Springtime Storylines: Can Dan Duquette lead the Orioles out of the wildnerness?

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: The Baltimore Orioles.

The Big Question: Can Dan Duquette lead the Orioles out of the wilderness?

This is not one of those previews in which we say “if everything breaks right …” because there’s no way this team is challenging for a playoff spot. If you believe otherwise, look, I love your optimism, but this is not the place for you, ok?

No, the real question is how long it will be until the O’s are not the easy pick for last place, and that depends on one man right now: Dan Duquette, the Orioles new general manager.

Duquette hasn’t held a GM job in a decade. And he wasn’t at the top of Peter Angelos’ list this winter. But those aren’t the biggest issues because Duquette is bright and had a lot of success in his past life. No, at the moment the real issue is how free of a hand he has to do what needs to be done to fix this team. Specifically, overhaul the player development system that has been profoundly lacking in recent years.  There have been some changes so far, mostly a reshuffling of scouting operations and a commitment to Latin America that improves upon past efforts.

Ultimately, though, what has felled this organization is Peter Angelos and his impatience. It took years for the Orioles to slide from one of the best organizations in professional sports to where they are now. Will Angelos grant Duquette the time necessary to fix all of that damage, or will there be another GM and another plan in three years?

So what else is going on?

  • As Matthew noted yesterday, the fact that Jake Arrieta got the Opening Day start is special.  He had a 5.05 ERA in 22 starts last year, then had elbow surgery. This spring, he has a 6.14 ERA in his four starts. That’s the ace. It’s also evidence of just how thin the Orioles pitching is this year.
  • The book on this team of late has been “promise in the lineup, problems with the rotation.” But let’s be honest here: Nick Markakis has regressed since his breakout in 2008. Adam Jones has still not broken out like people keep thinking he will and despite hitting 37 homers, Mark Reynolds is actually kind of a scrub when you balance his power out with his atrocious defense. The position players here are still OK I suppose, but it’s only a strength compared to the pitching, not an absolute one.
  • Let’s be more optimistic: Manny Machado is one of the best prospects in the game. And, as a shortstop, can be the guy who anchors a team for years to come. He doesn’t turn 20 until July and he already more than held his own in single-A.  He is hope for the future, O’s fans.
  • More optimistic on the major league level: Matt Weiters broke out last year, hitting 22 homers and winning a Gold Glove. There’s likely even more where that came from. He’s good, everyone.

So how are they gonna do?

Ain’t gonna lie: they’re a last place team. And there’s not a lot of immediate hope for them to be better.  More likely: the season is dominated with trade talk involving Adam Jones, a Manny Machado Watch and a lot of games where the O’s give up, like 11 runs.

Wish I had more for you, people. But it’s gonna take Dan Duquette a while to sort this all out.

Blue Jays, Josh Donaldson to table extension talks

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Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports that the Blue Jays and third baseman Josh Donaldson are tabling extension talks as the two sides weren’t able to build any momentum towards agreement on a new contract.

Donaldson said, “We’re not quite there. That, to me, right now is not the major focus and I’m turning the page.” He added, “I want to play this season and really focus on winning games because, ultimately, our goal is to win a World Series and I don’t want to hinder that at all.” Donaldson also said he expects to hit free agency.

The 32-year-old avoided arbitration with the Blue Jays last month, agreeing on a $23 million salary for the 2018 season. He’s a free agent at season’s end. Last year, the three-time All-Star hit .270/.385/.559 with 33 home runs, 78 RBI, and 65 runs scored in 496 plate appearances. Donaldson missed six weeks in the first half with a calf injury, but was able to return and post terrific numbers, so his health — at least that aspect of it — shouldn’t be a concern going into spring training.

If Donaldson does reach free agency, he’ll join a star-studded group that will likely also include Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Charlie Blackmon, and A.J. Pollock.