Du­quette, Showal­ter pleased with sea­son, look to­ward 2017

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Ed­uardo A. Encina

Less than 48 hours af­ter the Ori­oles’ 2016 sea­son ended dra­mat­i­cally in the Amer­i­can League wild-card game, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent Dan Du­quette and man­ager Buck Showal­ter sat to­gether at Cam­den Yards look­ing back at the year while look­ing to the fu­ture.

Du­quette called the sea­son — in which the Ori­oles won 89 games in the reg­u­lar sea­son and ad­vanced to the play­offs for the third time in his five years with the club — a “per­sonal fa­vorite” of his. Showal­ter still fielded ques­tions about his con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion to leave closer Zach Brit­ton un­used late in Tues­day night’s 11-in­ning walk-off loss to the Toronto Blue Jays but also looked ahead. He said his off­sea­son plans in­cluded at trip to in­struc­tional league in Sara­sota, Fla., and the Ari­zona Fall League to fa­mil­iar­ize him­self with some of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s up-and­com­ing mi­nor lea­guers.

“Un­for­tu­nately, that’s the so­ci­ety we live in to­day,” Showal­ter said when asked

Notes: Pitch­ing coach Wal­lace to re­tire; al­leged can thrower charged

Blue Jays rock Hamels, 10-1; In­di­ans hold off Red Sox, 5-4 PGS 6-7 about the crit­i­cism he has re­ceived. “You know the de­scrip­tion go­ing in. But there’s a lot of coulda, shoulda, woulda. You’re a hu­man be­ing. You have those emo­tions, and there’s cer­tain things in my ca­pac­ity you just have to wear. I’m used to it.”

For Showal­ter, Tues­day’s 5-2 sea­so­nend­ing loss was still dif­fi­cult to stom­ach.

“I don’t want to get too dra­matic be­cause there’s a lot of things go­ing on in this world and this coun­try that are more tough than this, but it’s a shat­ter­ing thing for the play­ers and the fans who put so much into it and care so much about it,” Showal­ter said. “It rips your heart out. It al­ways drives you to get there again and get an­other op­por­tu­nity. That prom­ise I

make. No­body wants to hear about [what went wrong]. It’s just show me the, I don’t know [if it’s] money — the end game.

“You re­al­ize how many things have to go [right] for you to be one of those 10 teams. I think that’s what really gets you. You know what really could hap­pen to make it even more chal­leng­ing next year.”

Whether this year’s Ori­oles lived up to ex­pec­ta­tions can be de­bated. Out­side Bal­ti­more, most picked them to be a non­con­tender, but that’s noth­ing new, and the Ori­oles have five straight non­los­ing sea­sons to show for it. But still, the Ori­oles in­vested more money in free-agent deals than any other club in the off­sea­son, and their Open­ing Day pay­roll of about $148 mil­lion was the largest in club his­tory and the 10th largest in base­ball.

“First of all, no­body ever picks us, which is fine by us, but what­ever cri­te­ria they [pick] us, by the end of the sea­son we usu­ally have a pretty good ball­club,” Du­quette said. “Did we think we had the chance to make the play­offs in spring train­ing? That’s what we put our nose to grind­stone, shoul­der to the wheel to try to ac­com­plish. We thought we had an op­por­tu­nity to do it.”

But ul­ti­mately in flip­ping the page to 2017, the two agreed that the loom­ing off­sea­son will have its share of chal­lenges.

The Ori­oles will have to re­place pitch­ing coach Dave Wal­lace, who has de­cided to re­tire from coach­ing, Showal­ter an­nounced Thurs­day. The Ori­oles have nine pend­ing free agents, and their first off­sea­son pri­or­ity is to de­cide whether to make qual­i­fy­ing of­fers to their two most prom­i­nent ones — ma­jor league home run leader Mark Trumbo and ca­reer-long Ori­ole Matt Wi­eters.

“We’ll have a chance to ad­dress those,” Du­quette said. “Both of those guys had good years. Trumbo had a really good year, and Matt showed he was healthy and ca­pa­ble of play­ing ev­ery day.”

With several key play­ers, such as Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Brit­ton, set to reach free agency af­ter the 2018 sea­son and Chris Till­man be­com­ing a free agent af­ter next sea­son, this is a prime op­por­tu­nity to pur­sue long-term ex­ten­sions with those play­ers. They could also ex­plore one with sec­ond base­man Jonathan Schoop, whose three-year ar­bi­tra­tion clock starts in 2017. Du­quette said he had ex­ten­sion con­ver­sa­tions with Till­man and Machado in the past, talks that ap­peared to be pre­lim­i­nary and never gained trac­tion, but hasn’t en­gaged Schoop.

“I’m sure we’ll have time to look at that,” Du­quette said. “All those play­ers have done a good job for us.”

In the past, the Ori­oles had the lux­ury of not be­ing locked into many pay­roll-crip­pling long-term deals. But head­ing into 2017, the club will have al­ready com­mit­ted $96 mil­lion to eight play­ers. That doesn’t

Sch­muck’s take

Peter Sch­muck writes at bal­ti­more­sun.com/schmuck­blog about GM Dan Du­quette in­di­cat­ing the Ori­oles might not have big changes in store for 2017 in­clude a list of11ar­bi­tra­tion-el­i­gi­ble play­ers — the team is un­likely to ten­der con­tracts to all — that in­cludes Machado ($5 mil­lion in 2016) and Brit­ton ($6.75 mil­lion in 2016), who are set to re­ceive hefty raises af­ter en­joy­ing their best sea­sons.

The Ori­oles re­turn six start­ing pitch­ers, and four of them — Till­man, Ubaldo Jimenez, Yo­vani Gal­lardo and Wade Mi­ley — ei­ther will or could be­come free agents af­ter 2017 if club op­tions are de­clined. But the Ori­oles will likely be com­mit­ting at least $42 mil­lion to the quar­tet next sea­son. Even so, Du­quette said adding more pitch­ing will be an off­sea­son pri­or­ity.

“We don’t nec­es­sar­ily have the ur­gency we’ve had the last cou­ple years,” Du­quette said. “And I expect those vet­eran pitch­ers to pitch well. They’re go­ing to pitch as well as they’re go­ing to pitch go­ing into their op­tion year. There’s a pot of gold at the end of the rain­bow for start­ing pitch­ers in base­ball. I expect those guys to come into camp in good shape and they’re go­ing to be com­pet­ing for the in­nings. We’ve got some young guys who want to pitch, too.”

Still, 2016 was an­other sea­son that was char­ac­ter­ized by of­fen­sive strug­gles down the stretch while the Ori­oles posted pro­lific power num­bers. The Ori­oles hit 253 homers in 2016, but 60 per­cent of those home runs were solo shots, leav­ing them strug­gling not only to get run­ners on to set the ta­ble for those homers but also to man­u­fac­ture runs.

While Du­quette said the team would like to keep im­prov­ing its on-base ca­pa­bil­i­ties, he added that the Ori­oles won’t make a dra­matic switch away from their iden­tity as a power-hit­ting club.

“We like to have power through­out our lineup,” Du­quette said. “That’s been a con­sis­tent theme. We like to have good de­fense at ev­ery po­si­tion. Ideally, we’d like to have power at ev­ery po­si­tion. We can do a bet­ter job of on-base ca­pa­bil­ity, ab­so­lutely, but the power plays pretty well in our ball­park. It helps us. We had 50 wins at home this year. I think our fans en­joy see­ing it. When you get into a close game, yes, you ac­tu­ally have to do it of­fen­sively. But the power plays. They don’t have any field­ers on the other side of the fence.

“Our strengths are gen­er­ally the same. We’ve got a really good bullpen. We’ve got power through­out the lineup. We have ex­cel­lent de­fense. We’re go­ing to do the same thing next year.”

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