Duquette’s Hesitation has Cost the Orioles


Aug 30, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo (61) delivers a pitch in the fourth inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

What a cruel offseason it has been. Headline after headline informs Orioles fans of another possible mercenary poised to help the 2014 squad off the board. Dan Duquette’s plan to add a veteran starting pitcher looks like an apparition, and now, because of hesitation, the Orioles are left with options that don’t fit the organization’s long-term plan.

What would have fit the organization’s plan is exactly what Duquette said he wanted all along. He wanted a veteran, top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. A pitcher that could take pressure off of the Orioles’ bullpen by pitching 200 innings. A pitcher that wouldn’t require a long-term financial commitment. A pitcher that could slot in behind de facto ace Chris Tillman and push the Orioles into contention in the American League East. And most importantly, a pitcher that would leave Baltimore sooner rather than later to be replaced by the upcoming crop of young arms.

The Orioles needed a short-term, innings-eating, dependable number two starter. At the beginning of free agency, there were plenty to choose from. Then, Bartolo Colon and Tim Hudson flew off the board. The Orioles began waiting for AJ Burnett, who weighed retirement. They inquired about Bronson Arroyo, waiting for his price to dip. Mashiro Tanaka stalled the market for weeks until signing with the Yankees, and once the pieces began moving again Matt Garza set the price point for good, veteran starting pitching when he signed a four year, $52 million deal.

Still the Orioles waited.

Finally, the Orioles appeared poised to make a move when Burnett decided to pitch in 2013. Then, news surfaced that Burnett would prefer to pitch for a National League team. Same for Bronson Arroyo, and he suddenly signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Seemingly before Paul Maholm could be considered a fall-back option, the Dodgers had a locker ready for him.

Now, here’s what the Orioles are left with, per MLB Trade Rumors:

Erik Bedard (35)
A.J. Burnett (37)
Chris Capuano (35)
Odrisamer Despaigne (27)
Jon Garland (34)
Tommy Hanson (27)
Aaron Harang (36)
Ubaldo Jimenez (30)
Jair Jurrjens (28)
Jeff Karstens (31)
Jason Marquis (35)
Jeff Niemann (31)
Roy Oswalt (35)
Clayton Richard (30)
Ervin Santana (31)
Johan Santana (34)
Joe Saunders (33)
Jake Westbrook (36)
Suk-Min Yoon (27)
Barry Zito (36)

The differences between the starters left and the starters that have been snatched up is clear: ability and cost. Everyone that would be a candidate for a short term deal and can be truly counted on for an above-average performance is gone. What’s left are two types of players: veterans whose contract status demands a draft pick in return for their addition and whose talent and youth demand a higher-cost long-term deal (Santana, Jimenez); and the mix of starters young and old that will settle for a short term deal because age, injury, or inexperience makes them unreliable (Saunders, Capuano, Yoon, Zito).

Long story short, the market has passed Dan Duquette by. He chased AJ Burnett for too long without confirming he would be interested in joining the Orioles, and in the meantime, other possible fits like Arroyo, Colon, and Hudson were signed by other teams. Barring a miraculous change of heart by Burnett or an improbable trade, he missed the ideal opportunity to make this team’s rotation better.

Now, Duquette can either compromise the team’s long term plans by signing Jimenez or Santana, or do a disservice to a talented 2014 lineup by depending on an unproven pitcher. I believe that the Orioles have pieces in place to contend now, something that can’t be guaranteed in the future, and that the addition of Santana or Jimenez could give the Orioles a chance to make the playoffs. From there, anything can happen.

It would be nice to save the supposed $17 million left on the payroll if we could guarantee that it would be used to sign Chris Davis or JJ Hardy to extensions, but the fact is that it’s also up to Davis, Hardy, and their agents to decide if they want to be in Baltimore. I think its foolish to compromise the present for an uncertain future.

Starting pitching was the Orioles biggest weakness going in the offseason, and it remains their biggest weakness today. Duquette needs to add a frontline starter for the players and fans invested in this season. We can’t be sure how many more seasons the Orioles will have with the formidable core of Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Manny Machado, Matt Wieters, Davis, and Hardy in place. It’s up to Duquette to make sure he gets the most out of this one.