Clearing payroll for pitching and more on Bancells’ retirement

The Orioles will head into the offseason with seven confirmed free agents, two players with 2018 team options in their contracts that likely will be turned into buyouts and a catcher who holds a player option.

There’s a significant amount of payroll that can be shed while the Orioles attempt to reload, as executive vice president Dan Duqeutte termed it before the final game.

“We’re going to have to go out and find some pitching,” he said. “We do have a number of players that have played their last game with the Orioles. I don’t know exactly who those players are, but there are a lot of contracts that are coming off.”

Dollars and sense will converge as the Orioles keep promoting their desire to upgrade the rotation. How can they afford it? Will they spend wisely?

“It’s a thin market and that’s an expensive market,” Duquette said. “Having said that, we do have some resources that will be able to be redirected to our pitching staff, so we ought to be able to make a contribution to our pitching staff.

“I like what I’ve seen of (Gabriel) Ynoa. We got to see (Miguel) Castro. Some people like him as a starter. We’re going to need a left-handed starter, obviously. Those guys are like diamonds and gold. So, that’s where we’ll be focusing our efforts.”

Duquette harkened back to a similar shopping list in 2011.

Chris-Tillman-gray-throwing.jpg“We needed three starters,” he said. “We picked up Miguel Gonzalez, we signed (Wei-Yin) Chen and (Chris) Tillman emerged, and that made us a contending team. So we’re going to have to do some work and we’re going to have to be resourceful to come up with another couple of starters for this ballclub.

“Nobody feels sorry for you in the American League East. You’ve got to show up every night ready to play these teams that have a lot of resources and deep farm systems, and we’ve been able to do that consistently over the years and our aim will be to do that again in 2018.”

Tillman, Ubaldo Jiménez, Jeremy Hellickson, Ryan Flaherty, Seth Smith, Craig Gentry and Pedro Álvarez are pending free agents. The Orioles are expected to decline the $14 million option on J.J. Hardy’s contract and the $12 million on Wade Miley’s deal. Welington Castillo could exercise his $7 million option, but most people I’ve talked to predict that he’ll seek a multi-year contract.

* There were whispers over the past few weeks that head athletic trainer Richie Bancells planned to retire after the season, and speculation became fact Sunday morning in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Bancells’ replacement will be only the fourth since the franchise moved to Baltimore in 1954. Bancells joined the organization in 1977 as an assistant athletic trainer for the Single-A Miami Orioles, and he became Ralph Salvon’s assistant in Baltimore in 1984.

Four years later, he was promoted to head athletic trainer.

I always used Bancells’ full title when referencing him in the blog and on Twitter. It dated back to our Fort Lauderdale days when he asked to be separated from the “trainers” who were infiltrating the sport. Same with assistant athletic trainer Brian Ebel, also a highly respected member of the organization.

I still remember the conversation inside the home dugout, and I gladly obliged.

“Richie was a guy who was always there for me,” said outfielder Jay Gibbons. “Whether I was running recklessly into walls, needed a laugh or just needed advice, Richie always delivered.”

Bancells forever will be linked to Cal Ripken Jr., and there aren’t many compliments that rank higher in Orioles lore. They developed a close friendship over the years and Bancells played an important role in maintaining The Streak, especially after the Orioles and Mariners brawled at Camden Yards on June 6, 1993.

As the story goes, Ripken limped into the trainer’s room the following day and told Bancells that he couldn’t play. He had been pinned underneath the pile and twisted his knee. Bancells worked on it, Ripken stayed in the lineup and the rest is baseball history.

“Richie has been as big a part of the Orioles organization as anyone and he has impacted the team in such a positive way for such a long time,” Ripken said. “Personally, he was with me throughout my career and helped me stay on the field since we were in the minor leagues together. He is leaving a significant void in the team, but I’m happy for him, Carol and their family.”

Bancells’ duties expanded the year that Brady Anderson came down with appendicitis. He’d make certain that the pilot of the team charter was prepared for the possibility of an emergency landing.

We probably led the league in head nods.

A few clubhouses still have the trainer’s room attached and the media is supposed to be respectful and not peek inside to check on players. Fenway Park, Progressive Field and Fort Lauderdale Stadium come to mind. There would be occasions when I’d turn, make eye contact with Bancells and we’d just nod hello. And then I’d avert my eyes. Funny how those moments stand out.

Bancells always waited to get permission from the club before discussing an injury with reporters, a more common practice now with the HIPAA law. Plus, it’s done to respect the privacy of the player and to avoid giving the opponent an edge. Bancells would grab a notepad and pen and sketch the body part. I’d inevitably make a groin joke and he’d just shake his head and continue.

I never heard of an intercostal strain until it forced the Orioles to scratch Brian Matusz from an April 2011 start at Tropicana Field - he would have taken the mound in the second game of the season - and place him on the disabled list. Bancells explained it in detail, showing us how it differed from the oblique.

We mourned the loss of former public relations director Monica Barlow in 2014, sharing stories that only a few could fully appreciate. It allowed me to see another side of Bancells, and I’m sure he felt the same.

Bancells wants to spend more time with his family, including seven grandchildren. It’s going to be strange next summer when a player is hit by a pitch or fouls a ball off his shin and Bancells doesn’t rush to home plate, but it’s time for him to leave.

He’s ready to go home.

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