One day after completing a disappointing .500 season, Orioles manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president Dan Duquette spoke with reporters together at Camden Yards on Monday afternoon and vowed to assemble a competitive team for next year — and to do it together, despite assertions that there is tension between the duo.
"If you think this year's good enough, then you haven't been watching. Our fans should feel very comfortable with what's gonna go on between now and the first pitch next year. We've already started," Showalter said in the 30-minute joint news conference with Duquette. "Dan and I share the same passion for the same thing and that's the Orioles and the fans and that's what this is about."
The Orioles hold a final, postmortem briefing with the media at the end of each season, but Monday's had a different feel than in previous years. That's partly because a division winner in 2014 became an also-ran this year, partly because the Orioles face another round of high-profile free-agent losses, including slugger Chris Davis, and partly because the relationship between the highly involved Showalter and the often-aloof Duquette became a national story as the club's losses mounted.
On Monday, the men laughed at the idea that there was "intense friction" between them or that they were at all concerned about their futures. Both are signed through 2018 and are one season removed from winning the top national awards for their respective positions. Also, managing partner Peter Angelos told MASNsports.com on Monday that Showalter and Duquette "absolutely" would return in 2016.
"If you are worrying about your next job or you are worrying about the status of your job, then you can't do the job that you have," Showalter said. "You do what you do, you bring what you bring and hope that it's coveted enough to play the bills for another year."
Added Duquette: "As far as worrying about whether you're going to be with the club or not, I don't think we have time to do that really. It's always full steam ahead in this business."
When asked specifically if they wanted to return to their same positions for 2016, Showalter immediately said, "Yes," while Duquette followed with, "Absolutely."
As for what this offseason may bring in relation to the 2016 club, Duquette admitted that he needs to bring in new players to supplement the roster's core — and that means improving a pitching staff that allowed 89 more earned runs than in 2014 and, specifically, a rotation that permitted 78 more earned runs.
"We need to focus on a stronger pitching staff. I know we've got plenty of free agents to sign, but any informed analysis of a team is you've got to have a good pitching staff," Duquette said. "That's where it starts and that's where we're going to put our focus in the offseason."
When asked if he thought the club would be able to purchase a free agent ace — the top of the class is led by David Price, Johnny Cueto and potentially Zack Greinke — and still have a chance at retaining Davis, who could demand a six-year or longer contract worth $20 million or more annually, Duquette said he was hopeful.
"I don't know what the final market's gonna be for Chris Davis, but having looked at some of the other contracts, it's gonna be a lot of money. And we're gonna have to weigh the competitiveness of the team and the need of the team to staff a strong pitching staff," Duquette said. "I don't know where the money's going to end up, but we have enough resources in this market to field a competitive team and our aim is to do that again in '16."
The absence of Davis, who led the majors with 47 homers this season, would create a huge offensive hole on a club that had only two other players hit more than 15 homers in Manny Machado (35) and Adam Jones (27).
"Chris Davis is a very compelling player, because he hits prodigious home runs. And the club understands that value," Duquette said. "Having said that, there's a lot bigger markets that are out there than this market. So I don't know where that's going to end up. But we like Chris Davis. We tried to sign Chris Davis. We'd like to have him back for next year."
The Orioles entered this season with a payroll around $119 million, 13th of 30 teams in the majors and the largest in their history. But they constructed the roster without retaining three high-profile free agents, outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis and reliever Andrew Miller, all of whom signed four-year deals elsewhere.
This year, there are six that could leave for more lucrative deals: Davis, starter Wei-Yin Chen, reliever Darren O'Day, catcher Matt Wieters, outfielder/infielder Steve Pearce and outfielder Gerardo Parra.
Three — Davis, Chen and potentially Wieters — could be made qualifying offers this offseason, meaning a one-year deal for 2016 at approximately $16 million. If the player rejects the offer, the Orioles would then get a compensatory draft pick if that player signs elsewhere. Of the 34 that have been made the offer in the past, no one has accepted it.
"The qualifying offer is under consideration for all those players," Duquette said. "The club has to decide that by the end of the World Series, so we're currently working on that."
He said they are also working on potential trades and minor league signings as well in hopes of improving the club's obvious deficiencies, including more hitters with higher on-base percentages.
"We could do a better job of finding guys that get on base and that's gonna be one of our priorities this offseason," he said. "So that when you need a run or when you hit a home run you've got a guy on base."
Ultimately, Duquette said he believes the foundation is still there, but proper changes must be made to get the Orioles back to the playoffs.
"We have some things to build on. We have got a decent talent base in our organization already," Duquette said. "We've got a lot better players in our farm system than the perceived value of those players out there. And you'll see next year, when we get to spring training, you'll see some good players come up through the Orioles farm system."