Orioles general manager Dan Duquette joined Steve Melewski of MASNsports.com on 105.7 The Fan in Baltimore last night following the conclusion of the regular season and discussed a number of topics pertaining to the Orioles’ offseason. As Mewleski writes in summarizing much of the conversation, Duquette believes fixing the team’s pitching staff is his “No. 1 priority in the offseason.”
While he stressed a need for improvement from members of the pitching staff that will be returning for the 2016 season, Duquette also added, “…we’re also going to need to add pitching depth from outside the organization.”
The Orioles have a number of free agents this season, with Wei-Yin Chen and Darren O’Day leading the way among departing pitchers. Chen was unquestionably Baltimore’s best starting pitcher this season, as evidenced by a 3.34 ERA, 7.2 K/9, 1.9 BB/9 and a 40.5 percent ground-ball rate across a career-best 191 1/3 innings. Orioles starters ranked 25th in baseball in 2015 with a 4.53 ERA, and removing Chen from the picture, the other Baltimore starters combined for an alarming 4.85 ERA.
Chen will receive and reject a qualifying offer, so the O’s will at least net a compensatory draft pick if he chooses to sign elsewhere this offseason. He’s clearly due for a considerably larger contract than his initial three-year, $11.388MM deal with the Orioles (which contained a since-exercised $4.75MM club option as well).
The hit to the bullpen is slightly more manageable, though that’s not to undersell O’Day’s value. The Orioles are simply better-equipped to lose an elite relief arm than they are a quality rotation piece; Zach Britton will reprise his role as closer, and he’ll be joined by a quality relief arm in Brad Brach. Brian Matusz, presumably, will return if today’s arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder goes smoothly. Still, the loss of O’Day would sting, as the 32-year-old has a combined 1.92 ERA in his four years with the Orioles.
Turning to the position player side of the equation, Baltimore is set to lose Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, Steve Pearce and Gerardo Parra. While Duquette made general comments about a desire to retain all of those players, he also specifically expressed a desire to retain Davis: “Chris Davis in particular had a really good year. … It’s no secret the club would like to have him to come back and we’re going to do what we can.”
Of course, the question with Davis, a Scott Boras client coming off a 47-homer season, is whether or not Baltimore can afford him. The Orioles’ current franchise-record contract is Adam Jones’ six-year, $85.5MM extension, but re-signing Davis would assuredly mean a new record-setting contract — one well in excess of $100MM. Duquette was asked by Melewski whether or not Davis could fit into the team’s payroll. “We have a very competitive market and we fund our payroll about in the middle and we have some flexibility in our payroll for next year. So, the answer to that question is I believe yes. I believe yes,” he replied. Duquette, though, went on to hedge the answer a bit, noting that a contract would have to have “a semblance of reason to it,” suggesting that the plan of attack won’t be to re-sign Davis at any and all costs.
It’s worth noting that there’s been some reported tension among the Orioles’ decision-makers, in part because of the failure to adequately replace Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis, who departed via free agency last winter. That doesn’t ensure that Duquette and his staff will go to drastic measures to retain Davis, but it’s worth wondering if there will be increased pressure to avoid similar internal scrutiny this offseason.