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Duquette outlines O's plan to contend in 2018, addresses futures of Machado, Britton, Schoop

During a sprawling interview on the team's offseason radio show, Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette addressed the futures of some of the team's top stars — including Zach Britton, Manny Machado, and Jonathan Schoop — while batting away calls for a rebuild in favor of an attempt to rebuild the starting rotation and compete in 2018.

Duquette outlined the club's offseason pitching plans and much more on the 105.7 The Fan Orioles Hot Stove Show on Thursday, saying it's the top priority this offseason as the Orioles enter a make-or-break 2018 season in which they'll try to build one last playoff team, not tear things down in favor of a rebuild for the future.

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"I think that's what people want," Duquette said. "We still have a pretty good core group, and I've got to tell you, that rebuilding, that's not very much fun. You can sit here and you can talk about it, but it's not very much fun. The Cubs and Houston, they lost 100 games a couple of times, and that was painful. They had a plan that they were going to lose that many games, and they leveraged that to get the top picks in the draft and fortunately, they invested properly. ... But losing 100 games to move up in the draft, that's not very much fun."

Neither, Duquette conceded, was a season during which the major leagues’ worst starting rotation featuring the departed Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jiménez and Wade Miley, plus an inconsistent offense, led to the team’s slumping out of the race for the postseason in September and finishing 75-87 in last place in the American League East.

To improve on that, Duquette said, they'd need to add starting pitching. He joked that he attended the Ravens-Houston Texans game Monday night and several fans asked whether his time would better be spent finding starters.

"So, that's where we're focused," Duquette said. "Any good team starts on the mound and any team that's going to compete in the American League East has to have some pitching depth. So we're focusing our efforts on adding to our pitching staff. I think we still have a good bullpen. Our bullpen is strong. We'll have to add to our starting pitching, some veterans as well as some depth."

Duquette said to do that, "we're going to have to be resourceful." He again compared this offseason to 2012, when the Orioles signed Wei-Yin Chen from Japan and Miguel González out of the Mexican League and saw Chris Tillman emerge as a major league option.

"Pitching can come from anywhere, and the way I look at it, if you do a decent job and work at it, you ought to be able to find some serviceable pitching," Duquette said.

He said the majors’ slow offseason can be attributed to the wait for Japanese star Shohei Ohtani to be posted and sign with a major league club, with coveted right-hander Yu Darvish also available.

Asked whether Britton, who is in his last year of club control and could make over $12 million in arbitration, would open the season with the Orioles after trade talks in July and this offseason, Duquette said, "I think they're good."

"I like Zach Britton. I like him on our team. Obviously, there's a lot of interest in him. He's got one year left on his contract here. He's been one of the top pitchers in the league. ... Clubs knew that the club was looking at some options throughout the trade deadline and there was a lot of interest in him then, and we elected to hold on to him with the team. He's got a lot of value for our team, but I can understand why clubs would be interested in him. You've seen the value of elite relievers in the playoffs the last couple of years. ... He's got a lot of value, but he's got a lot of value for our club, too."

On Machado, who is also a free agent after this season, Duquette indicated that the time to decide his future with the Orioles is coming soon.

"I don't know the answer to that. I know that Manny has had some great years in the American League, and the combination of the defense and the hitting and the power and the arm, that's a rare skill combination. Manny brings that to the ballpark every day and I expect that he's going to prepare to have a great year this year. Obviously, teams like him. How old is he? What is he, 25? He's working hard. He worked hard to get to the big leagues quickly and we've had some great years from him, but he's on the cusp of his free agency and I know he's going to want to have a good year. The club has to decide if he's going to be a long-term fixture in our lineup in Baltimore, and I think that's a decision for the club this offseason."

Duquette also acknowledged an MLB Network report on the team's willingness to sign second baseman Jonathan Schoop, its lone All-Star from 2016, to a long-term contract with two years of club control remaining.

"Certainly, we like Jon Schoop and we'd love to have him for the best part of his career. We're seeing that right now, but that's a conversation for another day. We have him back for this year, and we're glad he's coming back."

2018 game times: The Orioles announced the scheduled start times for home games in 2018, with Sunday games moving from 1:35 p.m. to 1:05 p.m. There will be four weekday afternoon games — May 16 against the Philadelphia Phillies at 12:35 p.m., May 28 against the Washington Nationals at 1:05 p.m., June 13 against the Boston Red Sox at 3:05 p.m. and June 28 against the Seattle Mariners at 3:05 p.m. — with 4:05 p.m. games on three Saturdays in June: June 2, June 16 and June 30. Opening Day (March 29) and the season finale (Sept. 30) will begin at 3:05 p.m. All other games will start at 7:05 p.m.

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