SCHMUCK: Orioles fans must be prepared to wait, again

The Baltimore Sun (TNS)
  • Baltimore's Dan Duquette is known for his deliberate management style.
  • The Orioles' baseball operations chief won't likely make many big moves anytime soon.
  • The Orioles recently made a $17.2 million qualifying offer to slugger Mark Trumbo.

In some major league cities, the month of November is a time of optimism and rebirth, as rebuilding teams shop the free-agent market and ponder trades to improve themselves for a new season that is less than four months away.

In Baltimore, we've gotten used to the more deliberate management style of baseball operations chief Dan Duquette and know not to expect a whole lot to happen before the new year.

Slugger Mark Trumbo recently received a $17.2 million qualifying offer from the Baltimore Orioles.

That isn't a criticism. Duquette's record since being named executive vice president is impressive, especially when compared with the product that had been placed in front of Orioles fans over the 14 losing seasons before his arrival. He just has a particular way of doing things that doesn't lend itself to a lot of entertaining offseason intrigue.

If anyone was hoping this baseball winter — which began in earnest with Monday's qualifying offers — would be any different, Duquette made it fairly clear during his team's end-of-season news conference that what you saw at the end of this past season is pretty much what you're going to get until the Orioles report to spring training in February.

The Orioles certainly could use another solid on-base threat, which seems to be the case every year. But they might not be in a position to make up for the opportunity missed when free-agent outfielder Dexter Fowler pulled back from a reported $33 million deal last February to return to the eventual World Series champion Chicago Cubs for far less money.

"I think a lot of the payroll flexibility will be absorbed by these good players that had really good years," Duquette said in early October. "Zach Britton had a historically good year — the top ERA among major league relievers — and [Manny] Machado, he had over 30 home runs, almost 100 RBIs. These guys are going to be getting big raises."

He left out Chris Tillman, but you get the idea.

Payroll inflation: The payroll inflation that results from salary arbitration is a fact of front-office life in every organization and it will hit the Orioles pretty hard this winter. They just declined to make a qualifying offer to catcher Matt Wieters, which means that his 2016 salary will likely be subtracted from next year's payroll and will offset much of that organic increase. But the Orioles have other potential obligations that could leave them above last season's record payroll without any big new expenditures.

They did make a qualifying offer to home run champion Mark Trumbo, who would make $17.2 million next year if he accepts it, and they'll almost certainly have to add a veteran catcher if they don't re-sign Wieters.

None of that, however, makes the team better than it was at the end of this past season, when the offense sputtered and scored three runs or fewer in 12 of the club's last 16 games, including the bitter wild-card loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. The inability to produce a cohesive offensive attack begs for one more quality hitter who can get on base consistently and play at least part-time in right field.

What to expect: Here's what's likely to happen instead. The Orioles are going to turn inward and convince themselves that a healthy Joey Rickard and a fully acclimated Hyun Soo Kim will share left field, and provide some of that offensive continuity. They'll also try to hold onto late-season pickup Michael Bourn to give them some speed and on-base potential from the left side of the plate.

In a perfect injury-free world, that might be enough if Trumbo decides to return. But the Orioles still need another impact hitter to offset the likely departure of Wieters and assure that they don't come back with another entertaining regular-season lineup that isn't built to take them deep into the playoffs.

There are some decent free-agent options if the Orioles are willing to spend the kind of money they offered Fowler last spring. They are rumored to be interested in Ian Desmond, who has proved he can play just about anywhere, and they could be a fit for a free-agent outfielder such as Michael Saunders or Josh Reddick.

Though Duquette would probably like to add pitching, he might have to move in the opposite direction and find a way to deal a veteran starter now that it appears Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman are set behind Tillman. Moving any of the others would cut a significant chunk out of the payroll and perhaps allow the Orioles to acquire that additional on-base potential.

If history is our guide, we'll only have to wait a few months to find out.