Duquette: “I’ve been focused on helping the Orioles all winter”

ABERDEEN, Md. - Relaxing on a leather sofa in one of the suites at Ripken Stadium, dinner and a Q&A session with fans coming later in the evening, Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette was asked to describe an offseason that kept him in the news for reasons beyond making trades and signing free agents.

“Interesting,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s been interesting. I’m not used to being a trade rumor.”

duquette-media-sidebar.jpgBefore arriving at the ballpark for the IronBirds’ annual Hot Stove Banquet, Duquette had been issuing a steady stream of “no comments” regarding reports that the Blue Jays wanted to hire him as president and CEO despite the four years remaining on his contract with the Orioles. He no longer avoided the subject while meeting with two beat reporters and was amused by the line of questioning that he knew was coming.

“I can confirm that I’ve been the subject of many trade rumors. I’d have to be living in a bunker to not be aware, right?” he said.

“You know, these things happen in baseball. This is rare, but sometimes trades are made for managers, sometimes trades are made for executives and that’s the way it goes. It’s a part of the business. If there’s trade discussions that I have as an executive, I really don’t talk about those publicly, because you never know what’s going to come to fruition and what’s not. But I’ve been focused on helping the Orioles all winter, focused on doing the job to put together a good team. So from that perspective it’s in effect business as usual.”

The Orioles and Blue Jays discussed compensation for allowing Duquette to leave, but the insistence on three top prospects were a deal-breaker. The Blue Jays announced later that Paul Beeston would retire following the 2015 season, so this story could gain traction again.

Duquette is aware of the fans’ perception that a quiet offseason - it perked up a bit with Tuesday’s acquisition of outfielder Travis Snider from the Pirates - was due to his preference to take the promotion.

“Building a baseball team is a year-round job and we don’t always do in the offseason what fans expect we’re going to do, but we end up having a pretty good ballclub and we’re going to do the same thing again this year,” Duquette said.

“I’ve always done my job 24 hours a day and to the best of my ability. That’s a habit. We’re going to have another good ballclub this year. I’m confident of that.”

Duquette added that he didn’t feel the need to reassure members of the front office despite that same perception extending into some corners of the warehouse.

Duquette preferred to talk about Snider, who came to the Orioles for minor league left-hander Stephen Tarpley and a player to be named.

Travis Snider Pirates.jpg“Travis Snider is a top draft pick and looks to me like he’s just coming into his own,” Duquette said. “Second half of the season last year he put together a terrific campaign. Ended up hitting well, getting on base, slugged over .500 and hit nine home runs over the second half of the season. He’s got excellent pull power which should play very well in Camden Yards. He’s got the kind of power to hit the ball out of the left-center field part of our ballpark. If he hits one or two balls out there, he should be on track. He should do pretty well.

“He’s a good defensive player. I like him. He’s going to help our team. He’s got a good work ethic. We’ve seen him a lot with the Pirates in spring training. Of course he played against us. And although he hasn’t been given to date the chance to hit against left-handers in the big leagues, when he was given a chance last year, he hit very well, and he’s hit well against lefties in the minors. He could very well develop into an everyday ballplayer.”

The teams discussed Snider at the Winter Meetings and left-hander Brian Matusz’s name came up, but the Orioles shifted their focus in other directions until a few weeks ago, when Duquette and Pirates general manager Neal Huntington rekindled talks.

“I had stayed in touch with Neal because we were still looking for a left-handed-hitting outfielder, so we continued our persistence and Neal made him available,” Duquette said. “We did have some discussions at the Winter Meetings and we weren’t able to get a deal done.

“I like his age, I like the way he profiles in our ballpark, I like the way he plays defense and I like his over-the-fence power.

“You know the other thing that Snider does for us is he gives us a little more depth to our lineup. If you look at his record, the number of pitches that he sees, he’ll be our most selective hitter. And toward the end of last year, he lowered his strikeouts and increased his walks, which leads me to believe he’s really on his way to being a good major league hitter. So he gives us a little bit more depth.

“We were trying to replace the on-base capability that Markakis gave us and Snider will help us do that, but he also has power and he’s also a good defender. So if you take a look at what he did last year in 300 at-bats, he should be able to make a good contribution to our ballclub here. And we signed Delmon Young, so we have a potential DH there, and depending on how the team is structured he could see some more at-bats. And we have (Alejandro) De Aza also, and (David) Lough, so that gives us plenty of people to replace Markakis.

“The at-bats that (Nelson) Cruz gave us, of course he gave us 40 home runs and we’re not going to replace him with 40 home runs, but we’ve got enough power on our ballclub to still hit a lot of home runs.”

Duquette hasn’t crumpled up his shopping list. He wants to add more depth to the bullpen, specifically a right-handed reliever.

“There’s a couple,” he said.

The group of right-handed relievers still on the market (ages in parentheses) includes the following, courtesy of MLBTradeRumors.com:

Mike Adams (36)
Matt Albers (32)
John Axford (32)
Burke Badenhop (32)
Ronald Belisario (32)
Jared Burton (34)
Joba Chamberlain (29)
Kyle Farnsworth (39)
Matt Guerrier (36)
Matt Lindstrom (35)
Dustin McGowan (32)
Chris Perez (29)
Francisco Rodriguez (33)
Rafael Soriano (35)
Jose Veras (34)
Brian Wilson (33)
Jamey Wright (40)

Note: 105.7 The Fan (WJZ-FM), the new flagship station of the Orioles Radio Network, will broadcast 12 spring training games. Three of the 12 broadcasts will feature 30-minute pregame and postgame shows.

Here’s the schedue:

* Wednesday, March 4 vs. Detroit Tigers, 1:05 p.m.
* Saturday, March 7 vs. Boston Red Sox, 1:05 p.m.
* Wednesday, March 11 vs. Toronto Blue Jays, 1:05 p.m.
* Saturday, March 14 vs. Tampa Bay Rays, 1:05 p.m.
* Sunday, March 15 at Pittsburgh Pirates, 1:05 p.m.
* Saturday, March 21 at Minnesota Twins, 1:05 p.m.
* Sunday, March 22 vs. St. Louis Cardinals, 1:05 p.m.
* Saturday, March 28 at New York Yankees, 1:05 p.m.
* Sunday, March 29 vs. Minnesota Twins, 1:05 p.m.
* Wednesday, April 1 vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, 7:05 p.m.+
* Friday, April 3 vs. Atlanta Braves, 6:05 p.m.+
* Saturday, April 4 vs. Atlanta Braves, 3:05 p.m.+

+ Includes 30-minute pre- and post-game shows.

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