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Orioles should only close door on Davis with real alternative in place

Posted on 09 December 2015 by Luke Jones

The Orioles need to make improvements for the 2016 season.

Contrary to popular belief, they don’t need to re-sign slugger Chris Davis in order to accomplish that.

Of course, it’s exciting to know that the organization has made a reported seven-year, $150 million offer, which would obliterate the previous franchise-record contract of $85.5 million awarded to Adam Jones in 2012. And keeping Davis would make life easier for manager Buck Showalter and the Orioles in trying to compete in the American League East in 2016 and beyond.

But it’s not the only means of building a winner. Re-signing Davis alone isn’t enough as the Orioles finished only 81-81 with him clubbing 47 home runs. They would still have needs in the starting rotation and outfield to address.

Let’s also not forget a 96-66 mark that netted a division championship came during Davis’ worst season in Baltimore.

It isn’t all about home runs as the Orioles have had the major league leader in each of the last three seasons and have just one playoff appearance over that time to show for it. The point is there are numerous ways to construct a winner if you’re willing to put in the work and spend wisely.

According to CBSSports.com, Davis is seeking an eight-year, $200 million contract, which has drawn the ire of many fans believing he’s not worth such lucrative money. It’s an uncomfortable reminder that the market alone dictates what a player is ultimately worth, and as of late Wednesday night, no other club was known to have a better offer on the table, which was good news for the Orioles.

Neither Davis nor the Orioles should take the negotiations personally.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette shouldn’t bid against himself, but super agent Scott Boras knows it’s barely mid-December and the market has been slower to develop for premier position players than top-shelf starting pitchers. It’s well within the interest of his client to wait if he’s looking for the best possible deal — Boras has done this countless times over the years — but the Orioles have no obligation to be the ones on standby for an extended time while alternatives dissipate and Davis continues to seek a more attractive offer.

They just can’t be surprised by this.

Yes, this is where it gets tricky for the Orioles. This is where fans can judge whether the organization is really deserving of praise for their efforts to re-sign the hulking first baseman.

Duquette and Showalter continue to point to the possibility of moving on from Davis if a deal isn’t struck sooner rather than later. It’s sound negotiating, but only if they have a real alternative ready to agree to a contract on the spot. And, no, that doesn’t mean a cheap deal with former Pittsburgh Pirate Pedro Alvarez before making a few other bargain-basement signings and calling it a winter.

The only reason the Orioles should walk away from Davis at this point is if they already have a high-impact agreement with someone like Justin Upton or Alex Gordon or Scott Kazmir or — better yet — with more than one of those names. Otherwise, the act of “closing the door” on Davis while merely talking about alternatives is not only a hollow tactic that burns a bridge, but it wouldn’t help negotiations with other free agents who would then know Davis is no longer an option.

Worst of all, it could become an empty promise to an anxious fan base. Understanding how Boras operates, the Orioles had to know this was a distinct possibility, making cynics doubt their true intentions if they’re to swiftly walk away from negotiations without something else significant already in place.

It means nothing for the Orioles to say they gave it the “old college try” to keep Davis if it’s followed by a return to the operating procedure we witnessed last offseason. A special $150 million investment from owner Peter Angelos allocated for Davis and no one else would make little sense with there being countless other ways — perhaps better ones — to augment the club with that kind of money.

In truth, it may not be wise to give Davis $150 million, let alone to consider offering him an amount even closer to what he wants. Just ask the folks in Philadelphia how the Ryan Howard deal has worked out, and he was a former league MVP who had twice led the majors in home runs. And then there’s that matter of trying to sign Manny Machado to a long-term contract in the not-too-distant future, something that will take even more money to do.

The current scenario with Davis would have been preposterous a year ago with him coming off a season in which he hit .196 and was suspended 25 games for Adderall use. But here the sides are with the Orioles saying they’re willing to give the biggest contract in club history if Davis wants to sign it.

Most fans are applauding the club’s effort, but it won’t mean a thing unless the Orioles succeed in either getting it done or walking away because they’ve made another high-impact move instead. To hastily cut off negotiations without a substantial plan B firmly in place would be questionable strategy and will only lead fans to wonder if they were ever fully serious about signing Davis considering Boras’ normal tactics of waiting it out for other clubs to jump into the mix.

Make no mistake, it’s good to see the Orioles pursuing a high-priced free agent. If a deal gets done, it’s a significant step for an organization with a long track record of being unwilling to spend big dollars. If the Orioles don’t sign Davis, they should be judged based on what happens after that — not praised simply because they tried to keep him.

One can only hope it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition that’s more for show than anything else.

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Tom Gatto discusses all things Mets

Posted on 07 December 2015 by WNST Audio

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Orioles reportedly agree to four-year deal with O’Day

Posted on 06 December 2015 by Luke Jones

After watching him serve as the backbone of the bullpen over the last four years, the Orioles couldn’t afford to let Darren O’Day get away.

According to CBS Sports, Baltimore has agreed to a four-year, $31 million contract with the right-handed relief pitcher. The race for the 33-year-old’s services was believed to be down to Baltimore and Washington, but the Orioles’ willingness to offer a fourth year and his familiarity with the organization appeared to be the difference. O’Day’s wife, Elizabeth Prann, is also a TV reporter based out of Washington, further reinforcing his preference to remain in the area.

However, O’Day himself made it clear on Sunday afternoon that the deal has not been finalized as he still needs to take a physical, something that isn’t always a formality given the Orioles’ history with free agents.

O’Day has been the leader of a bullpen that’s been a major factor in the Orioles’ resurgence over the last four seasons. Averaging just over 68 appearances per year since his first season in Baltimore in 2012, O’Day has pitched to a 1.92 ERA and 0.939 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) in 263 innings with the Orioles.

Manager Buck Showalter has received much credit for his handling of O’Day with the right-hander appearing in 68 games in three straight seasons and pitching no more than 68 2/3 innings. Though his age creates some cause for concern, O’Day has steadily decreased his ERA every season since joining the Orioles and has improved his strikeout rate in each of the last two years.

A four-year contract for a non-closer reliever is a rarity, but O’Day has been worth 9.7 wins above replacement over the last four seasons, which helps to justify a long-term investment. He has also been considered one of the strongest leaders in a clubhouse that lost veterans Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz last season.

Named to his first All-Star team in 2015, O’Day posted a career-best 1.52 ERA and averaged an impressive 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings pitched in 65 1/3 innings this past season. The submariner also collected a career-high six saves, four coming while filling in for an ailing Zach Britton in September.

While questions about the starting rotation, first base, and the outfield remain, the Orioles have now solidified a superb bullpen that features O’Day, Britton, Brad Brach, and Mychal Givens.

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Orioles tender arbitration-eligible players, acquire catcher

Posted on 02 December 2015 by Luke Jones

Dan Duquette had a busy Wednesday, and that’s not even counting finalizing the acquisition of slugger Mark Trumbo and relief pitcher C.J. Riefenhauser from Seattle in exchange for catcher Steve Clevenger.

The Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations also acquired catcher Francisco Pena from Kansas City for cash considerations. The 26-year-old batted .251 with 13 home runs and 48 RBIs in 95 games with Triple-A Omaha this past season and appeared in nine major league games for the Royals over the last two years.

To make room for Pena on the 40-man roster, the Orioles designated infielder Paul Janish for assignment. The slick-fielding 33-year-old hit .286 in 14 games with Baltimore this past season.

The biggest event of the day was the deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players, and the Orioles did exactly that with infielders Manny Machado and Ryan Flaherty, right-handed pitchers Brad Brach, Miguel Gonzalez, and Chris Tillman, lefties Brian Matusz and Zach Britton, and Trumbo. Baltimore agreed to one-year contracts with outfielder Nolan Reimold and right-hander Vance Worley to avoid arbitration with both.

The club and tendered players will exchange salary figures in January with arbitration hearings then scheduled for February. In most cases, the parties settle terms before ever going to arbitration.

The Orioles did not tender a contract to outfielder David Lough, making him a free agent. Last season, the 29-year-old was designated for assignment and outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk before having his contract selected in late September, but a .201 average in 84 games made him expendable.

Janish and right-handed pitcher Steve Johnson were also non-tendered after both had been designated for assignment earlier in the day.

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Luke Jones

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Luke Jones on Orioles acquisition of Mark Trumbo

Posted on 02 December 2015 by WNST Audio

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Orioles acquire Trumbo from Seattle for Clevenger

Posted on 01 December 2015 by Luke Jones

After three-time All-Star catcher Matt Wieters accepted their $15.8 million qualifying offer last month to remain in Baltimore, the Orioles have made their second-biggest move so far this offseason.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has acquired first baseman and outfielder Mark Trumbo from Seattle in exchange for backup catcher Steve Clevenger. The Mariners also included left-handed relief pitcher C.J. Riefenhauser in the deal.

With 2015 home run king Chris Davis now a free agent and the Orioles also looking to upgrade both corner outfield spots as well as at designated hitter, Trumbo provides another home-run hitting option to add to the mix. After averaging just under 32 homers per year with the Los Angeles Angels from 2011-2013, Trumbo battled injuries with Arizona in 2014 and hit .262 with 22 homers, 64 RBIs, and a .759 on-base plus slugging percentage in 545 plate appearances split between the Diamondbacks and Seattle this past season.

Trumbo’s best asset is his power, but the 29-year-old owns a career .300 on-base percentage and doesn’t walk as much as you’d like from a power hitter who strikes out frequently. The right-handed hitter has averaged 161 strikeouts and only 42 walks per 162 games in his career.

A solid defensive first baseman and a below-average corner outfielder, Trumbo would best be served to split time between the DH spot and first base if you’re trying to optimize your team defense.

Trumbo is projected to make roughly $9 million in arbitration for the 2016 season.

Riefenhauser, 25, went 4-2 with a 2.86 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 29 games with Triple-A Durham in 2015 and has a 2.77 ERA over 191 career minor league games. In 24 career games in the majors, Riefenhauser has gone 1-0 with a 6.30 ERA in 20 innings of work.

Out of options next season and stuck behind Matt Wieters and Caleb Joseph, Clevenger figured to have a difficult job making the Orioles’ 25-man roster this spring. The 29-year-old Pigtown native hit .287 with two homers, 15 RBIs, and a .740 OPS in 105 plate appearances for Baltimore last season.

In isolation, the Orioles are receiving good value in exchange for a backup catcher, but Trumbo should not be viewed as the centerpiece acquisition of the winter and certainly can’t be seen as a straight-up replacement for Davis unless significant upgrades were to be made elsewhere in an effort to improve an 81-81 club. Several reports indicate the Orioles aren’t backing down on their efforts to re-sign Davis, but that is still considered a tall order with the 29-year-old first baseman expected to fetch a nine-figure multiyear contract this winter.

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Orioles reacquire outfielder L.J. Hoes from Houston

Posted on 25 November 2015 by Luke Jones

Two years after sending outfielder L.J. Hoes to Houston as part of the trade for pitcher Bud Norris, the Orioles have reacquired their former prospect for cash considerations.

To make room on the 40-man roster, Baltimore designated infielder Andy Wilkins for assignment on Wednesday.

The 25-year-old Hoes batted .295 with 24 doubles, three triples, three home runs, and 53 RBIs in 99 games with Triple-A Fresno last season. He only received 16 plate appearances for the Astros in 2015 after 317 plate appearances for Houston over the previous two seasons.

After originally being selected by the Orioles in the third round of the 2008 draft, Hoes was traded along with pitching prospect Josh Hader and a draft pick to the Astros in exchange for Norris on July 31, 2013. Norris won 15 games as part of the Orioles’ American League East championship club in 2014 before struggling mightily and eventually being released this past season.

Having played 112 career games in the majors, Hoes has hit .237 with 12 doubles, two triples, four homers, and 22 RBIs in 337 plate appearances. Over 777 career minor-league games, the right-handed hitter has a .288 average with 29 home runs and a .369 on-base percentage over eight seasons.

The 27-year-old Wilkins had been claimed off waivers by the Orioles from the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sept. 6.

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Machado finishes fourth in 2015 AL MVP voting

Posted on 19 November 2015 by Luke Jones

Despite not being voted Most Valuable Oriole this season, Orioles third baseman Manny Machado finished fourth in the 2015 AL MVP voting, well ahead of slugging teammate Chris Davis.

The only player in the majors to appear in all 162 regular-season games in 2015, Machado received four third-place votes, 11 fourth-place votes, and five fifth-place votes from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America as he finished behind only winner Josh Donaldson of Toronto, Los Angeles outfielder Mike Trout, and Lorenzo Cain of Kansas City. Davis finished 14th despite leading the majors with 47 home runs and being named 2015 Most Valuable Oriole by the local media.

Machado not only proved his worth as the Orioles’ real most valuable player in 2015, but the 23-year-old finished fifth among AL position players in wins above replacement (7.1), according to Baseball Reference. In addition to hitting .286 with a career-high 35 home runs, 86 RBIs, and an .861 on-base plus slugging percentage, Machado also won the second Gold Glove of his career, further proving he has recovered fully from serious injuries to both knees.

Despite not receiving much love from BBWAA voters in the MVP voting, Davis is expected to cash in with one of the most lucrative contracts in free agency this winter. Machado is only entering his first arbitration-eligible offseason and won’t become a free agent until after the 2018 season.

Former Oriole Nelson Cruz finished sixth in the MVP voting after hitting 44 homers in his first season with Seattle.

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Wieters’ decision throws monkey wrench into Orioles’ offseason

Posted on 13 November 2015 by Luke Jones

Matt Wieters acknowledged what we all saw in 2015 by accepting the Orioles’ $15.8 million qualifying offer on Friday, meaning he will remain in Baltimore next season.

Though not yet 30 and still a quality player, the three-time All-Star catcher knew there were too many doubts to net him a contract similar to the ones signed by Brian McCann (five years, $85 million) and Russell Martin (five years, $82 million) in the last two offseasons. Having caught on consecutive days just five times in his first season back from Tommy John surgery, Wieters — and agent Scott Boras — concluded that potential suitors would not have been willing to make such a dramatic investment in him just yet.

And that’s why he accepted Baltimore’s one-year deal and will now use 2016 as a showcase year before potentially re-entering the free-agent market next winter. Wieters will receive a very healthy $7.5 million raise from his 2015 salary of $8.3 million in the meantime.

The decision makes perfect sense for Wieters, but the news likely throws a monkey wrench into the Orioles’ offseason plans after they expected him to reject the offer, which would have netted them a supplemental pick at the end of the first round of the 2016 amateur draft. With the Orioles still having a plethora of needs to address from first base to the corner outfield spots to upgrading the starting pitching, you wonder how much this impacts Dan Duquette’s ability to make other improvements without a sizable increase from 2015’s payroll that was just south of $120 million.

But the Orioles have no one to blame but themselves knowing it was always a possibility that Wieters would accept their offer unlike first baseman Chris Davis and starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen, who both rejected theirs on Friday.

With fellow catcher Caleb Joseph playing above-average defense — his 12 defensive runs saved ranked second in the American League this past season — and showing an acceptable bat at the position for a fraction of what Wieters will now make in 2016, the Orioles would have been better served to have forgone the uncertain chance of netting a draft pick to spend that $15.8 million elsewhere. According to Baseball Reference, Joseph was worth 2.2 wins above replacement in 2015 compared to Wieters’ 0.8 WAR in 75 games after his return in June.

Though Wieters has earned a strong reputation behind the plate with Gold Gloves won in 2011 and 2012, the Orioles pitched to a 4.38 ERA with him catching in 2015 compared to a 3.65 mark when Joseph was behind the dish. Baltimore also pitched to a 3.00 ERA with Joseph catching in 2014 compared to a 3.80 mark with anyone else behind the plate.

Simply put, the gap — if there is any — between Wieters and Joseph isn’t great enough to justify spending so much more money on the former when the Orioles have so many other positions to address. It’s money better spent in the effort to try to keep Davis or to sign an impact corner outfielder or starting pitcher this winter.

Of course, we’re also assuming the money now spent on Wieters would have been wisely allocated elsewhere, which was never a given.

For those arguing that Wieters could be moved to first base to replace Chris Davis, a career .743 on-base plus slugging percentage and unknown defensive ability make for an expensive downgrade at the position. Wieters’ offensive value as a catcher all but vanishes when moving him to a offensive-minded position like first base.

In addition, such a move would not be popular with either Wieters or Boras in what will amount to a platform season to rebuild the catcher’s market value.

Considering the lack of offseason activity a year ago as the Orioles were coming off their 2014 AL East championship season, some fans will be happy to know that at least one quality player won’t be departing this winter. At least the organization has already done “something” this winter, right?

But for a club needing to not only stand its ground but to try to improve from an 81-81 campaign and a third-place finish in 2015, Wieters is much more of an expensive luxury than a critical need. And that could hurt the Orioles dearly this winter unless they’re willing to spend more money than anyone is currently anticipating.

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John Ourand

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John Ourand weighs in on the Orioles MASN dispute

Posted on 11 November 2015 by WNST Staff

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