fear how dramatic struggles from the rotation could wear out a strong bullpen, no matter how effectively it’s managed.

2. Corner outfield wasteland repeats

The Orioles failed in their plan to use a committee of fringe veterans to handle the spots flanking center fielder Adam Jones a year ago, but questions remain for a second straight season.

Projected to be the primary starter in right field, Mark Trumbo should be an upgrade with the bat, but his limitations in the outfield are no secret and negative defensive value would wipe away much of what he brings at the plate. Fortunately, there isn’t a ton of ground to cover in right at Camden Yards, so the test will be how quickly Trumbo can get used to playing balls off the out-of-town scoreboard.

Left field was supposed to be handled by Korean newcomer Hyun Soo Kim, but his poor spring has his future in limbo. Putting aside the scouting failure of signing a player who isn’t able to catch up to fastballs and is poor defensively to a $7 million contract, the Orioles haven’t exactly treated Kim in the most hospitable way by benching him and then speaking at length to the media about his shortcomings as they’re trying to get him to accept a minor-league assignment, something he’s under no contractual obligation to do.

Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard is the wild card here after he posted a 1.029 on-base plus slugging percentage in the Grapefruit League, but are the Orioles putting too many eggs in this basket? What did Tampa Bay not like about Rickard that the Orioles could be missing?

Veteran Nolan Reimold will factor into the mix as well, but he is better suited to be a fourth outfielder at this stage of his career. The minor-league options include Dariel Alvarez, Xavier Avery, Henry Urrutia, and converted first baseman Christian Walker, who is intriguing if he proves himself defensively.

3. Chris Davis reverts to his 2014 form

You can’t expect Davis to be any better just because he signed the richest contract in franchise history in the offseason, and it will be difficult for the 30-year-old first baseman to match what he did last season with his 47 homers.

That said, few events would be more deflating than to see Davis have a season more closely resembling what he was in 2014 when he hit .196 with just 26 home runs. If the Orioles are to contend, they’re going to need to hit a ton of home runs and Davis needs to again lead the way in that department.

His ever-increasing pull rate is something to monitor and could cause him to age poorly, but the Orioles hope Davis will continue being a great power hitter for the next three to four years before crossing their fingers that the final few years of the contract aren’t as painful as some fear they will be.

4. Buck Showalter leans too heavily on J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters

I touched on these topics at length in the offseason, but the Orioles would be wise to better manage Hardy’s health after two injury-plagued seasons and shouldn’t overlook defense when it comes to the catching pair of Wieters and backup Caleb Joseph.

Hardy has stayed healthy and slugged .521 with three home runs this spring, drastic improvement from his .564 OPS while playing the entire 2015 season with a torn labrum in his left shoulder. The 33-year-old shortstop would likely benefit from more routine days off and should no longer be treated as the guy who missed only seven games combined in 2012 and 2013. Keeping Hardy fresh would presumably go a long way in keeping him healthy and productive at the plate and in the field.

The spring scare with Wieters’ right elbow could be a sign that he isn’t yet ready to be the guy who regularly caught 135-plus games per season prior to Tommy John surgery. Even if he is, the tools Joseph brings behind the plate shouldn’t be ignored despite Wieters being the better offensive player. If Wieters isn’t tearing the cover off the ball, the Orioles shouldn’t hesitate to use Joseph more often because of his ability to frame pitches and handle a pitching staff, especially since the former is only under contract through this season.

5. The Orioles are unable to block out the noise

It was a weird offseason a year after executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette flirted with the Toronto Blue Jays’ job promotion, and questions continue about whether members of the organization are on the same page.

The Orioles enter 2016 with a franchise-record payroll, but negotiations didn’t exactly go smoothly with Davis and the early-spring drama with both Gallardo’s physical and the twists and turns with free-agent outfielder Dexter Fowler were nothing short of bizarre.

The decision to release Gonzalez this week may have been the correct one from baseball and business standpoints, but it’s no secret that the well-liked pitcher’s departure didn’t sit well with his teammates. Yes, they’re professionals and will move on, but these are human beings with emotions, as Showalter often likes to remind us.

The Kim situation threatens to linger if the Orioles choose not to eat $7 million and instead carry him on the 25-man roster after saying he wasn’t good enough to make the club. Such a scenario wouldn’t exactly send a great message to the rest of the clubhouse, either.

On top of all that, the Orioles spent a great amount of money to essentially maintain a similar roster to the group that needed a five-game winning streak just to finish .500 last season. And few experts are giving the Orioles much of a chance to make the playoffs for the third time in five years after they failed to make any significant improvements to the starting rotation.

Over the past few years, the Orioles have often thrived under such circumstances, which should give fans hope.

None of this is quantifiable, of course, but with a higher payroll come greater expectations and this is a club with a window of just three seasons before All-Star pillars Manny Machado and Adam Jones hit free agency. And the minor-league well is quite dry when it comes to reinforcements to help address deficiencies.

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Duquette confirms Kim unlikely to make Opening Day roster

Posted on 29 March 2016 by Luke Jones

(Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles)

After much speculation about the future of Orioles outfielder Hyun Soo Kim, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette offered some clarity on Tuesday.

It appears all but official that the Korean newcomer will not be coming to Baltimore to begin the 2016 season as Buck Showalter’s starting left fielder.

“It doesn’t look like he’s going to be on our [25-man roster], so we’re trying to figure out the next steps,” Duquette said on MASN’s telecast from Sarasota on Tuesday night. “He didn’t get off to a great start with us, and then he hit some balls pretty good in the middle part of it. Joey Rickard just kept playing really, really well, and I think Buck’s going to give Joey a shot to be the everyday left fielder.”

After beginning the season going 0-for-23, Kim has eight hits — all singles — in his last 21 at bats. However, he has started just once in the last eight Grapefruit League games and hasn’t impressed defensively in the outfield. Kim has only struck out six times in his 48 plate appearances, but he has walked just once after being praised for his .406 career on-base percentage in the Korean Baseball Organization.

Signed to a two-year, $7 million contract in December, Kim must give his consent to be optioned to the minor leagues, but Duquette left open the possibility of that happening. According to a FOX Sports report on Tuesday afternoon, the 28-year-old is believed to be willing to accept a minor-league assignment.

“That’s a possibility,” Duquette said. “Spring training is a short time when you’re looking at a career, and there’s a big transition for these players that come here — from anywhere. If you came to the big leagues from any league, it would be an adjustment. If you come to the big leagues from Korea, [it’s a] new culture, new team, new country, new rituals, new diet.

“I know there’s a part of Kim that wants to succeed here in the [United States], and he wants to give it a longer effort.”

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Will Orioles’ fascination with Rule 5 draft finally pay off?

Posted on 29 March 2016 by Luke Jones

If there’s been one absolute with Dan Duquette’s first five offseasons with the Orioles, it’s that the executive vice president of baseball operations is fascinated with the Rule 5 draft.

The December event is used to prevent organizations from hoarding minor-league talent worthy of being on a major league roster, but contending clubs often sit out the proceedings, not wanting to hamstring their 25-man rosters by attempting to carry an inexperienced player for a full season. That obstacle hasn’t stopped the Orioles from coming away with at least one player each winter and successfully keeping a Rule 5 pick in the organization in three of the last four seasons. In 2014, they didn’t carry infielder Michael Almanzar on the 25-man roster, but he was reacquired from Boston later that year.

It’s debatable whether the return has been worth the struggle of playing shorthanded at various times over the last few years while trying to contend. Utility infielder Ryan Flaherty (2012) and left-handed relief pitcher T.J. McFarland (2013) have been useful pieces at times, but you’d be hard pressed trying to argue that players of their ilk aren’t available at minimal cost every winter. The 23-year-old Jason Garcia will be in Double-A Bowie’s starting rotation to begin 2016, so it remains to be seen whether he was worth hiding in a bullpen that lacked flexibility for much of last season.

Will the latest Rule 5 pick, outfielder Joey Rickard, finally bring the kind of return for which the Orioles have been looking?

They certainly hope so as it appears the 24-year-old will not only make the club, but the former Tampa Bay farm product may even begin the season as the starting left fielder, a reflection of his strong spring and a byproduct of the struggles of newcomer Hyun Soo Kim. Entering Tuesday, Rickard was hitting .386 with a .462 on-base percentage and a 1.040 on-base plus slugging percentage in 65 plate appearances.

But are the Orioles jumping the gun on a small sample size?

Buck Showalter has praised Rickard’s abilities throughout the spring and the evaluation extends beyond Grapefruit League results, but the Baltimore manager is also fond of telling reporters how easily you can be fooled by player performance in March when opponents are often using minor leaguers with little chance of playing in the majors that season. Praised for the quality of its farm system for the better part of a decade, Tampa Bay was ranked only 13th in minor-league talent by Baseball America this winter, making you think the Rays could have made room for Rickard on their 40-man roster if they really wanted to.

Were the Rays — not to mention the 13 other clubs eligible to pick before the Orioles in December’s Rule 5 draft — missing something? What haven’t the Orioles discovered about the 2012 ninth-round pick that Tampa Bay might have already known?

Seeing time at high Single A, Double A, and Triple A in 2015, Rickard hit a combined .321 with a .427 on-base percentage and an .874 OPS. He batted .360 with a .909 OPS in his 29 games for Triple-A Durham, his best average of his stints at each level.

Walking 69 times and striking out just 75 times, Rickard also stole 23 bases and played good defense at all three outfield spots.

But the right-handed batter had just two home runs in 480 plate appearances last season. Of course, the Orioles are more intrigued with his ability to get on base and play good defense, but a lack of power can hinder walk totals at the major league level where pitchers aren’t going to be as afraid to challenge a hitter incapable of taking them deep.

It will be interesting to see how the Rickard experiment plays out. At worst, the Orioles hope he can be an upgrade from David Lough and back up Adam Jones in center, but they also had high hopes two years ago for Lough, who hit .310 with an .808 OPS in his first spring with the club before going on to post a .634 OPS over two seasons.

If we’re being honest, the Orioles deserve to be questioned after the 2015 corner-outfield committee failed miserably.

The organization would do cartwheels if Rickard could do what Delino DeShields, Jr. did as a Rule 5 pick for Texas last year when he posted a .718 OPS and 25 stolen bases and finished seventh in AL Rookie of the Year voting, but he was once a distinguished prospect and a former first-round pick of the Houston Astros.

After putting much stock in the Rule 5 draft in the Duquette era, the Orioles hope they’ve finally found a gem who just might satisfy their needs in left field as well as in the leadoff spot.

It’s a lot to ask, but Rickard will at least be interesting to watch.

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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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