• Feb

    Duquette goes all in on 2014

    I guess some people learned the offseason is a marathon and not sprint.

    Just two weeks ago just about every Orioles fan was disappointed with the lack of activity of Dan Duquette and the Orioles this offseason. Up until that point, about the only thing he could check off his high priority shopping list was acquiring some much needed quality bullpen arms, but he also salary dumped his closer from last year so that seemed a bit like a wash.

    Coming into this offseason I felt the Orioles needed to do three things this offseason, acquire a quality starting pitcher, add a power bat in left field or DH, and improve their bullpen depth. After the signings of right-handed starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez  and outfielder Nelson Cruz, it's hard to argue with Duqutte's offseason.

    Sure, he had to give up his number one and number two picks in this year's draft, but I agree with his go for it attitude. Afterall, the Orioles have a nice young core of players that seems to be on the verge of competing, yet how long he can keep this core remains to be seen.

    Of that core, only shortstop JJ Hardy will be a free agent after this season, but after the 2015 season, Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, Darren O'Day, Tommy Hunter,  and Bud Norris will all become free agents unless the Orioles can sign them long term beforehand. The most important of these of course is Chris Davis, but with Scott Boras as an agent, it's hard to imagine Davis signing an extension before free agency so the Orioles may be forced to move him after this season if they don't think they can resign him long term.

    The signing of Jimenez to a 4-year/$50 million contract was a big step for Duquette and the Orioles. Jimenez is no doubt a risky move and for a team that has been risk adverse for years, his signing shows Duquette is all in on this core group. Jimenez is a risk because the orioles don't really know what they are getting. Over his last 12 starts last year , Jimenez pitched like an ace putting up a 1.82 ERA while holding batters to a .223/.286/.320/.606 slash line and striking out 100 while walking 27. He averaged 6.5 innings a start over those 12 starts but in the first half, he averaged just 5.2 innings a start and put up a 4.52 ERA.

    Duquette obviously feels new pitching coach Dave Wallace can help Jimenez find the consistency he'll need to help the Orioles over the next four years. Jimenez has the talent with a four pitch mix that includes a power sinker that garners ground balls, a slider, a four-seam fastball and a splitter that he uses as a strike out pitch. He'll even mix in the occasional curve and cutter but he's primarily a four-pitch guy.

    Duquette waited out and ended up getting Cruz at a cut rate although it did cost him a second round pick. No one wants to give up a pick, but considering Don Baylor, Cal Ripken and Arthur Rhodes are the only Orioles second round picks who put up more than 3 WAR in their careers, it's worth adding an impact bat, especially one like Cruz who knows he needs to put up a monster year in order to cash in on a big contract next winter. Afterall, this is  guy who lost out on six million dollars of guaranteed money after passing on the Rangers $14.1 million qualifying offer. It's not hard to guess that the Orioles will get a very, very motivated power hitter.

    The bullpen has been re-engineered from last year's squad that blew a league leading 27 saves. Closer  Jim Johnson was sent to Oakland in what amounted to a salary dump and then Duquette failed to acquire a replacement after Grant Balfour failed a team physical (He was signed by Tampa) and Fernando Rodney spurned the Orioles for the Mariners.

    That doesn't mean Duquette did not bring in some quality arms. Ryan Webb was signed to be a solid 7th or 8th inning guy and Edgmer Escalona and Brad Bach will compete for jobs. They will join holdovers Darren O'Day, Brian Matusz, and Tommy Hunter who comes into camp as the early favorite to become closer.  Zach Britton could also factor in at some point though he will most likely be given an opportunity to with a 5th starter's spot and TJ McFarland could be the second lefty with Troy Patton serving his suspension in April.

    In just two weeks, the Orioles have gone from the butt of national pundit's jokes to becoming a true contender in the AL East. There is little doubt that Duqette is all in and if the price gets right, don't be surprised if the Orioles do more before opening day.

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Tony Pente

Tony has owned and operated Orioles Hangout since 1996 and is well known for his knowledge of the Baltimore Orioles organization from top to bottom. He's a frequent guest on Baltimore-area sports radio stations and can be heard regularly on the 105.7 FM The Fan. His knowledge and contacts within the Orioles minor league system and the major league baseball scouting industry is unparalleled in the Baltimore media and is known as an expert on the Orioles prospects.