Schmuck: Orioles still focused on 2015, but they should also keep working toward 2016

OK, we get it. The Orioles aren't going to give up on the 2015 season until the last shred of mathematical possibility has been sucked out of this year's playoff picture.

Manager Buck Showalter confirmed that again this weekend when he was asked about the way he plans to dole out playing time as September winds down and each game becomes progressively less important in the standings.


"We're not that team yet," he said Friday. "We're planning on winning 23 games in a row, which is what we're trying to do. When the math of that doesn't work, then we'll step back again and say 'What's best for the Baltimore Orioles?' "

That's what he has to say, of course, but Showalter does have a history of pushing every possible button until there aren't any more to push. Just ask the Boston Red Sox how they missed the playoffs in 2011.


So, shouldn't the organization take the same approach when it comes to making the most out of the waning weeks of the season and the club's exclusive bargaining window for retaining potential free agents?

It isn't a tough question. There is plenty that baseball operations chief Dan Duquette can do right now to improve his chances of keeping some of the key players who are eligible to sign with other clubs come November.

We're not talking about Chris Davis and Matt Wieters here — though there's an argument to be made for putting something on the table for each of them before the free-agent auction gets under way, even if everyone knows that agent Scott Boras is taking them to the market.

This is more about the players who aren't going to break anybody's bank, but fill important roles that will need to be addressed one way or the other.

The poster guy here is reliever Darren O'Day, who has been the most consistent and effective pitcher on the Orioles staff for the length of the contract that is about to expire. He's a setup man, so he doesn't get a lot of national attention, but the role he has played during the club's recent renaissance cannot be discounted.

Why then, has he not already been extended?

The short answer is that Duquette generally prefers not to engage in contract negotiations while the season is in progress, choosing instead to concentrate on pursuing deals to improve the current team.

There's logic there as long as there is something at the end of the rainbow, but the July 31 trading period is long past, as is the Aug. 31 deadline for adding players who retain playoff eligibility. Whether or not there's still a Powerball ticket's chance of winning a wild-card berth should no longer be an impediment to getting a head start on some offseason business.

O'Day has every reason to want to stay here and the Orioles have every reason to want to keep him. He's a durable pitcher who puts up great numbers year after year and plays an important leadership role in the bullpen and the clubhouse.

He's also a pitcher who defies the notion that high-impact short relievers have an unpredictable shelf life. Over his past seven seasons, he has had only one that featured an ERA higher than 2.28. And that was the year he got banged up in Texas and was claimed off waivers by the Orioles.

The Orioles may have to give him a three-year deal worth $20 million, but if that's the price to keep the top of one of the top bullpens in the league, then so be it.

Right fielder Gerardo Parra also is a pending free agent who might be signable before the market opens. He will be coming off his best season in the major leagues and he's the type of player the Orioles were looking for last winter when they needed to replace Nick Markakis.


Parra is a Gold Glove outfielder with a plus arm and good on-base potential who fits nicely on a team that needs some offensive connectivity and takes its outfield defense very seriously. He's not a superstar, so he won't have to be paid like one, but he will command a multiyear deal.

The Orioles should get to work on all that that sooner rather than later, since signing O'Day and Parra would clear away two important pieces of offseason business before Duquette and his staff get down to the harder work of improving the rotation and trying to keep enough muscle at the heart of the batting order.

They can do it the easy way or the hard way, but they should keep one thing in mind when they decide.

The hard way didn't work so well last winter.


Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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