Farm System Gives Duquette Hope He Can Fill Holes Internally
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Tanking, rebuilding, retooling — whatever term anyone wants to use — was not in Dan Duquette’s vocabulary this past offseason.
Many analysts believed the Baltimore Orioles Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations should have spent the winter, especially following a last-place finish in the American League East in 2017, looking to trade away key players who are eligible for free agency at the end of this season.
Duquette said he did his due diligence and listened to offers for SS Manny Machado, CF Adam Jones and relievers Brad Brach and Zach Britton (until he tore his right Achilles tendon). However, his interest was never piqued.
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“Those are core guys of our team and you can’t just give them away,” Duquette said Thursday night during Major League Baseball’s Grapefruit League Media Day at Tropicana Field.
“There wasn’t one offer that I thought would make us a better team this season. More importantly, I didn’t think any of the offers would have made us a better team in the future. There was just nothing out there that made sense other than to keep our guys and contend this season.”
A cynic might say Duquette feels a sense of urgency to contend rather than rebuild because his contract is set to expire at the end of this season along with that of manager Buck Showalter. Not so, said Duquette.
“My priority is always to make sure the organization is in the best shape possible for both the present and the future,” he said. “I’m not worried about next year or my contract. I’m just looking for ways we can be a good team in 2018.”
An improving farm system that made it easier for Duquette to hang on to players such as Machado, Jones and Brach. The Orioles are optimistic that their organizational depth is reaching the point where they will soon have in-house replacements ready to fill holes.
Two rookies could be the in starting lineup on opening day — C Chance Sisco and RF Austin Hays — when the Orioles host the Minnesota Twins on March 29 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Left-handers Tanner Scott and Chris Lee could make their major-league debuts at some point this year along with Inf. Ryan Mountcastle, LF D.J. Stewart and CF Cedric Mullins.
“It’s great to see some of the national publications starting to recognition the improvement of our farm system,” Duquette said. “We have some good players who either reached the major leagues last year (Sisco and Hays) or are getting close. I know a lot of teams ask about our guys in the minor leagues in trade talks, so that tells me we have some good players coming.”
Baseball America ranks Hays as the 21st-best prospect in baseball while MLBPipeline.com has him at No. 23 and Baseball Prospectus rates him No. 72. Sisco is ranked at No. 68 by Baseball America.
All three outlets have Mountcastle their top 100s: No. 65 by Baseball Prospectus, No. 71 by Baseball America and No. 98 by MLBPipeline.com.
Stewart had 21 home runs and 20 stolen bases for Class AA Bowie in 126 games last season with a .278/.378/.481 slash line. Duquette proudly points out that Stewart was the first 20-20 player in the minor leagues since current Los Angeles Angels right fielder Kole Calhoun had 22 homers and 20 steals in 2011 for high Class A Inland Empire.
However, the future is now for the Orioles after deciding to retain Machado, Jones, Brach and Britton.
The task of competing in the AL East is daunting, Duquette acknowledges, as the Boston Red Sox return the core of a roster that has won the division each of the last two years and the New York Yankees added 2017 National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton via trade in the December after reaching the American League Championship Series last fall.
The Orioles, though, made it to the postseason three times in a five-year span from 2012-16 following a run of 12 straight losing seasons. They were in contention for a wild card berth late last season until losing 18 of their last 25 games.
Duquette is hopeful the Orioles can make a playoff push this year, though their first significant acquisition since the end of last season didn’t come until Thursday night when they signed free-agent right-hander Andrew Cashner to a two-year, $16-million. Cashner will likely serve as the No. 3 starter behind Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman in an otherwise unsettled rotation.
“The American League East is always tough, and the Yankees are very tough again now that they have their farm system in order,” Duquette said. “We’ve proven in recent years we can be competitive, and I feel we have the talent on the roster and in the farm system to be competitive again this season.”