Dan Duquette’s introductory Press Conference was interesting. You don’t want to read too much into the comments made. After all, you understand that he has just inherited the position, and that he will need further time to get fully up to speed with what he has at the Major League level, and the organization as a whole.

Still, one has to take note of the fact that Duquette stated numerous times that he came to Baltimore to ‘build.’ If it seemed unlikely to Orioles fans that the O’s would bid on Fielder, or Darvish, etc. this off-season, I think it is fair to say those odds have been reduced further with the hiring of Duquette. Opinions can change, but my sense is Duquette does not believe the investment required to obtain those types of players is appropriate for where the O’s currently are.

To me, these are the 10 most immediate questions facing Duquette and the O’s:

1) Who takes over as the Amateur Scouting Director? Will the Orioles go outside the organization, or are they likely to promote someone internal such as Dean Albany?

2) Does John Stockstill stay as Player Development Director? If not, does Brian Graham get that position? Is someone else externally brought into the organization?

3) Does Duquette believe that Adam Jones needs to either have his contract extended, or be traded prior to Opening Day?

4) David Stockstill is the International Scouting Director. What immediate changes are implemented to that Department? Several years ago, Toronto made the decision as an organization to basically stop scouting Asia, and to focus their time and effort on Latin America. If the O’s ramp-up their International efforts, will Baltimore’s approach be similar?

5) Outside of the Amateur Scouting Director, and potentially the Player Development, International Scouting, and Pro Scouting Directors – is there any other brain power that will be added to the Front Office this Winter?

6) At the Press Conference today, O’s Manager Buck Showalter spoke with Jim Hunter and reiterated his call for increased depth. How is that going to be accomplished?

7) Does Duquette believe Reynolds profiles better at 3rd or 1st? Is Duquette comfortable with Davis starting everyday?

8) Duquette and Showalter might want to upgrade at 2nd, but with Roberts having 2 yrs and $20M left on his deal, they know the 2nd baseman is not going to walk away from his deal. (Especially with Roberts recently reporting that his concussion symptoms have subsided.) How will 2nd be handled? Are the O’s willing to have Andino start, if Roberts can not go?

9) I’ve stated numerous times that I do not want Johnson converted back to starting. If he is going to get that opportunity, how will that impact who the O’s pursue for the rotation and bullpen this Winter?

10) Will the O’s commit to starting Reimold in LF (or DH), or look elsewhere?

Prior to any external additions, the O’s likely 2012 roster currently resembles something like:

Guthrie, Britton, Hunter, Arrieta, Matusz
Johnson, Gregg, Strop, Tillman, Simon, Bergesen, Patton

Hardy SS
Markakis RF
Jones CF
Reynolds 3rd
Wieters C
Davis 1st
Reimold LF
DH
Andino 2nd

Roberts, Backup C, Angle, Adams

The Orioles 2011 payroll was roughly $85M. Those 23 players above are likely due somewhere between $65-$70M.

In 2011, the O’s spent about $10M on Amateur Scouting, and I believe around $1.5M on International Scouting. I think in generalities, you can estimate that the O’s have been willing to spend roughly $100-$105M combined on their Major League roster, Amateur Scouting, Intl. Scouting, Player Development, and Pro Scouting.

With Duquette stating he wants to build the organization, I think you have to expect that the 2012 payroll figures to be in the $85-$90M range, and could possibly be reduced. Considering Tampa Bay just went to the Playoffs for the 3rd time in 4 years with a payroll of just $41M, nobody should cry if the O’s 2012 payroll is reduced and reallocated to the other facets of Baseball Operations.

So beginning with the starting point of the existing roster, the questions faced, and an understanding of the limitations which will mark the O’s search; where and how can Baltimore improve?

SI’s Jon Heyman is reporting that after obtaining Melky Cabrera, the Giants are no longer expected to attempt to bring back Carlos Beltran. Another Executive has told Heyman that Beltran is likely to end up in Boston on a two year deal. I’d like to see the O’s pursue Beltran, and I’d advocate offering a third year. I’d give Beltran some time in LF, but my intention would be for him to be the regular DH.  Certainly there is some risk with giving Beltran 3 years. He will turn 35 in April, and missed considerable time in both ’09, and ’10. His 2011 season with the Mets and Giants was widely successful though. His season wOBA was .389 (above his career rate of .372). To me, this means that even as he regresses over the contract, he is likely to stay productive if healthy enough to play. I think if gets to DH most of the time, that will reduce some of the injury concerns.

Should the O’s miss on Beltran, or be unwilling to offer Beltran a third year, Grady Sizemore is interesting. Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal believes Sizemore can be had for a 1 year $9M deal. The 29 year-old OF has been plagued by knee injuries (and other) in recent seasons. Still, he is not that far removed from being one of the elite players in the game, and is still on the good side of 30. I understand anyone that looks at his injuries (and .706 OPS in 268 ab’s during ’11) and believes he can not help. For a 1 year deal, or a 1 year deal with an option – I think he makes sense. Like Beltran, I’d plan on him being the everyday DH.

Of course the reason the DH position needs to be filled, is that it is assumed by everyone that Luke Scott will be non-tendered. I don’t think anyone would be shocked if the O’s attempted to bring back on a cheap 1 year deal. The only way I could support that though, is if Scott (coming of the Labrum injury) was now content to be the DH.

With the Astros having claimed Craig Tatum, there is a need for a backup Catcher. It was clear last Spring that Showalter valued a guy he perceived to be strong defensively (Tatum) over a potential help with the bat (Fox) as his backup Catcher. That philosophy is not likely to change. As such, I don’t expect the O’s to pursue someone like Ryan Doumit (career .777 OPS in 1,967 ML ab’s) as their backup. Frankly, the O’s probably do plan on spending any money at this position, and the backup will be another minimum dollar catch and throw guy. If they would like an upgrade, they could find options in former Oriole Ramon Hernandez (who can probably still start somewhere), or Rod Barajas (who hopes to resign with the Dodgers).

Above I mentioned what the O’s currently look like today, and included Matusz as the current 5th starter. As horrible as Matusz’s 2011 season was, I do expect him to rebound. At a minimum I expect that Matusz will find middle ground between his impressive end to the 2010 season, and what we saw this year. Despite that, I can not imagine a scenario where the O’s go into 2012 with Matusz even penciled into their plans. I think Matusz is going to have to work extremely hard this Winter, pitch lights-out in the Spring, and have injuries in-front of him for him to come North on Opening Day.

Showalter has told each member of the local media at-least twice that he will be asking for pitching, pitching, and pitching this Winter. Of course, everyone else is looking for arms as well. That dearth of arms, and surplus of teams looking to improve their staffs, will lead to inflated Free Agent contracts just like every other off-season. I’ve written numerous times that if the O’s were to pursue just one elite player this off-season, I would want it to be Darvish. However, questions remain if the Japanese pitcher will even be posted this Winter. Beyond that, it is fairly clear that the O’s believe there is too much risk there to pursue. If the O’s believe Darvish is risky (and yes, I understand that you have to account for all the changes Darvish would face on and off the field transitioning to MLB), than they also better find CJ Wilson just as risky. For all of the issues which would accompany Darvish, the bottom-line is that he is recognized as a special talent and considerably younger than Wilson. I like Wilson a lot, but the lefty turns 31 in 10 days, and I believe it would take 5 years and $100M for him to consider Baltimore. That is too long of an investment for me, and I believe the O’s will agree.

So, if you want to add a starter that can make an impact, and you are not willing to go after Darvish or Wilson – what is left? Rosenthal is reporting that the Marlins will aggressively pursue Mark Buehrle. It had long been accepted that Buehrle would either stay with Chicago, or head to his home town of St. Louis to join the Cardinals. Buehrle is a 4x All-Star, 3x Gold Glove, that has pitched both a no-hitter and a Perfect Game. The 32 year old has won 161 games in the bigs, and has been with the White Sox since 2000. As a guy that could come in and directly tutor Matusz and Britton, I think he’d make a lot of sense. He’d also stabilize the rotation as a whole. From ’01 through ’11, he has made at-least 30 starts and pitched 200+ innings every year. In ’11, Buehrle was 13-9, with a 3.59 era. He threw 205.1 ip, allowing 221 hits, 21homers, 45bb’s, with 109 k’s. His OPS against was .728, with a G/F ratio of 0.89. While he has never thrown hard, it is worth noting that his average fastball has been reduced from 86.7 mph in ’08, to just over 85 mph here in ’11. This is the last year of a 4 year $56M contract for Buehrle. I don’t have a great sense of what it is going to take to land him, but it is hard for me to see him getting dollars equal to his previous contract. I do think the O’s should be in position to match or exceed any potential four year deal from the Marlins.

Once an uber-prospect, Edwin Jackson turned 28 in September. Despite being a 2009 All-Star, and throwing a no-hitter last year; his overall results have never quite matched the talent he carries in his arm. That talent is still reason to consider having him in an O’s uniform though. Jackson is averaging 94.6 mph on his fastball this year. He has pitched over 200ip in his last three seasons. He ended ’11  12-9, with a 3.79 ERA. In his 199.2 ip, he allowed 225 hits, 16 hr’s, 62 bb’s, with 148 k’s. His OPS against was .768, and his G/F was 0.85.  With him being under 30, and with that arm, he will get multiple years from someone. (The contract he signed in ’10, was 2 years $13.35M.) The Yankees are reportedly interested.

If the O’s want a starter, but are not willing to provide multiple years, I could see them kick the tires on guys like Paul Maholm, Rich Harden, Jason Marquis, Chris Capuano, Joel Pineiro, Bruce Chen, Ben Sheets, Jeff Francis on one year deals. With Showalter’s calls for depth, perhaps he will advocate the O’s pursuing more than one of these guys.

EDIT: Yesterday Rosenthal (http://www.yardbarker.com/blog/mlbbuzz/marlins_blue_jays_pursuing_starters/7951378) discussed pitchers who might be obtainable via trade. Some of the names he brings up (Floyd, Zambrano, Billingsley, and Rodriguez) we had discussed in July: https://baltimoresportsandlife.com/?p=2723

Billingsley and Rodriguez remain attractive targets to me. Some of the other names Rosenthal suggested (James Shields, Wade Davis, Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, Jair Jurrjens) would be great targets as well, but I’m not sure how obtainable they would be for Baltimore.

I’d like Reynolds to remain at 3rd next year. While he has never been regarded as a quality defensive 3rd baseman, and his ’11 results at the hot-corner were poor, the metrics showed him to be adequate there during ’09, and ’10. I’d bet that he could return to that adequate level, and think his bat plays better at that position. I would not be totally opposed to Davis being the everyday 1st baseman to start ’12, but I get the sense the O’s could again pursue Carlos Pena. After signing with the Cubs last year, Pena posted an .820 OPS with 58 xbh’s. Pena would like to remain in Chicago, it is unknown if Theo Epstein is interested in the veteran’s return. It is easy to believe that getting a guy that has hit 28+ homers in 5 consecutive seasons (and has the reputation of being a good defensive player – even if the metrics do not agree) on a one or two year will interest someone in the Warehouse. Pena made $10M in 2011.

I did not show Roberts at the everyday 2nd baseman, because until he proves he can get back out on the field, I think you have to be looking at Andino as the starter. I do think you have to anticipate Roberts being on the team though. I would not be opposed to bringing in someone like Jose Lopez to compete with Ryan Adams. Lopez had a miserable 2010 season (.609 OPS, in 593 ab’s) and did little in his 231 ab’s with Colorado and Florida in 2011. On the other-hand, Lopez (who turns 28 November 24th) had 67 xbh’s in ’09. He has had time at both 2nd, and 3rd. If you are not relying on him to produce, I think he is the type of addition which could help a bench.

Another addition I would like to see the O’s pursue is David DeJesus. DeJesus, who turns 32 in December, made $6M in 2011.  After some strong years with the Royals, DeJesus had a tough time with the bat this past year (.698 OPS in 442 ab’s). For his career though, he has a .356 on-base %, and a UZR/150 of 6.0. You could play him in LF everyday, and move Reimold to DH. Or if you had signed Beltran or Sizemore, DeJesus (.815 career OPS vs. RHP) could split time in LF.

Michael Cuddyer, and Josh Willingham will make sense to some. If the O’s plan on shopping Jones, maybe they should attempt to lock-up CoCo Crisp as a potential option in CF?

You will note that in the bullpen I suggested, I did not advocate pursuing any external Free Agents. My thinking is that the bullpen will improve if the rotation is improved. I think there are enough quality arms internally (above and beyond those I listed), that there is no reason to allocate resources for volatile bullpen arms. Others disagree with me. In an interview with Brittany Ghiroli from MLB.com, Ghiroli stated, “After starting pitching, the Orioles need to target relief pitching next. I don’t agree with throwing substantial money at a closer-type again, especially since I’d prefer to use Johnson in that role, but the Orioles need to add at least one later-innings arm and sign a wealth of other arms to camp. There needs to much more competition than there was this spring.”

Like Ghiroli, if the O’s decided to invest into their bullpen, I would not be spending money on closer types. There are however an abundance of Closers on the market (Papelbon, Rodriguez, Broxton, Wood, Cordero, Francsico, Nathan). Should one of them be available at a deeply discounted price, maybe the O’s take a look?

Let’s say the O’s signed the following players for the following contracts:

Sizemore: 1yrs $9M
Buehrle: 4yrs $50M
Barajas: 1yr $2.5M
Pena: 1yr $10M
Lopez: 1yr $2.5M
DeJesus: 1yr $5M

That would equal a $41.5M investment for ’12. Adding that to the $65-$70M payroll which currently exists, and we are talking about a payroll in the $106.5-$111.5M range. You subtract Pena, and Lopez from above and you are left with a salary ($94M) which would be elevated over last year, but probably more palatable to the O’s.

What would you like to see the Duquette and the O’s accomplish this Winter?

Chris Stoner
Chris Stoner

Owner

Chris Stoner founded Baltimore Sports and Life in 2009. He has appeared as a radio guest with 1090 WBAL, 105.7 The Fan, CBS 1300, Q1370, WOYK 1350, WKAV 1400, and WNST 1570. He has also been interviewed by The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Business Journal, and PressBox (TV). As Owner, his responsibilities include serving as the Managing Editor, Publicist, & Sales Director.

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