Dan Duquette, the Orioles’ executive vice president of baseball operations, delivered a message to fans this afternoon while standing in front of the home dugout at Camden Yards.
The gates were closed, but he wanted them to hear it.
“I think what I want our fans to know is that we took a big step forward this year,” he said. “We won the division. We won 99 games and we aim to be competitive year in and year out.”
Duquette was just getting started.
“We had several players that we didn’t have for a good part of the season,” he continued. “Matt Wieters, Chris Davis, Manny Machado, they weren’t with us for a good part of the season. Ubaldo Jimenez, whom we had great expectations for, he didn’t perform at the level that he had established for himself during his career. But in spite of all that, with the good leadership we have from our manager and the coaching staff, our guys had a good year.
“Our fans, they’re terrific. They’re out here to support us every night. It’s a thrill to be in a playoff game here in Baltimore. We’ve had playoff games here the past couple of years and we’re going to do everything we can to continue that tradition. October baseball is special, and to have a home game in your ballpark with the Oriole fans, that’s like having the cherry on top of the cake.”
A win over the Royals would have been, what, sprinkles?
“Obviously, we’re all disappointed, like our fans are, because it’s a unique opportunity when you get a chance to play in the league championship series and our guys did really good work to win the division and advance in the division series, but we weren’t at our best in the championship series and I think everybody knows that,” Duquette said. “You’ve got to give the Royals a lot of credit though.”
Duquette has met with manager Buck Showalter and will do so again next week. The focus shifted right away to the 2015 season.
“We’ve got some decisions to make on our roster,” Duquette said. “We have some contracts where players have options. We have some players who had some good seasons who earned some award bonuses like Nelson Cruz, he did a good job and earned himself some award bonuses. We have to make plans to tally up those and pay the guys who performed well. Steve Pearce is another guy who is due some bonuses and Wei-Yin Chen, who had a good year. We can do that over the next week and then we can start preparing for the offseason.
“Once the World Series is over, that’s when things start with free agency. We’ll take a look at signing some minor league free agents. There are some players that were outrighted off major league rosters we can take a look at and then we hire our minor league staff and scouts. This is the time of year when we do all that. Now is a good time to do that and firm up the foundation of our scouting and player development department so we can continue to have a good team year in and year out.”
Duquette didn’t give specifics on his pending free agents, declining to say whether the Orioles will make a qualifying offer to Cruz.
“It’s good to know that Nelson likes it here,” Duquette said. “You can tell just by watching him, he’s the leader of the ballclub. And the young players look up to him, especially the young Latin player. He’s an excellent leader, he’s a very good role model, he led the league in home runs and he had a great year. I really appreciate veteran leadership that he gave the team. Having said that, he came here to have a platform year to get himself re-established to get him a long-term deal and that’s something we will have to consider.
“The important thing for our fans to know is that we’ve increased our payroll over the last couple years. I expect we have the foundation for an additional increase, and however we invest that, we’re going to give them the most competitive and compelling and entertaining team we can to support.
“This team this past year is a team we can all be proud of. We can be proud of the division championship, the wins, the way they gave their best night in and night out to the fans in Baltimore. The way that this club is always ready to play and give their best, that’s heartening to me. Going forward, we’re going to do our best to have a good team year in and year out. The Angelos family has shown the commitment to fielding a good, strong, competitive team and with the support of our fans we were able to increase our payroll so we can invest it wisely and give you a good team.”
The payroll should go up simply with the raises pending for the arbitration-eligible players.
“When you have a group of players who have a good season, they deserve a raise based on their performance,” Duquette said. “They earn it under the system and we’ll have to fund those raises for the guys who do well and bring them back as the foundation of our team.”
Duquette said it’s “always a possibility” that the Orioles will attempt to negotiate a contract extension with Nick Markakis during the World Series.
“We have options on a few player contracts and Nick Markakis is one of them, so that’s something we can take a look at,” he said. “The other thing I want to point out is that we have the youngest roster in the American League East, so we have a lot to look forward to next year. With the returning of players we have and the foundation of the players we’ve built up, we should have another good ballclub.”
The competition for left-hander Andrew Miller on the free agent market will be fierce.
“There’s a lot of interest in Andrew Miller,” Duquette said. “We knew that when we traded for him. He pitched well for us. Good for us that we had him because I think he was the difference in the Tigers series that allowed us to advance. Obviously, we like Andrew and we like to have pitchers of that ilk on our ballclub.”
There are areas that need improvement, but Duquette didn’t address them specifically.
“I’ll have to take a closer look at that,” he said. “I’m happy that we have an established pitching staff and pretty good depth to our starting rotation. And that’s something that we’ve been working on for the last couple years.”
The depth could be used as trade bait, though Duquette is reluctant to part with it.
“How does it go? You can never have enough good pitching?” he said. “We have some good young pitching on the roster. We have some good young pitching on the horizon in Dylan Bundy and Mike Wright, and I’d like to have as many good ones going into the season.
“We’ve got plenty of resources to field a competitive team here and we’ll have an opportunity to meet with the ownership of the club and find out what the capability is, but I’m confident that we have the resources to field a good quality competitive team for next year. I expect that we’ll be able to increase our payroll because the fans have responded to our team the last couple of years.
“We’re going to put together the strongest team we can put together with the resources we have, but we have really good pieces already in place. We have the opportunity for a lot of those people to return for next year.”
The Orioles are set in the manager’s office.
“Buck did a good job,” Duquette said. “He always does a great job preparing the team and getting them ready to play ball. I’m sure that Buck will get consideration for Manager of the Year based upon us winning the division and the number of wins we had.”
Left-hander T.J. McFarland was the only player in the clubhouse as reporters and television and radio crews filtered inside. He joked about serving as the team spokesman.
He got the job.
“Overall, I think we had a good season,” McFarland said. “Guys are real happy with what they did. Obviously, we wanted to continue, but it wasn’t in the cards for us.”
Or the Royals or the Giants.
More disappointment came to McFarland because he wasn’t part of the Division Series and Championship Series rosters.
“Of course, to help the team out,” he said. “I was there in spirit. I was there literally. What a ride. It was awesome.”
The ending needed a re-write.
“I never thought that was going to happen, obviously, but the games were so close and we were always one hit away from taking the lead. Unfortunately, we were never able to push a run across when we needed it,” McFarland said. “You know, the guys showed a lot of heart, and every single game we were in it. I think we at least got a guy on base in the ninth inning, too, when (Greg) Holland was trying to close it. It just didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to.”
Then came the following day and acceptance that the season was over.
“For me, it didn’t seem real,” McFarland said. “It all happened so fast. When you lose that last game, you don’t really realize it’s the last game until you come back here and start packing up your locker. But yeah, when I was packing up my locker, I can’t speak for everybody but I know I definitely got the emotions again of us losing, the season’s over. That’s why the offseason’s there, to relax and get back at it and then there’s always next year.”
Except it won’t be the same team. Players will depart, others will join the group.
“I haven’t really thought about that,” McFarland said. “It’s up to the front office to decide, obviously. Yeah, there are some guys. That’s how baseball works and the business side of it works, but that’s not up to me to have any speculations or try to predict anything.”
McFarland can take Showalter’s post-Game 4 message back home to Chicago.
“We’re a close team,” he said. “A lot of the guys, we all root for one another, we’re all rooting for each other in the playoffs. The message is that we left everything out there, we left everything out on the field. We’ve got no regrets. Everybody played to exactly what they wanted to. It just didn’t work out for us.”