Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Dan Duquette Does Milwaukee

The fun part is over for Dan Duquette.  He’s had his press conference, picked out his office and probably picked up his first paycheck already.  Now the real work begins – building the Baltimore Orioles into a legitimate contender while dealing with a fan base that hasn’t seen a winning season since the days of dial-up internet.  The first step is under way, getting chummy with his fellow GM’s at the winter meetings in Milwaukee.

The winter meetings are really the kick-off point for baseball’s offseason.  While few deals are actually consummated during the meetings, a lot of groundwork is laid out.  After all, isn’t it more fun to wheel and deal in person rather than over the phone?  Don’t expect too much in the way of actual news this week, but don’t be surprised should a later deal happen that the participants use the phrase, “we started discussing this in Milwaukee.”

So what will Mr. Duquette be doing with his time in the “City of Festivals”?  According to the Baltimore Sun, he’ll be looking to strengthen the bench by making some offers to free agents that he hopes will be finalized within a week or so.  Exciting stuff, eh?

Let’s face it, the new man in control doesn’t have a lot of options this off-season.  Signing a big name slugger won’t fix the fortunes of this team.  Overpaying for C.J. Wilson won’t bring a title to Baltimore either.  Nor is the organization really loaded with pieces that other clubs will want so big trades are probably out of the question.

The biggest asset that the O’s have on their roster is Adam Jones.  A solid centerfielder who hits .280 and chips in 20 homeruns and is under control for two more seasons is a valuable commodity. On the other hand, the26 year-old is also a good player to build a club around.  One thing Mr. Duquette has mentioned that he likes about the Orioles is the strength up the middle with Jones, catcher Matt Wieters, and shortstop JJ Hardy.  Those three players are the ones who are probably the closest to being non-tradable.

However, should the right deal come along it wouldn’t hurt to at least listen.  Remember, he has no allegiance to any player on this roster.  His only goal is to make the team better.  Should Atlanta come along and dangle Jair Jurjens in front of his face, they might have some serious discussions.

The biggest needs on the team are definitely in the rotation.  Going into the season I would imagine the only pitchers to lock down a spot are Jeremy Guthrie and Zach Britton.  The other three spots are still to be determined and I’m sure Mr. Duquette would like to bring a veteran innings-eater into the fold.

Would Jason Marquis be a good fit?  Depending on his price tag I think he would be.  When healthy he could be a 12-14 game winner and give a team close to 200 innings. If they could sign him for around what he made last season ($7.5 million) or lower, he might be worth a two year deal.

This is not a strong year for free agent pitchers.  After Wilson, there is a big drop-off in talent and prospective buyers will be wagering on a lot of older pitchers where health can be a concern.  While the Yankees might have the payroll to be able to take such a risk, it looks like the O’s aren’t willing to risk it. In my opinion, that’s the right move.

The competition is going to be fierce for the second-tier starters such as Edwin Jackson and Mark Buehrle, so the O’s might be better off concentrating their efforts on the Paul Maholm’s of the world and signing them quickly before prices escalate.

The trade front could be daunting as well, as the teams that do have pitchers worth trading for seem to be holding out for a king’s ransom in return.  The Braves have let it be known that Jurjenns will require a major league, impact bat in return.  Whichever pitcher the Rays decide to move, be it Wade Davis, James Shields or even David Price, they would demand a similar return along with some prospects.

Frankly, if Jones is off the table then the O’s don’t have the firepower to make a deal.  If he does deal Jones, it opens a huge gap in their outfield.  From what I saw of Matt Angle last season, he’s not ready to be an ever day outfielder.  The top outfield prospect for the O’s, Xavier Avery, is at least one more season away from the big leagues. 

Tuesdays’ mention of Mr. Duquette meeting with David Ortiz’s agent sparked some chatter of their possible interest in the free agent DH.  At the right cost he might be a fit.  If they would sign the Red Sox slugger I think that they walk away from Luke Scott and his probable $7 million-ish arbitration awarded salary. 

Of course, there is the chance that Ortiz’s name never came up.  His agent, Fern Cuza also represents Vladimir Guerrero, so the conversation could have been about whether or not the O’s will be retaining his services for next season.  While his power production dipped, he was one of the few Orioles hitters that hit consistently throughout the year.  Even at an ancient 36 years old, he might be worth bringing back for another year.

The third possibility is that Mr. Duquette was talking to Cuza about players we don’t even know about. Cuza has a strong presence in Latin America and the Orioles VPBO might have been opening a dialogue about some of the up-and-coming players in the agent’s stable.  If you’re going to focus on developing players from the south, Cuza is a man that you want to be in contact with.

I don’t expect much to come out of the winter meetings for the Baltimore Orioles.  After all, it is only the first step on a long road to relevance.  Hopefully, it’s a step in the right direction.

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