SCHMUCK: Orioles must be aggressive this offseason
With all due respect to Dan Duquette and his willingness to look for talent in every corner of the baseball universe, it's time to get real.
The deadline for free agents to accept qualifying offers from their original clubs arrived Friday, and with catcher Matt Wieters on board for 2016, Orioles fans can only hope it removes the last obstacle standing in the way of the team embarking aggressively on its offseason rebuilding project.
The reports that they made a play for South Korean power hitter Byung ho-Park and now might be interested in speedy, contact-hitting outfielder Ah-seop Son are consistent with Duquette's penchant for gambling on unproven international talent.
That's not a bad thing, but it will be if it delays or dilutes the team's efforts to acquire proven talent to shore up the outfield, smooth out the offense and take a step forward after its disappointing .500 finish in 2015.
The Orioles need at least one quality veteran outfielder with high on-base potential to connect the dots in a batting order that depended too heavily on the home run ball last season. Duquette and manager Buck Showalter can point to the fact that the Orioles scored a few more runs in 2015 than they did on the way to the American League Championship Series the year before, but there is more to a successful offensive season than simple bulk run production.
The world champion Kansas City Royals only scored 11 more runs than the Orioles during the regular season. But it was the way the Royals scored their runs (and other factors, of course) that made them 14 games better than the Orioles this year and made their victory over the O's in the 2014 ALCS look so easy.
Maybe a year ago at this time, the Orioles could have justified experimenting with an unproven international player from a hard-to-gauge international league. They tried just about everything else after losing proven outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis, but they were coming off an uplifting season and could factor in the potential contribution of some key players who had missed significant time because of injuries.
In spite of the decisive loss in the ALCS, the Orioles also were buoyed by the positive pitching outlook that largely evaporated with sharp downturns by Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez and Bud Norris, and the inconsistent performance of top prospect Kevin Gausman. That's why Duquette is absolutely right to broadcast that improving the pitching staff is his top priority this winter.
To be fair, once the top international stars have been gobbled up by the big-market teams, signing the next tier of international talent is always a crapshoot. The Orioles have struck gold a couple of times signing players from the Pacific Rim. Koji Uehara was not an impact starter for the Orioles after Andy MacPhail brought him over from Japan, but he ended up being a solid reliever and became a key figure in the club's competitive renaissance when he was traded to the Texas Rangers for Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter.
Duquette also delivered a major component when he signed Taiwanese pitcher Wei-Yin Chen, who has been one of the most consistent starters in the Orioles rotation over the past two seasons. But Chen had been tested in Japan before arriving in the major leagues.
The Orioles missed on Japanese pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada and missed badly with the 2014 signing of South Korean pitcher Suk-min Yoon, who seemed overmatched at the Triple-A level after being named Most Valuable Player of the Korean Baseball Organization in 2011. He requested his release after one season and returned to the KBO.
Don't misunderstand. Duquette should be complimented for picking up where MacPhail left off and expanding the Orioles' international horizons. But he should tread carefully if the resources that might be needed to acquire the next unproven international import would subtract in any way from the effort to improve the club through the domestic free-agent market.
Last winter, the Orioles fooled themselves into thinking they could replace proven talent with untapped potential.
They cannot afford to make that same mistake again.