ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - As the Orioles attempt today to win for only the fifth time in 23 games, executive vice president Dan Duquette again made it clear that he isn’t going to tear down the club. Top veterans won’t be shopped. The playoffs remain the primary goal in 2018.
“You know, this is the big leagues,” he said. “I don’t know who rebuilds in the American League East. In the American League East you reload, OK? And then you try to have as good a team as you can the next season as you did the past season.
“Everybody has a certain level of talent, and our talent base here is still pretty good. And I am encouraged by some of the young players coming up. I am also encouraged by how (Tim) Beckham stepped in and showed that we have another everyday ballplayer who can help our team. I think that was one of the high notes, when he came to the ballclub in August. He hit .305 the rest of the way and he gave us a real spark in August.
“Manny (Machado) had a great year. He was Player of the Month in August. He’s 25 years old and he’s put up some great seasons. This wasn’t his best season as an Oriole but it was still pretty darned good. And (Jonathan) Schoop had a breakout year. But we have some people coming.
“(Trey) Mancini came this year, very dependable player, uses the whole field. (Austin) Hays looks like he can make a contribution, (Chance) Sisco looks like he can make a contribution, so we should be strong up the middle. We’ve got a catcher, we’ve got a shortstop, we’ve got a second baseman. They all can hit.
“We’ve got some outfielders on the horizon, which will give us an opportunity to fill out the ballclub. And then we’re going to have to go out and find some pitching.”
Always easier said than done, of course.
“We’ve got to rebuild our starting rotation,” Duquette said. “I still think that (Kevin) Gausman can be an elite pitcher in the league. We’ll have to find some starters beyond that.
“It’s going to come down to what any championship team needs, and that’s pitching and pitching and pitching. So, that’s the job for next year’s club.”
Duquette indicated again that Machado and closer Zach Britton won’t be available in trades.
Asked whether they will be on the team next season, Duquette replied, “Yeah, I hope so. We like those guys. They’ve had good careers with the Orioles and we’re planning on having them on the club. We’re building a club with them on it. And we’ll see where it takes us.”
The Orioles failed in a previous attempt to sign Machado to a long-term extension. The sides never were close. Could they try again?
“Well, that’s an offseason question,” Duquette replied. “I don’t know that ... it’s something that’s under consideration, but I don’t think I have the answer to that question today. But there’s plenty of time where you can discuss that, talk about that.”
Decisions must be made on the coaches. Changes could be coming.
“Well, all those things with the coaches and the staffing, all those things need to be addressed, and I think you have to look carefully at them when you don’t have a strong year and see if there are some adjustments that you can make,” Duquette said. “And we’ll do that over the offseason.”
Manager Buck Showalter indicated today that he wants his staff to remain intact.
“I’ll get input from a lot of people,” he said. “You look at everything. We always look at stuff like that.
“I don’t like, this time of year, that these guys four weeks from now don’t have contracts. They have families, kids, whatever. Whatever someone has in mind or we have in mind, I want it to come to fruition quickly. I wish it was already done.”
The Orioles are done after today’s game, with their first losing season since 2011.
“Anything I say sounds like an excuse,” Showalter said. “I’m more interested in attacking the things that are self-inflicted. I don’t want to talk about injuries. It’s one thing to identify problems. I talk to you all the time and say, ‘Well, how do you correct them? What’s your solution?’
“I’m not saying it’s easy to identify the problem. There’s certain things you can see statistically, but there’s so much more that goes into it. We weren’t a perfect club in ‘13, ‘14, ‘15, ‘16, but we overcame some of the challenges that ballclubs face. You look at Cleveland and some of these teams that have had big years and they aren’t perfect, but they’ve been able to identify and attack the problems. That’s what we’ve got ahead of us.”
“I was thinking about this the other day. It’s been a long time since I’ve been through this the last two weeks of September. It’s different. Actually been the first time in a long time a lot of us have been through it. It’s good and it’s bad.”
Showalter harkens back to his days managing the Yankees.
“I know the first year Derek (Jeter) was in the big leagues with us in the playoffs he thought it was just what you did, and I want guys to feel that way,” Showalter said. “But yeah, it’s different. It’s something that you don’t want to do again. You realize how many teams have gone through it. It’s painful. You may not think it is, but it’s painful. Trust me, it’s not fun.”
Neither is saying goodbye to a friend and valued employee.
The Orioles will miss head athletic trainer Richie Bancells, who’s retiring after 41 years in the organization and 34 with the Orioles.
Bancells is only the third head athletic trainer in 63 seasons since the Orioles moved from St. Louis in 1954, and has the longest tenure of anyone to work in that capacity in the organization. In 2011, he received the Herb Armstrong Award, which honors non-uniformed club personnel for their significant contributions to the team, the community and the sport.
“He’s one of the most respected trainers in the business,” Duquette said. “I’m sure he has some great war stories, but I want to thank him on behalf of the Orioles for his great work. There are a lot of players he’s helped over the years to be healthy and have great careers. He did it very professionally. He’s a great role model for a young trainer coming into the big leagues, and he grew as a professional over the course of his career.
“The Orioles owe a debt of thanks to Richie and we wish him all the luck.”
Showalter and Bancells had an emotional conversation this morning behind closed doors.
“There’s not much more pertinent news than that from me today,” Showalter said of Bancells’ retirement. “A guy that has been such a fixture for us for so many years and made so many contributions for us. So many that people didn’t see, evaluations. Let’s face it, he was the trainer for Cal Ripken. The conversation starts and stops there for me.
“Seeing players come back, and what Richie meant to them, the pureness of heart and how much he loves the Orioles. But he’s been thinking that way, I know it’s crossed his mind the past couple of years. It’s a loss for us. It’s like losing a really good player. It’s a loss for us. But it’s a real gain for Carol and the kids and the grandkids. And the city of Baltimore, he hopefully will stay engaged in some capacity.”
Showalter noted the unique nature of Bancells’ longevity.
“Not just the organization, in baseball,” he said. “It’s unusual. Tells you how good you are and the good people skills you have and how good you are at what you do. I tell guys all the time, in all walks of life, what do you do that we can’t replace? He brought something that you couldn’t replace. You think it was tough replacing Cal (Ripken Jr.)? The next trainer here, it’s going to be something similar.
“Had to shut the door, two old fogies tearing up. It was tough.”
As for today’s game, neither team has scored heading to the bottom of the fourth inning, and the Orioles don’t have a hit off Rays left-hander Blake Snell.
Update: Curt Casali homered off Gausman leading off the fifth to give the Rays a 1-0 lead. Mancini has the only hit off Snell.
Update III: Brach was charged with five runs and the Orioles are losing 6-0.
Update IV: The Orioles lost 6-0 in their final game of the 2017 season. They lost 19 of their last 23 to finish with a 75-87 record and in last place.