Written by Tony Soprano
Dan noted a fan letter that he got last year, "Dan, thank you for doing NOTHING this offseason." "This year I haven't had the same response. I think Orioles fans are getting a little bit restless"
1) “We have some areas to address that we want to continue to address between now and when we open and that’s on the pitching staff. So we’re hopeful to sign another starter and a reliever. But I have to tell you, I like our talent base. I like our pitching staff going into the season, we’re better than…I think we have a little more depth than we had the past couple years that I’ve been here, on the mound. So if we can add a couple more pitchers I think we’ll be in pretty good shape.”
2) We have a terrific core of players. Two that really emerged as superstars were Davis and Machado. We had three GGs last year. Very happy for Manny and proud for team that Machado won platinum glove for best defender. According to baseballreference.com, Manny had the 3rd best defensive season of any player in O's history after one each from Brooks and Belanger. Dan expects Manny to start the season, "he's such a good athlete, he's so dedicated." JJ Hardy accomplished something few players achieve: silver slugger, all star, gold glove. "Jones is a terrifically gifted ballplayer, who trains hard, is committed, lives in the community..."
3) Talked to Boras yesterday about Wieters. Boras said, "You know, I tried to take a close look at why Matt's average was down, and I came up with the fact that Matt hit the ball on the nose more times than any other catcher, but the balls were caught." Dan's response, "Scott, do you want to go make that argument to the arbitrator? Good luck, buddy." Boras then goes, "Well, your hitting coaches tell him hit the ball hard, and everything else is out of his control." "Yeah that's what the hitting coaches say, but that's not what the general manager says. But it’s true, Matt is one of the building blocks of our ball club, and I would expect him to have a much better average. In spite of his low average against RHP he still hit over 20HRs, he's still one of the top defensive catchers in the league, and he just kills, absolutely kills, LHP from the right side."
4)David Lough was a "significant trade that people don't understand yet that's going to be a powerful and impactful effect on this team. David Lough came in the league last year, had a bigger impact than any other rookie that came in the American League. The kid’s a terrific defensive outfielder. He’s a good offensive player; he can hit both left and right handed pitching which tells me he can be an everyday player, and he has a great arm." Lough has a “chance to replace a lot of the innings and the at bats that Nate McLouth did for us the last couple years. So keep your eye on him, David Lough, really exciting player, LH hitter, a really hard-nosed kid and he’s gonna’ be a good addition to our ballclub.” Dan also noted Urrutia as someone for LF.
5) “The one thing our players have in common, that they really like is they really enjoy playing for Buck Showalter. He has a real way of making it fun… put the players in the right positions.” Table tennis tournaments and pool table in the clubhouse. “It’s kind of like Camp Showalter during the year…. They’re all business on the field, but they have a good time coming to the ballpark. Buck’s a terrific task master. Our emphasis that he has placed on the defense reflected in these guys that are gold glovers and reflected in all the players around the diamond having to play their position has really helped the team become competitive.”
6) “The starting pitching, we have Chris Tillman; he’s coming back, had a great year. We’re hoping he’ll anchor the staff. Behind him we have Miguel Gonzalez who’s had two good years. Wei Chen is a LHer who we like and he should be back and ready to go. Bud Norris, who we picked up from the Astros, is there. Then we have a couple young pitchers that should be pretty decent everyday starting pitchers and that’s Kevin Gausman, a terrific arm, you saw a lot of his good work last year in relief, so he should be a top of the rotation SP . This kid, T.J. McFarland, who last year we picked up in the rule V draft had a really good winter in Venezuela. T.J. took the initiative to go to Venezuela and he pitched 39 innings, did real well, so he should be able to make an impact. Then we had Dylan Bundy, one of our top prospects, he should be back to help our ballclub during the season. He’s rehabbing from his elbow injury, but I think that we can expect to see him later on in the season and he should be able to help us.”
7) Transition at 2B – “Brian Roberts had a great career with the Orioles…. Our challenge will be to find an everyday second baseman. We have a good candidate, Ryan Flaherty, who has done a good job the last couple years. Then we have a good kid in this young infielder, Jon Schoop, played at AAA last year, came up, RH power hitter, and he’s got a chance to be a helpful everyday ballplayer.”
8) “We hope to be able to address our DH, being that we didn’t get a lot out of our DH last year. We know that is an area that we need to upgrade along with adding to our pitching staff .Between now and when we open, keep your eye on what we do we should be able to help ourselves in those areas by either signing a player or making another trade” One man asked why aren’t we going for Morales, the time to win is now, forget the draft choice and we might need to trade Davis or Wieters because we can’t afford thm. “There was a good piece on mlbtraderumors a couple days ago about why teams are not being aggressive with Nelson Cruz and Kendrys Morales . It lays out their economic value of both players to a team and then it also works out the value of a draft pick to a team. The challenge for an agent to get those players signed is significant because they both turned down over $14.5M which is the value of a qualifying offer so the team that signs them also has to give up the value of a draft pick. If you take a look at the economic equation of those two players it’s going to be very challenging for teams to pay the dollars in the range of a qualifying offer and also give up a draft pick. It just doesn’t make very good…, it’s hard to make a go of it economically on that basis."
The first question from the crowd, “What are your biggest frustrations and does ownership come into play?” Everyone laughed because we all knew Dan wasn’t going to be critical of Angelos. “Having operated a team in Montreal in a foreign country and a small market, the team had to move to Washington, right? And then having operated a team in Boston, a major market, I can tell you from those two perspectives, Montreal had one of the lowest payrolls in the big leagues because of their fanbase. You know the people up there love hockey, I’m not sure they have a passion for baseball like they do for hockey. In fact, I’m pretty confident they don’t. And then going to Boston where they’re very, very passionate about baseball. And it’s a huge media market; of course they draw regionally throughout New England, and we were able to build the brand not just regionally but nationally and internationally. What I found is every team or every market has its own unique challenges. Very rarely do I ever address the issue of, you know, what is your payroll gonna’ be? Well, our payroll is what it is. It’s based upon the revenues of the ballclub. But having said that, I know that the best and most capable way to have a good team year in and year out is to have a good player development operation, to have good aggressive scouting, and to be active in as many markets as you can to find good talent. That’s really where I spend most of my time in terms of finding talent. If you find talent, and you build your talent base, you should be good year in and year out. So, with the Orioles we’re on the verge of being good year in and year out because we have been able to build up our talent base, and the investments that we made in the draft when we picked up Matt Wieters, when we got Dylan Bundy, when we got Kevin Gausman, recently, we got Hunter Harvey. Those should be core players that stay with us for a long time to help us be competitive. So all those challenges you know, that you face are building up your organization, and then getting people to pull the rope in the same direction and we’ve been able to do that pretty effectively here in Baltimore and we’ll continue to do that."
After that, I was up to bat, and asked him, in an ideal world where you can fill your needs in order, how do you rank starting pitching (with Tanaka out of our price range), another bullpen arm, DH, and is LF pretty much taken care of with David Lough? “With the LF issue, I like David Lough to able to help us in LF. I also like Henry Urrutia, a June pickup last year, went to Arizona fall league, did well again out there, and he physically doesn’t have any gaps in his hitting profile to be an everyday ballplayer. Last year at this time, he was running from the authorities in the Dominican Republic. He had to take refuge in Haiti, and he didn’t have an opportunity to train. He had a pretty decent year. He did make a couple contributions to the major league team. I think with the benefit of a year of experience and training he should be a good asset to our team, so I like Urrutia to help our team, but I like David Lough to help us in LF and take a lot of the at bats and make a contribution that Nate McLouth did. Our shopping list really hasn’t changed we’d still like to augment our bullpen. I have to tell you Tommy Hunter had as good a year as any of these other closers had, and we already have him on our team. And then we also have Darren O'Day a top quality set-up man... so they’re already on our team, they could be candidates to close the game. Having said that, I’d still like to sign a couple pitchers, a starter, a reliever, and also get a LH in there at DH. They’re all on the shopping list, and I’m confident we can address all that between now and the time that we open."
Another question, “Dan, you’re fairly committed to developing from within, that appears to be our strategy going forward, how important do you think these international signings can be, long-term?”
“Fred Ferreira , who is our international recruiter, is just a fantastic scout. Fred signed 63 players from the amateur level, brought in to pro ball, that got to the big leagues. His goal is to get to 75 and get into the HOF. I don’t know of any better talent scout than Fred. Fred seems to have a natural way of recruiting talent. He was recognized last year as the International scout of the year. He signed Miguel Gonzalez for us and h has since brought some good players to the organization including Henry Urrutia. Fred was telling me all the players he signed for the Yankees. He signed Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Hensley Meulens. Then I brought him to the Expos, he signed Vladimir Guerrero Javier Vazquez, Jose Vidro, so he’s signed some really good players. Fred went to Cincinnati and during his time there he worked for Marge Schott and I looked at his resume. Why did you not sign any good players when you were in Cincinatti, you were there for five years? He said, “I think it was because Mrs Schott kept asking me why I didn’t drive to Puerto Rico from Ft. Lauderdale when I had a company car.”
Finally, if Dan was baseball commissioner for a day, he joked about the $17M salary and what that translates to for one day's work. Then he would like to "see a system that more evenly distributes the players' salaries so that a disproportionate amount of players' salaries is not concentrated in just a few. I'd like to see that distributed more evenly throughout the labor force, I think that would give us a better product and more accepted and understood by the fans."
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