Spring Training: Dan Duquette

Jimenez, the O's and fresh starts

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Odds and ends from Orioles camp:

• So which Ubaldo Jimenez did the Orioles just sign?

Was it that guy who ripped off a 1.82 ERA in his 13 starts after the All-Star break last year -- the second-best ERA in baseball behind only Clayton Kershaw?

Or was it that other guy -- the Ubaldo Jimenez who had a 5.10 ERA in his first 61 starts with the Indians, with 175 walks in 340.2 innings?

The Orioles are well aware that this is a pitcher who has a complicated delivery and a history of losing that delivery. But they've just bet $50 million that they can fix those issues.

“I have a lot of confidence in the kid,” said the Orioles’ executive vice president of baseball operations, Dan Duquette. “But I also have a lot of confidence in the leadership of our team, in Buck [Showalter] and [new pitching coach] Dave Wallace.

“Dave Wallace is a pro. You go back and look at his record in L.A., New York and Boston. He gets the most out of his pitching staffs. He’s very good with starting pitchers. So I think we have a reasonable chance to get good performance from Ubaldo.”

• Another potentially important Dave Wallace connection is his history in Los Angeles with the Martinez brothers -- Pedro and Ramon. Wallace was their pitching coach with the Dodgers. Duquette was Pedro Martinez’s general manager in Montreal and Boston. And Jimenez has the same agent (Fernando Cuza) as the Martinez brothers.

So Duquette made a point Thursday of pointing out that Cuza “saw how Dave Wallace worked very efficiently with Ramon and Pedro Martinez, and particularly Ramon, who’s built very similarly to Ubaldo and has a similar type delivery and an excellent changeup. I think Fernando saw the obvious possibilities of Ubaldo working with Dave, and making the same kind of adjustments that Ramon made and having the same type of success.”

Cuza confirmed that, saying, “The Dave Wallace connection was important. … And Dave speaks perfect Spanish. He knows the culture. He’s worked with some of the best Dominican pitchers in the history of baseball. So I think, in this environment, Ubaldo is going to be able to really thrive.”

• Duquette made repeated references to the fact that Jimenez has started at least 30 games in each of the past six seasons. For the record, he’s one of 10 right-handers in baseball who have done that. The others: Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, James Shields, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Bronson Arroyo, A.J. Burnett, Dan Haren and Edwin Jackson.

• Yes, Jimenez really said he’s looking forward to facing all those tough lineups in the AL East. Which is interesting, considering that he has a 5.86 career ERA against the rest of the division -- and that he’s 2-5, 8.78 lifetime against the Red Sox and Yankees.

Here’s what he said, for the record: “It’s a big challenge every five days. It’s not easy. It’s the toughest division in baseball. So you have to try to bring your A-game every time you pitch. But I like challenges.”

Showalter’s response after listening to that answer: “I don’t want to see that on the bulletin boards now tomorrow, that he’s looking forward to pitching against the AL East. He’s looking forward to the CHALLENGE.”

Adam Jones, on whether the Orioles’ window to win is right now, with Nick Markakis and J.J. Hardy a year away from free agency and Matt Wieters and Chris Davis two years away: “That’s the economic part of baseball. And I didn’t major in economics, so I have no idea how it’s going to work. In a perfect world, we’re going to lock everybody up for five or six years. In reality, it’s not going to be like that. … But the important part is that right now, we've got guys here who want to be here. And hopefully, they’re here for a long time. But I don’t know if they will, because it’s a business.”

No goal: Machado on Opening Day

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
SARASOTA, Fla. -- As he writhed in pain near the first-base bag in Tampa Bay last Sept. 23, there was no voice in Manny Machado’s head telling him everything was going to be fine.

“Oh, no. I thought I was done,” the best 21-year-old third baseman in baseball admitted Thursday. “My first thought was, 'There goes my career. There goes my knee. It’s going to be tough to come back from this.’”

But luckily for Machado, and luckily for the Baltimore Orioles, this wasn't The End for one of baseball’s brightest stars. Miraculously, his left ACL wasn't torn. Miraculously, this was “just” a tear of the medial patellofemoral ligament, which could be repaired arthroscopically instead of with major reconstructive surgery.

And even more miraculously, five months later, Machado is trotting around the Orioles’ spring training complex, taking batting practice and fielding ground balls. And he never would have thought that would be possible, either, he said.

Oh, he isn't running full speed yet. He isn't running the bases yet. There are still drills that either his medical staff or his manager won’t allow him to do.

[+] EnlargeManny Machado
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarHe's getting there, but Manny Machado isn't ready for fullspeed action just yet.
But if you thought you heard a big whooshing sound in the south this week, that was just the folks who run the Orioles exhaling, now that they know that almost none of all the dark scenarios they feared last September is likely to happen.

One of these weeks, one of these months, Manny Machado will be back on his road to stardom. Just don’t mention that ever-popular expression, “Opening Day,” around the Orioles. Any of them.

Asked Thursday where starting on Opening Day ranks on his list of spring goals, Machado had a telling answer:

“Last,” he said. “That’s at the bottom of my list. It’s not even on my list, to be honest.”

And not surprisingly, that’s exactly what his manager wanted to hear.

“He’s certainly heard it enough from me, and from the doctors, I’m sure -- that when we get it, we want to get it right the first time,” Buck Showalter said. “My biggest goal with him this year is not to have any setbacks. I don’t want to have any setbacks this spring.

“And believe me, our infield coaches, our strength-and-conditioning guys and everybody, they've heard that a lot. I don’t want to hear about setbacks. And I don’t want to hear about him being ahead or behind schedule. You’ll never hear somebody say, 'This guy’s on schedule.' There is none. The schedule is what it is. When he’s there, he’s there. And he’s worth waiting on, to be right, because I don’t want him to have any doubt in his mind that he’s ready.”

So Machado’s most important date next month isn't March 31. It’s March 15, the day he’s scheduled to visit his surgeon, Dr. Neal ElAttrache, in California. And it won’t be until at least that point that he can resume full baseball activities.

It’s still possible, said Dan Duquette, the Orioles’ executive vice president of baseball operations, that Machado could be cleared to play Opening Day. But until then, they’re all taking this day by day.

“When I’m ready, I’m going to be ready,” Machado said. “And everybody’s going to know it. And that’s when I’m going to be out there with the team, whether it’s Opening Day or sometime in April.”

In the meantime, Machado says he’s erased the “freak” play on which he got hurt, while simply turning first base, from the DVR in his mind.

“It’s gone,” he laughed. “I've got some new memories in there. Now I’m just trying to get back out there. That’s the most important one.”

The 'Plan' all along for the O's

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Those poor Baltimore Orioles. They took a beating all winter. Imagine that.

From their ever-skeptical fan base. From the always-wary members of the local and national media. Even from the occupants of front offices throughout the land, who kept asking, What the heck are the Orioles doing?

Well now we have our answer, don’t we? Now we know, says the Orioles’ executive vice president of baseball operations, Dan Duquette.

They were just biding their time. That’s all.

You knew that all along, right?

The Plan was always to sign someone like Ubaldo Jimenez, for something like four years and 50 million Angelos family dollars.

[+] EnlargeUbaldo Jimenez
AP Photo/Tony DejakThe O's are banking big money that Ubaldo Jimenez's strong finish in Cleveland leads to a strong start in Baltimore.
The Plan was always to add another arm, along the lines of this week’s other big Orioles addition, Korean star Suk-Min Yoon.

It just took awhile. Like a really, really, really long while.

So that was their story Thursday, the day they announced the signing of Jimenez amid major live-TV-back-to-Baltimore hoopla. And they were sticking to it. But why not?

It might have taken nearly a week into spring training for the Orioles’ key offseason acquisitions to start rolling in; but in a way, Duquette said, it actually works out better that way.

“If we went out and we signed these players in October or November,” Duquette said, “people would be saying: ‘The Orioles are addressing their needs. They’re being aggressive. They’re adding good starting pitching. They’re ramping up their team for a run at the title.’ OK?

“Well, we didn’t sign them in October. But by waiting, we got contracts with these players that are good for the market, that are good for the team. And people understand that we are building our team and ramping it up to be a contending team this year.”

Well, whether people actually understand it or not, he’s still right about that. The Orioles are better and deeper today than they were a week ago. They needed to add pitching if they were going to survive another journey through the AL East minefield. And at least they’ve done that.

They were even willing to give up their first-round draft pick, and the slot money that goes with it, to do it. And their willingness to do that, Duquette said, tells us something about their priorities that we didn’t know for sure a week ago.

Losing that pick “is always a consideration,” he said. “But getting dependable starting pitching is very important.”

So, Duquette added, “do we want to be giving up all our draft picks every year? No. That’s not something we want to be doing long term. But we’ve made a conscious choice to do that this year, to put the resources into our pitching staff [because of] the core players we have. We thought that was the right choice to make.”

That, of course, would be a reference to another of our famous media storylines about the Orioles these days -- their dwindling window to win right now, before they can no longer afford “core players” like Matt Wieters and Chris Davis, who can be free agents in two years and have Scott Boras as their agent.

Suddenly, with their payroll blowing past $100 million after the Jimenez signing, keeping all of these players would seem to be getting more challenging by the minute. But Duquette said simply: “I would say we want to have a competitive team, year-in, year-out. And we’re going to do what we have to do to accomplish that. ... But we have to do it within the resources of this team and this market.”

So there you go. They’re going to do what they have to do. It would be safe to say that for most of this winter, the citizens of Baltimore weren’t so sure of that. But two significant free-agent signings later -- with the possibility of another down the road (hello, Kendrys Morales?) – it turns out they always did have a Plan.

And so, a wry smile formed on Duquette’s face when one of his media admirers asked him Thursday how difficult a winter he’d just been through.

“You mean the snow?” Duquette quipped. “Oh. You mean the cold.”