Baseball’s winter meetings begin Sunday and — if history is our guide — Orioles fans should not expect much.
Baseball operations chief Dan Duquette proved early in his tenure in Baltimore that he is not an early bird when it comes to upgrading the Orioles during the offseason. Here’s a quick flashback if you have blocked out the memory of his first trip to the meetings in 2011.
Duquette was still “getting the band back together” when he arrived in Dallas on a mission to end the Orioles’ 14-year losing streak, but he seemed optimistic that he would complete a couple of significant deals before leaving town. In fact, that was basically the story all week, the title of which would end up being “Waiting for Dana Eveland.”
Eveland would go on to pitch 32 1/3 unspectacular innings for the Orioles in 2012. Turned out, the most significant Orioles acquisition of those meetings would be Rule 5 draftee Ryan Flaherty.
It wasn’t like there was nothing going on at the Hilton Anatole Hotel that week. The Los Angeles Angels signed superstar free agent Albert Pujols to a 10-year, $240 million contract and the medium-market Miami Marlins were the talk of the meetings with a surprising series of deals that totaled $191 million.
Duquette’s reaction to the Marlins’ spending spree pretty much revealed an offseason philosophy that has changed little over the past six years.
"I'm not sure that's a terrific distinction to be the team of the year in December,” Duquette said at the time. "It's more appropriate when you get to October, right?"
He would have the last laugh. The Marlins lost 93 games in 2012 and still have not had a winning season since 2009. Duquette kept his brash promise that the Orioles would have their first winning season since 1997 and they went on to reach the American League Division Series.
The Orioles have made a small handful of early trades during the Duquette-Buck Showalter era that turned out to be significant, but none of them during the winter meetings since the Eveland deal.
They stole Brad Brach from the San Diego Padres in November 2013 and gave away Jim Johnson a few days later. Duquette also acquired slugger Mark Trumbo before the 2015 meetings, but most of his significant offseason trades and acquisitions have come late in the offseason or at the start of spring training.
It’s hard to argue with the overall results, especially when compared with the long drought that preceded Duquette’s arrival. Predecessor Andy MacPhail also gets a lot of credit for helping to build the team that would have the winningest regular season record in the American League from 2012 to 2016, but it happened on Duquette’s watch and only the most fickle fans and observers would dismiss all that because this year’s team turned sharply south in September.
Still, the collapse of the pitching staff should’ve created a greater sense of urgency in the Orioles front office than what we’re seeing right now. Duquette’s track record has hit a speed bump and he needs to react more decisively if the Orioles are to bounce right back from their first losing season since 2011.
They’ve gotten away in the past with waiting around for the free-agent market to shake out, but there are all sorts of reasons to be proactive this season. The pitching pool isn’t particularly deep, and the Orioles can no longer afford to deal away their prospects and expect to remain competitive over the long haul.
That doesn’t mean Duquette has to make some kind of big splash over the next four or five days, but it certainly would help fire up the fan base. He’s more likely to spend the time gauging interest from other teams and laying groundwork for the second half of the offseason, which will be fine if all that talk leads to some real improvement.
Duquette never seems to be in a big hurry, but he’s entering the final year of his contract and another season like 2017 would be hazardous to his job security.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.