10 Days Later, Duquette Changes Perception (And Reality) of 2014 Orioles

Rewind maybe 10 days or so and there wasn’t too much positive news about the Baltimore Orioles. Most publications listed the Orioles as having one of the worst off seasons as they headed into Spring Training*. Maybe it’s the Twitter Effect where we want all of our news quickly. Or, maybe it is the simple fact that many teams were making bold moves rather quickly. Like Veruca Salt, Orioles fans and analysts wanted it now. It is amazing how perception can be changed in such a short period of time.

{Discuss the late winter moves of the Orioles on the BSL Boards.}

Dan Duquette, the embattled VP of Baseball Operations (General Manager) of the Orioles, had a much different plan. And, as evidenced by his last 10 days, there was, indeed, a plan. Knowing that he had a limited budget to spend on free agents, Duquette read the market correctly. He bet that the presence of Masahiro Tanaka would delay the signings of free agent starting pitchers like Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, Matt Garza, and Bronson Arroyo. He saw, like many others, that the players who were tied to draft pick compensation would take a big hit in terms of interest and contract value. The Major League Players Association doesn’t ordinarily lose money, but the new draft pick compensation system has cost them plenty. Duquette chose to wait.

He spent the winter signing or acquiring players like David Lough, Jemile Weeks, Delmon Young, Ryan Webb, Francisco Peguero, Alfredo Aceves, and a host of others. Certainly Lough and Webb will be important players on the 2014 Orioles, but none of the moves were made like a team that believed they could contend in 2014. While watching the Yankees–the team that won 85 games like the Orioles in 2013–spend over $400 million and even seeing the Rays sign players, it looked like the Orioles were doing nothing and trying to sell the fact that the core of talented players was enough and fans would just have to wait until more prospects were ready to contribute.

Then, a funny thing happened. The market took a big turn in favor of the clubs. Duquette’s willingness to stay the course allowed him to take all of the money he didn’t spend and pounce on a trio of players. First, he signed Suk-min Yoon to a three year, $5.75 million contract. The 27 year old import from Korea can be slotted into the rotation or in the bullpen as he excelled in both roles during his time in the Korean Professional League. The signing gave the Orioles some flexibility with the pitching staff. Kevin Gausman didn’t have to be given a rotation spot if he didn’t earn it. If Yoon won a spot, someone was getting pushed to the bullpen. Yoon could be a quality reliever as well. The more arms available, the better.

Duquette finally reaped the benefits of waiting by landing Ubaldo Jimenez on a 4 year $50 million deal. Jimenez isn’t a bona fide ace, but he is a pitcher who has been at least a plus 3 WAR pitcher in five of his six full seasons. His presence gives the Orioles a durable strikeout pitcher and lengthens the rotation, which gives Buck Showalter even more options in shaping his pitching staff. Now, guys like Zach Britton, who were once vital, have to compete for a roster spot. Gausman can be handled more carefully. Jimenez gives the Orioles a rotation that can compete with any team in the division that doesn’t play their home games in Florida. Jimenez cost the Orioles a first round draft pick, but it cost them less than a qualifying offer in terms of money paid during this season.

The waiting game really paid off when the Orioles agreed to a contract with Nelson Cruz. The former all-star is coming off a 50 game suspension due to PED use, but he is also coming off of five consecutive seasons of at least 20 home runs. While there are many questions about Cruz’s abilities due to his extreme splits in Texas and elsewhere, Duquette upgraded the Orioles lineup for the cost of $8 million and just a one year commitment. Cruz’s presence also should mean that Delmon Young doesn’t make the team. Even if Cruz doesn’t return to form, the deal is a minimal risk for the Orioles.

The winter’s themes have been that the Orioles don’t have a plan and weren’t willing to go all in. Both were completely obliterated in the past 10 days. The plan was, obviously, to wait the market out and find talent at a cheaper price. And, they were obviously ready to go all in on 2014. When the winter report cards are finalized, the records will show that the Orioles signed one of the top free agent starting pitchers, reeled in a right handed home run hitter, signed an international pitcher, and acquired some interesting support parts. The team is upgraded from the one that won 85 games a year ago.

Dan Duquette’s winter should yield three things that everyone who covers or follows the Orioles organization has wished for. Everyone wanted to see the Orioles spend and bring in some of the bigger names on the market. Duquette did. Everyone wanted to see that the Orioles had some sort of a plan. Duquette did. And, everyone wanted to head into the season with the Orioles being in the mix for a playoff spot. They do.

For all of the angst this winter brought, the Orioles have checked off everything on their list. They got rid of Jim Johnson’s contract. They upgraded the pitching staff. They landed a pitcher who can help Chris Tillman lead the rotation. They upgraded their outfield defense in David Lough. They upgraded their power with Nelson Cruz. They set up a nice position battle at second base with Jemile Weeks coming in to challenge Ryan Flaherty and/or Jonathan Schoop. It took awhile to check off everything, but it did all get done.

Most importantly, the 2014 Orioles enter the season with a roster capable of competing for a playoff spot. There isn’t a guarantee of that happening. They aren’t favorites or anything. But, they have a better chance now. The American League East has the World Series Champion Red Sox, the free spending Yankees, and the uber-talented Rays. But, the Orioles are now in that mix. The roster is capable of competing with any of those teams now. There is hope, even legitimate hope. That’s all any fan can hope for. Dan Duquette took awhile, but that was by design. Now the players and coaches have to go win on the field. That is infinitely more possible than it was just 10 days ago.

*Full Confession: I had to write one of those columns for USA Today Sports Weekly’s Baseball Preview Magazine. I gave the Orioles one of the worst grades of the winter. The deadline was in December; at the time, it was appropriate. Obviously, that all changes now.

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About the author

Gary Armida  

Gary Armida is a Father to the best little girl in the world. After that, he is a writer who has been covering Major League Baseball since 2007. During that time, Gary operated FullCountpitch.com, one of the first independent online sites that gained Major League Baseball media credentials. Over the years, he has covered two Winter Meetings and has written feature articles for a variety of outlets while interviewing Major League personnel such as Rick Peterson, Jason Giambi, Zack Wheeler, Jeff Luhnow, Jack Zduriencik, Michael Bourn, and many others. In addition to his work at BSL, Gary contributes to USA Today Sports Weekly and maintains his personal site, garyarmida.com, that serves as his portfolio as well as a place for additional content.

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