ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — As the Orioles concluded their first losing season in six years Sunday at Tropicana Field, completing a 14-game regression from last year's playoff team, executive vice president Dan Duquette made it clear that he's not a fan of hearing any discussion about the Orioles going into rebuilding mode in 2018.
"I don't know who rebuilds in the American League East," Duquette said, speaking to the team's traveling beat corps before Sunday's season finale. "In the American League East you reload, OK? And then you try to have as good a team as you can the next season as you did the past season. Everybody has a certain level of talent and our talent base here is still pretty good."
2018 is the final year the Orioles will have their core group intact as third baseman Manny Machado, center fielder Adam Jones, closer Zach Britton and right-hander Brad Brach are eligible to become free agents after next season. It will also be the final year Duquette and manager Buck Showalter are under contract with the club.
The decision of whether to rebuild or make one more run with the current group is one that is polarizing among the team's fan base — especially those fearing a return to the dark ages of 14 straight losing seasons after next year — but Duquette has maintained his commitment to fielding a competitive club year in and year out.
Duquette said he has no plans to trade Machado or Britton, who would be the team's top two trade chips this offseason.
He said Sunday that he's pleased with some of the younger players the club has to build around in 2018 — a core group of Machado, second baseman Jonathan Schoop and shortstop Tim Beckham, all of whom are 27 or younger — while hoping to get continued contributions from the next wave of home-grown talent from the farm, the way outfielder Trey Mancini helped this season.
"The season's over," Duquette said. "We got off to a great start. I think our fans had high hopes. It didn't end up the way we wanted it to, and we're all disappointed. If you look at the season, we got back in the playoff hunt in August, and usually we do pretty [well] in September once we get some players to support the roster.
"In September, we went 7-20. That's probably the worst month the Orioles have had in a long time and we didn't have the necessary ingredients. Obviously, everybody is disappointed. Next time around, we're going to have to have better players and do a better job over the course of the season."
Duquette said his offseason focus will be on filling a rotation that had a 5.74 ERA and has only has two pieces — right-handers Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman — guaranteed to return next season.
Right-hander Ubaldo Jiménez and Chris Tillman can become free agents and the Orioles hold a $12 million option (or a $500,000 buyout) on left-hander Wade Miley that Duquette said the team will consider in the coming weeks.
With more than $50 million coming off the payroll — that doesn't account for significant arbitration raises and escalating veteran contracts — Duquette said while the free-agent pitching market is an expensive one, the team does have some resources to "be redirected" to the pitching staff.
"We've got to rebuild our starting rotation," Duquette said. "I still think that Gausman can be an elite pitcher in the league. We'll have to find some starters beyond [Bundy and Gausman]. It's going to come down to what any championship team needs, and that's pitching and pitching and pitching. So, that's the job for next year's club."
So Duquette will plan to keep Machado and Britton — he said he doesn't plan to make either trade chip available this offseason — as the club attempts to recapture its winning ways in 2018.
"We like those guys," Duquette said. "They've had good careers with the Orioles and we're planning on having them on the club. We're building a club with them on it. And we'll see where it takes us."
Asked whether he plans to broach discussion of a long-term extension with Machado's representatives, Duquette said that will be addressed in the coming months.
"Well, that's an offseason question," Duquette said. "I don't know that. ... It's something that's under consideration, but I don't think I have the answer to that question today. But there's plenty of time where you can discuss that, talk about that."