LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA. — While the baseball winter meetings spotlight shined on the New York Yankees as they introduced reigning National League Most Valuable Player Giancarlo Stanton’s new pinstriped look Monday afternoon at the Swan and Dolphin Resort, the Orioles brass assembled in a suite several floors above the swirling hotel lobby trying to find lesser-profile ways of staying competitive in the American League East.
Coming off a last-place division finish — the worst under the Dan Duquette-Buck Showalter regime — the Orioles face many obstacles to return to contention, and now added to those hurdles is facing a Yankees batting order that already gave the Orioles fits last season before the acquisition of Stanton, who will join reigning AL Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge to make the game’s most formidable power duo. The Boston Red Sox will certainly make a countermove of their own in the coming weeks, and the Orioles will be quickly reintroduced to the rough-and-tumble life of the AL East.
The Orioles are used to the shadows here at the winter meetings, and in recent years, they’ve came away with little more than a pick or two in the Rule 5 draft. Early indications are that this year they’ll also be more observer than participant in the pre-Christmas chase for the top available players. And Duquette, assessing the Orioles’ first day of the winter meetings Monday in the club’s suite, said little to indicate that a division rival’s bulking up with the most prodigious power hitter available on the market will alter the pace of the Orioles’ offseason plans.
“The rich got richer, right?” Duquette, the executive vice president of baseball operations, said Monday night when asked about New York’s acquisition of Stanton. “The Yankees had a good year this year and were able to add the National League home run [leader], so that makes it more challenging for our ballclub. But we have our own challenges that [we] have [to attend to]. We have to staff our team and we just try to be as competitive as we can all the time.
“Fortunately, we’ve been able to compete with the Yankees. We’ve been able to compete with the Red Sox. The Yankees are going into another cycle where their farm system has matured and they have a little bit more depth and talent. And so they leveraged that talent to make a trade. They used their resources to go out and acquire the biggest contract in the industry.”
Duquette compared the move to when the Red Sox set the bar last December by trading for left-hander Chris Sale to anchor their rotation, sending a bevy of prospects to the Chicago White Sox, a deal made possible, he said only with a combination of deep pockets and a deep farm system.
“It’s kind of like when the Red Sox trumped the market when they got Sale in a very similar type or deal,” Duquette said. “They used their economic might and their … money that they invested in their minor league operation to make a big deal to impact their major league team. So that’s a pretty powerful combination that we have to be very resourceful to combat.”
Duquette said the Orioles will have to be more “proactive” in rebuilding their starting rotation, but added that won’t likely include making a four- or five-year offer to a free-agent pitcher.
“Those haven’t worked out that well for the club,” he said, alluding to the team’s just-completed four-year, $50 million deal with Ubaldo Jiménez, the largest commitment to a free-agent starter in team history. “I’m not sure I would recommend that. … There’s been some pretty decent pitchers that have been in this market without going four or five years. There’s been some signings already that have signed for a couple years and they’re qualified major league players. I don’t think you have to say you have to go four or five years in this market to be competitive.”
Duquette made one thing clear, that the Orioles do see emerging opportunities on the trade market, indicating that other clubs have expressed interest some of their prospects. Specifically, Duquette said lower-level minor league arms such as Alexander Wells and Keegan Akin have drawn interest, and added the organization is comfortable with its outfield prospect depth to engage in trade talks there.
“Any good team, if you’re going to be good year in and year out, you’ve got to have a good farm system,” Duquette said. “That’s really the foundation of being good. Everybody wants to talk about the free-agent market. There’s other things you can do with trades. There’s other players you can sign. That’s not the only venue or option for the club to add players, and it’s probably the riskiest financially. So to the extent that the club is active in these other markets and we can do some good there, that generally works out better for us.”
The Orioles could also trade from their bullpen — their greatest strength — but the Brad Brach-for-Matt Harvey rumor that swirled around the meetings Monday seems unlikely, according to industry sources.
In retooling the rotation, Duquette played out a scenario in which the club uses the trade and free-agent markets as well as turning to possible internal options such as Miguel Castro and Gabriel Ynoa to bolster a starting pitching group that ranked last in the majors in ERA. Meanwhile, Monday’s news conference to introduce the hulking Stanton as a Yankee ended with a team’s spokesman saying he hoped the acquisition of the slugger “brought a little holiday wish” for Yankees fans. With Stanton in the fold, New York quickly became the odds-on favorites to win not only the division, but also the World Series.
The Orioles struggled against the Yankees last year, losing 12 of 19 meetings, including eight of nine at Yankee Stadium. The 154 runs the Yankees scored against the Orioles last season — 8.1 a game — were the most the Orioles allowed against one team in 2017 by 56 runs. Orioles pitchers had a 9.91 ERA in nine games at Yankee Stadium last season. And Judge hit 11 of his 52 homers against the Orioles, many of them tape-measure shots.
“They strike from everywhere, they’re well-balanced and they’re hungry,” Stanton said during his news conference Monday when asked about his decision to approve a deal to the Yankees. “The city has been waiting for another World Series, another playoff run and they got close enough this year, but hopefully with my addition we’re going to be a better team.”
Meanwhile, Duquette ended his session with local media Monday discussing how a potential Rule 5 pick could fit on next season’s roster — the Orioles would most likely take a reliever if they do — when the team still has to carry outfielder Anthony Santander, one of their Rule 5 selections from last year’s winter meetings, for the first six weeks of the regular season.
“We do have an acute need for additional pitching,” Duquette said. “So that’s one of those trade-offs. How many guys can you have that aren’t established in the big leagues? How long can you go with that?”