“The closing act is over for the Orioles and the curtain has come down on the 2016 season.”
This is how executive vice president Dan Duquette started yesterday’s season-ending press conference at Camden Yards. It took up just a tiny fraction of the 47 minutes spent inside the auxiliary clubhouse.
Duquette said the Orioles are in the process of formulating their offseason plan. Too early to be asking about free agents or qualifying offers or extensions.
Losing pitching coach Dave Wallace is a blow to the organization. Ask any pitcher who’s worked with him. Check the before-and-after Zach Britton.
I’m going to guess that the next hire comes from outside the organization, simply because of the “robbing Peter to pay Paul” principle. Otherwise, bullpen coach Dom Chiti would be a logical successor.
Triple-A Norfolk pitching coach Mike Griffin and Double-A Bowie pitching coach Alan Mills deserve serious consideration, but their curse is the value they bring in their present roles.
It would be so nice to have an offseason without a coaching search. Dare to dream.
Manager Buck Showalter must be having flashbacks to Nick Markakis’ free agent season. He’s going through similar emotions with Matt Wieters, which led to their recent conversation.
“Tough. Not a lot of dry eyes in that place. That’s tough,” Showalter said.
“We talked about the first conversation he and I had here, kind of taking the gloves off a little bit. And to see the guy he’s become so far beyond what expectations you have. That’s probably one of the tougher conversations I’ve had this year. Of course, I had it somewhat last year when we didn’t know. Regardless of what you think of him as a player or whatever, just to know the human being and the father and the husband, it’s tough.
“There are so many times during the season, there’s so many emotions that show themselves in silence. It’s a look. You catch each other’s eye during the course of a game, him knowing that I know what just happened, him knowing that he knows what just happened where I’m concerned. I get the glances in the dugout when there’s certain decisions. He gets it and that’s something that really has driven the success we’ve had consistently is that we are able to surround ourselves with so many people who get it.
“People in the system know what I’m talking about when I ask, ‘Does he have it?’ And we can’t miss on that here and Matt had that, and that’s what you’ll miss more than anything.”
Does hearing this make you think Wieters will be back?
I asked Duquette where the Orioles need to improve.
“We have our work cut out for us in the offseason,” he said. “We’ve got a couple significant free agents, so we’re going to need to address that. Matt Wieters is a free agent, Mark Trumbo’s a free agent. Those are the marquee free agents that we have.
“I looked at it, just briefly today, but I’m kind of encouraged about our starting pitching for next year. When you take a look at the veteran pitchers, they’re all in the option year of their contracts, so they’re all pitching for a contract for the future. Those two young pitchers, (Dylan) Bundy and (Kevin) Gausman, Bundy, I think, is a bonafide Rookie of the Year candidate with 10 wins. That’s an achievement in itself, and Gausman had the most quality starts of any of our pitchers. We’ve got those guys back to go with some veteran pitchers that have a lot of incentive to pitch well.
“Chris Tillman’s going into his option year, (Yovani) Gallardo, (Wade) Miley, (Ubaldo) Jimenez. So they should come into camp in good shape and ready to compete.”
It wasn’t until later that Duquette got to the importance of upgrading the club’s on-base percentage, though he cited improvements among certain players. The Orioles registered a .298 OBP in the second half that ranked 29th in the majors.
“Obviously, we score more runs if you’ve got guys on base and you can leverage that power for additional runs, so that’s something that we’re going to continue to work on,” Duquette said. “I thought we did a really good job of that. Earlier in the season we had a higher on-base percentage that we had later in the season.
“We are putting emphasis on controlling the strike zone in our player development, and I don’t just mean in the minors. I mean player development in the big leagues. If you look at Chris Davis and (Manny) Machado’s on-base capability, that’s improved significantly the last couple of years. (Jonathan) Schoop improved this year. I know all of our staff emphasized that. (Hyun Soo) Kim’s discipline, I think, was a plus to the team.
“Would you like to see a little bit more on-base capability throughout the lineup? Absolutely yes, and we’ll keep working on that. But there’s about 25 other teams looking for the same thing.”
If Wieters and Trumbo leave via free agency, would the Orioles funnel the savings toward players who aren’t all-or-nothing hitters?
“Well, I don’t think the guys we bring in are all-or-nothing, OK?” Duquette replied. “We like to have power throughout our lineup. That’s been a consistent theme. We like to have good defense at every position. Ideally, we’d like to have power at every position.
“We can do a better job of on-base capability. Absolutely. But the power plays pretty well at our ballpark. It helps us. We had 50 wins at home this year. I think our fans enjoyed seeing that. When you get in a close game, yes, you have to execute offensively. But the power plays. They don’t have any fielders on the other side of the fence.”
Wieters and Trumbo were popular subjects yesterday.
“I don’t know exactly what our offseason plans are going to be, but I’ll tell you this: We’re going to have a good, competitive team,” Duquette said. “We’re going to have a strong pitching staff, we’re going to have power at just about every position, we’re going to have good defense. Both of those guys had good years. Trumbo had a really good year. And Matt showed that he was healthy, capable of playing every day.”
Are there replacements within the organization?
“I don’t know how you replace the home run champ,” Duquette said. “We do have good power in Trey Mancini. We saw some of that power in September. We have good on-base capability in Chance Sisco. But whether they can replace capable major league players, established major league players, that’s another story.”
The desire to improve the pitching depth never leaves, despite Duquette’s good feelings about the rotation.
“Do you ever have enough starting pitching?” he asked. “One of the reasons we traded for Miley is he’s a workhorse. He’s pitched close to 200 innings a couple times. One of the few lefties that did that and that’s why we made the trade at the time. We thought it was a reasonable price to pay for a left-handed starting pitcher that we could get some help from for this year and going into next season. And we needed a left-handed pitcher.
“Yeah, we’re going to be looking for left-handed pitching, we’re going to be looking for starting pitchers. We don’t necessarily have the urgency that we’ve had the last couple years. I expect those veteran pitchers to pitch well. They’re going to pitch as well as they can pitch going into their option year. There’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for starting pitchers in baseball, so I expect those guys to come into camp in good shape. They’re going to be competing for the innings. We’ve got some young guys who want to pitch, too.”
The Orioles spent big during the offseason while retaining Wieters, Davis and Darren O’Day and later signing Gallardo and Pedro Alvarez, pushing the payroll to a record high. They’ve got to dole out significant raises to some arbitration-eligible players, including Machado and Britton.
“I think a lot of the payroll flexibility will be absorbed by these good players that had really good years,” Duquette said. “I think our fundamental team is a little stronger this year going into the offseason. I don’t really see the need to recommend a lot of long-term investments.”
Duquette was asked about the budget.
“We meet every year,” he said. “Mr. (Peter) Angelos is very sensitive to keeping this ballclub competitive and keeping the ticket prices affordable for families that live in the area so they can come out and enjoy a game at Camden Yards. So we try to find a sweet spot between having a good team, year in and year out, and having an entertaining team that people can afford to come out and see and enjoy.
“A lot of times that’s dependent on a lot of different factors. We’ve been able to grow the payroll because the fans have come out and supported us and they’ve supported us at a very healthy level. We’ve been able to grow our fan base to the distribution of our product over cable TV, which also helps fund additional investments in the payroll.
“This past year was a record commitment by the Orioles to major league payroll to the extent that our revenues continue to go up, we’re going to reinvest those in the team so we can be competitive year in and year out.”
One way to correct the dip in attendance may be to get season ticket invoices sent out at an earlier date.
“We aim to be competitive every single year,” Duquette said. “Now could we get our tickets on sale earlier? Yes, I think there’s a demand for the tickets earlier than what we put them on the market for this past year and that’s something that we’re going to try to address in the coming offseason.
“We have terrific promotions, we have one of the best ballparks in baseball, which we’re very proud of, and our fans see it that way. And Orioles baseball is still one of the most affordable fan experiences in professional sports, so the value equation is there for the consumer. We’re going to do what we can to improve on our attendance (next) year.
“I want to thank the fans who came out to support us during the year, almost 2.2 million. Our attendance at the gate was down, but people continue to follow the Orioles through all the media channels. Our cable was up over 35 percent, so fans are engaged and they’re very passionate about the Orioles and we really appreciate that. We remain dedicated to keeping the Orioles fan friendly and affordable family entertainment and we hope we did that for our fans this year. They’re very passionate about the Orioles and we hope to do it again next year.”
The Orioles will try to do more than just make the playoffs. They want to avoid the wild card round, the one-and-done setup that burned them in Toronto.
Was losing the wild card tougher than the Division Series or Championship Series?
“They’re all tough,” Showalter said. “I don’t want to get too dramatic about it because there are a lot of things going on in this world a lot more tough, but it’s a shattering thing.
“I just feel for the players and fans. They put so much into it and care so much about it, it rips your heart out. It’s also what drives you to get there again and get another opportunity. That promise I make.
“There’s a lot of different things and Dan and I have a lot of work to do and it’s moving right now.”