As manager Buck Showalter met with reporters following today’s press conference, making the rounds from radio to television to print, he kept glancing out a window on the sixth floor of the B&O warehouse, where he spotted a few Orioles playing catch on the Camden Yards field as part of today’s mini-camp.
Though his five-year contract extension is proof that the organization has an eye pointed toward the future, Showalter remains focused on the present.
“I’m hoping personally that this kind of draws a conclusion on the 2012 season and we can turn our attention (to 2013),” he said. “I’m really looking forward to having the focus back on our players and fans and things that are important, because it is about those two groups for us. I think anybody that knows me, you’re always uncomfortable having this focus and we can move on to what we’re all here for.
“Everybody who took the time to come out today, it’s a real ‘we’ mentality here. There’s no job beneath anybody. It’s just a real good group of people who carry a common torch of what we want to return consistently to this community and this town.
“I’ve got a good group of guys who made the season go quickly last year because of the way they chose to handle themselves. But believe me, when we get to spring training, they know I’ll be right back to the grumpy old guy I guess I am.”
Showalter is regarded as the face of the franchise, and it makes him extremely uncomfortable.
“Coming up the street here after spring training and seeing that picture of me pointing a finger, it was a tough day,” he said. “Now, because of our core and our players and what they accomplished, I think that’s going to start. ... It’s going to be on the players. We have good players and they’re a lot more astute at what’s the best way to go and I try to lean on them with that for the most part.
“It’s about the team, it’s about the players. They play the game. That’s where it will be. We have people who are worthy of being focused on. I can’t play. And believe me, I have a grip on reality about how we win baseball games. With our baseball players.”
Showalter said the contract extension doesn’t change anything regarding his job description.
“I’ve always lived under a day-to-day mentality,” he said. “You look at everything like it’s your last job. One of my pet peeves with coaches, and they know it, is somebody who’s working on their next job. Do this job the best you can, grind it out and see where baseball takes you. And usually it’s rewarding.
“My whole priority is those 25 players in that locker room. There’s nothing, with very few exceptions, that would come up in a day where if someone came in and said, ‘A player needs you for this,’ that I don’t drop everything, because I’m there to serve them in a certain way and to make their job easy, because it’s a tough job. I do have sympathy, but not empathy, for what they have to do every night.”
Executive vice president Dan Duquette, whose contract also was extended through the 2018 season, took time to congratulate Showalter at the start of the press conference.
“He’s one of the great pros in the game,” Duquette said. “I’ve never had more fun working with a man or more respect working with a manager. He’s one of the great managers in the game. We’re so lucky to have him here in Baltimore.
“I’d like to thank the players for their great effort, for their energy and their tireless determination to win a game even if it goes 17 innings. And I want to thank the fans for rallying around the team and playing a great role in our run for the pennant last year.
“Any good team that I’ve ever been around since Little League has stability at the top, they have clear direction and good players, and we have all of that here in Baltimore today. And our aim is to build a perennial contending team that we can all follow closely and we can all be proud of for the city of Baltimore.”
Duquette said he knew that the Orioles would be successful in 2012 when he called Showalter on Christmas Day 2011.
“I think we were signing Chen at the time,” Duquette recalled. “I said, ‘This is a man of my own heart. He wants to have a winning team.’ I know that may not play well at home, but I knew that this was a passionate man who would do everything he could to win a game.”
Here’s more from Duquette:
“The focus is on today, to try and win the game. Are we going to continue to build our farm system? Absolutely. We have to build our farm system so we can be competitive. When you have some stability, you can put some programs into place that should be able to become routine so that your process gets better so that you’re more efficient developing players so that they get here a little quicker.
“That’s what the time gives you the opportunity to do, to build the organization from the ground up. But, make no mistake about it, we’re putting all our resources into today’s game, but we can also build a good organization so that we have a competitive team over time.”
Asked if he has another big move in him this winter, Duquette smiled and replied, “We have to have one big deal first before we have another one.”
“If you watch carefully, and I know you did, we built our team last year over the whole year,” he said. “When we had an opportunity to improve the team, we seized on it, if it made economic sense, so I can tell you this past offseason, we have had umpteen trade proposals from teams that like our young players, OK? Our young players are very valuable, but we like our young players. We’re glad they’re returning, so we have some opportunities between now, and the time we break, so we’ll look at it, but I’ve got to tell you, I like this ballclub. I like the pitching staff. I like the stability we have in our pitching staff, starting with our bullpen, which was a strength of the team, and they’re all coming back. They’re a year older with more experience.
“We have some young pitchers who want to establish themselves as good, winning pitchers in the major leagues. We had a couple who came up last year in (Chris) Tillman, (MIguel) Gonzalez and Stevie Johnson. Those guys pitched like top of the rotation starters. They won over 20 games for us, and they were rookies last year. They’re all returning, and the middle of the lineup is returning. We’ve got (Adam) Jones, (Matt) Wieters and (Chris) Davis. That’s a legit middle of the order. When Buck moved Nick Markakis to the leadoff spot, he was one of the best guys in the business, and when Nicky got hurt, and when Buck asked Nate McLouth to do it, Nate was in the top five in terms of leadoff, so we’ve got setup hitters, we’ve got a middle of the lineup, we’ve got an established pitching staff and we have a good manager. We have good leadership, so I really like our ballclub.
“I think you’re going to see a very strong, competitive team. Will we look for other players? Absolutely. Keep in mind, we’ve got two top competitive players on the horizon in Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. And we’ve got Manny Machado on the team for the whole year. This is a good ball club as currently constituted. Are we going to look at other players? Absolutely. Short of that, I think we’re very competitive.”
As for the fans’ perception that the Orioles haven’t done enough this winter, Duquette said, “That’s a fair point. A lot of the players we picked up in the offseason and during the season was with an eye to having them on the team, not just for last season, but for this year and future years, so some of the holes we had on our team in terms of improving performance, we filled with players who are still on our ballclub. We’ve got a long-term solution at third base when Manny Machado came up from the minors. I’ve said time and time again that our best players are going to come up through the minor leagues.
“We did address our first base situation by signing Travis Ishikawa with the loss of Reynolds, and Ishikawa, while he doesn’t have the power Reynolds has, he’s an outstanding defender, and Buck is also talking about the possibility of Chris Davis playing first base. If Chris Davis is the power at first base, he’s also a good athlete. He should be able to provide good defense. If he doesn’t provide good defense, we have an excellent defensive first baseman in Ishikawa. For the capability of us being able to hit right-hand pitching from the DH spot, we still have Wilson Betemit, and we have addressed that right-handed hitting from the DH spot with (Danny) Valencia.
“The loss of (Robert) Andino, we addressed with Alexi Casilla, who on paper has more range than any other second baseman in the American League. He’s got a chance of being a good every day ballplayer. We have replaced the areas of our team that we felt we had to address in the offseason, and we’re returning our core up the middle. I think we’ve answered a lot of the player personnel issues. If it’s not what we think it is, we’ll take a look at it. We have addressed the areas of need that we identified.
“Did we find a middle of the lineup bat? No, we didn’t. We had some opportunities to trade for middle of the lineup bats, but we would have had to trade some darn good pitching to do that, and I didn’t think it was the right thing to recommend to the Orioles at this time of year. I’d much rather go into spring training with the pitching depth.”
Right fielder Nick Markakis attended today’s press conference, taking a break from the minicamp to offer his support.
Asked if it was a good day at Camden Yards, with the extensions made official, Markakis replied, “How can it not be?”
“You look at both of their track records, and to land both of those guys at the same place for the same amount of time, it doesn’t happen very often. We’re very fortunate, very lucky,” he said.
“When you have a revolving door of managers and general managers, you’ve got to adapt to everybody’s different styles. We know where we are with Dan and Buck, and it just makes it a lot easier and a lot more comfortable.”
Note: Orioles minor league infielder Jonathan Schoop, 21, is listed on the Netherlands roster for the World Baseball Classic.
Schoop batted .245/.324/.386 with 24 doubles, 14 homers and 56 RBIs in 124 games at Double-A Bowie.
You already know that Adam Jones (USA), Pedro Strop (Dominican Republic), Chris Robinson (Canada) and Allan de San Miguel (Australia) will leave camp for the WBC. Jim Johnson and Miguel Gonzalez turned down invitations.