Saturday's annual State of the Orioles event — the one instance during the regular season focused exclusively on season-ticket holders interacting with the team's players and front-office personnel — didn't offer anything unexpected on the team's focus approaching the nonwaiver trade deadline.
Fans peppered executive vice president Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter with questions during a 20-minute question-and-answer session. And while no one expected Duquette to publicly plot out the key points of a potential rebuild, his statements during the fan event indicated he has no plans of going into sell mode now.
Duquette reiterated that he believes the Orioles can make a run at the postseason this year with improved starting pitching, despite entering Saturday game against the Houston Astros four games under .500 and 4½ games out of the second American League wild-card spot with four teams between them and the postseason.
"You know that the Orioles have had better ballclubs at this stage of the season, but I still have hope for this year's club," Duquette told fans in his opening comments. "I've got a lot of confidence in the guys that we have, that we can put it together. … This year, we haven't had the starting pitching that we need, but the other elements of our ballclub are intact and if we can get a little bit stronger pitching and add to the pitching, we can still make a run at this.
"That second wild card still gives you a lot of hope until late in the season and we're going to see what we're going to do this week, see if we can help our ballclub and strengthen our club so that we can give you a contending team year in and year out."
Duquette said other teams have expressed interest in some of the organization's top prospects, including left-hander Tanner Scott, catcher Chance Sisco, outfielder Austin Hays and infielder Ryan Mountcastle. He mentioned them more as a defense of the Orioles farm system than an indication that he's dangling them as trade chips.
Duquette contested the belief that the Orioles' core players are currently on the trade market, even as the team faces the potential departures of such stars as Manny Machado, Zach Britton, Adam Jones and Brad Brach after the 2018 season.
"I don't believe all this stuff that says we have half of our club on the market, because we have a lot of baseball left to be played," Duquette said. "We like our ballclub. We like our players. We like our core players and we'd like to be able to contend, so anything that we do will be with that in mind to have a contending team. … So whatever we do, we're going to try to help the club. But I still like a lot of our core players."
Asked about the club's future starting rotation conundrum — the single biggest problem that prevents the Orioles from being a true contender — Duquette lauded Dylan Bundy's development and hoped for brighter days ahead for Kevin Gausman. Duquette added that the challenge is that there's simply not much starting pitching depth around the league, so it's on teams to either develop their own rotation pieces or be savvy in acquiring starting pitching.
"It's all about pitching, pitching and pitching," Duquette said. "And we've been able to compete effectively without having the best starting pitching. I have to tell you … we still have a solid bullpen, but I think you hit the nail right on the head. With any competitive team, it starts right on the mound. It's a game of defense and we need better starters and we're going to see what we can do to develop some pitching here. And of course we're going to look to see if we can acquire some pitching wherever we can."
Despite receiving three straight quality starts earlier this week, the Orioles rotation entered Saturday with an AL-worst 5.93 ERA. Only the Cincinnati Reds starters' ERA of 6.12 was worse.
"You know, there's just not enough to go around," Duquette said. "You look across the industry, we just played that team from Texas. Now, Texas is one of those teams that's been very competitive like the Orioles over the last five or six years. Texas, the Yankees and the Orioles have been the top three teams in the league and they have the same issue. It's a really critical issue to having a good team year in and year out to have good starting pitching. But the fact of the matter is, there aren't enough really good starters to go around the league. So when you have them, you've got to maximize that, and when you don't have them, you've got to start looking for more. We're always looking for more."
Wright completes rehab, optioned to Triple-A
Right-hander Mike Wright, who has been on the 10-day major league disabled list since mid-June with right shoulder bursitis, was activated from the DL and optioned to Triple-A Norfolk after his Gulf Coast League outing Saturday.
Wright tossed two scoreless innings against the Tampa Bay Rays' GCL team and allowed four earned runs in 4 1/3 innings during his three-outing rehabilitation assignment in the GCL. While Showalter said he didn't know whether Wright would return to Norfolk as a starter or reliever, his longest outing in the GCL was just two innings.
After struggling to find consistency as a starter at the major league level, Wright seemed to find some success out of the bullpen this season. But he posted a 5.56 ERA in 11 1/3 innings as a multi-inning reliever with the Orioles before landing on the DL.
Asked about the potential of signing second baseman Jonathan Schoop to a long-term extension during Saturday's Q&A session, Duquette said the team approached Schoop about that in the offseason before his first year of arbitration eligibility.
"That's something we can certainly consider," Duquette said. "He's making pretty good money now and he's going to make a lot more money next year. But we like him as a core member of the team. He's done a great job."
Schoop is making $3.475 million this season and is in line for a significant raise next year after becoming an All-Star for the first time in his career.