LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - The deliberate pace usually set by the Orioles while constructing their opening day roster may have to be accelerated. The market can’t play out and leave them out in the cold.
“There’s so many teams looking for pitching, we might have to be a little bit more proactive than that,” said executive vice president Dan Duquette. “The market’s dynamic and it’s starting to take shape and you see a lot of these teams looking at who they want to sign and who wants to sign with them. We’ve probably got to move a little bit quicker.”
The first day of the Winter Meetings brought the usual suite action, with agents and executives sitting down with Duquette and an assortment of team officials.
“We’ve been working on a couple things to try to strengthen our pitching staff,” he said. “Met with a couple agents and we also had discussions with clubs. Our focus is going to be to sign some pitchers for our major league team, some starters, and then we’re also trying to trade for a left-handed hitter to give us a little bit more depth and complement in the outfield.”
The free agent market for left-handed bats apparently doesn’t present a match for the Orioles.
“We looked at some of the opportunities on the free agent market,” Duquette said. “We haven’t quite found the right fit for the O’s, so we’re looking at some trade opportunities and we think there may be some better opportunities for trades for left-handed hitters.”
The Yankees introduced outfielder Giancarlo Stanton to the media this afternoon, striking the biggest blow of the offseason by acquiring the National League’s home run champion and Most Valuable Player. But the bold move doesn’t increase the Orioles’ sense of urgency as they conduct business.
“The rich got richer, right?” Duquette said. “The Yankees had a good year and were able to add the National League home run (leader), so that makes it even more challenging for our ballclub. But we have our own challenges. We have to staff our team and we just try to be as competitive as we can all the time.
“Fortunately, we’ve been able to compete with the Yankees, we’ve been able to compete with the Red Sox. The Yankees are going into another cycle where their farm system has matured and they have a little bit more depth and talent, and so they leveraged that talent to make a trade. They used their resources to go out and acquire the biggest contract in the industry.
“That’s kind of like the Red Sox trumped the market last year when they picked up Sale, a very similar type of deal. They used their economic might and the money they invested in their minor league operation to make a big deal to impact their major league team. So that’s a pretty powerful combination that we have to be very resourceful to try to combat.”
It’s not going to happen via long-term free agent contracts for starting pitchers. Duquette won’t push ownership for deals covering four or five years and risk getting burned, as they did with Ubaldo Jiménez in 2014.
“Those haven’t worked out that well for the club,” Duquette said, “so I’m not sure I’d recommend that.”
The Orioles already are challenged to entice free agents due to their hitter-friendly ballpark and competing in the American League East. Stanton’s arrival likely will be another strike against them and further illustrate the importance of growing the arms and getting creative.
“Any good team, if you’re going to be good year in and year out, you have to have a good farm system,” Duquette said. “That’s really the foundation of being good. Everybody wants to talk about the free agent market. There’s other things that you can do with trades, there’s other players that you can sign. That’s not the only venue or option for the club to add players. It’s probably the riskiest financially, so to the extent that the club is active in these other markets and we can do some good there, that generally works out better for us.”
What about exceeding two years?
“There’s been some pretty decent pitchers that have been in this market without going to four or five years,” Duquette said. “There’s been some signings already where pitchers have signed for a couple years. They’re qualified major league players. So I don’t think you have to say you’ve got to go four or five years in that market to be competitive.”
The Orioles seem inclined to let their in-house guys battle for one rotation spot, which would leave two openings.
“If we have a couple and we can get one from some of the guys we looked at (this) year, if you can get one from the group we looked at, whether it’s (Gabriel) Ynoa or (Miguel) Castro or somebody else from the minors, and we need a couple ...” Duquette said. “And we’d really like to get a left-hander. Not to just get a left-hander, but a left-hander who can get them out. We’d like to get a good one, but that’s a challenge.”
Bringing on a larger contract from another team isn’t a desirable path.
“Those are options you can always take a look at, but we’d rather go out and make a good investment and get a decent pitcher,” Duquette said, also noting all of the minor league depth signings that proceeded the Winter Meetings.
“Hopefully, we’ll sign some players or trade for a player and we’ll get a little bit of depth.”
Chris Tillman remains in play for the Orioles as he sits on the free agent market. The Tigers were rumored to have interest before signing Mike Fiers to a one-year, $6 million deal.
“His name seems to come up all the time in our market because he was a good pitcher for us for a long time,” Duquette said. “So that certainly could be considered by the club along with some others. Tilly’s name keeps coming up all the time.”
Duquette confirmed the outside interest in his relievers and the possibility of trading one of them.
“The bullpen is still a strength,” he said. “The other clubs are looking at the market and they’re checking back in with us on some of the players in our bullpen. There’s still a lot of interest in that group because they’ve performed well in the past, so if we have any depth on the team it might be in that area of the club. So that’s something that we can take a look at.”
While the Orioles may be hesitant to trade from their growing stock of quality minor league arms - teams are inquiring now about Alex Wells and Keegan Akin and they always check on Hunter Harvey - Duquette mentioned the minor league position players, “particularly in the outfield that gives us a little bit of depth to discuss in trades.”