The baseball hot stove season, and the week of its Winter Meetings in particular, is chock full of rumors that bubble up from nowhere, with no apparent source, seemingly in contradiction of all facts as you understand them. One such rumor cropped up last week when a national writer claimed that the Orioles were “in the mix” for free agent starter Rich Hill.
On the other hand, when Dan Duquette gets in front of some microphones and feeds the rumor mill by giving some quotes with new information, that’s something you have to give some credit, even if what he says doesn’t make any sense. On Sunday, Duquette told a radio show as well as local reporters that the Orioles have made offers to try to keep free agent slugger Mark Trumbo.
The radio show is the one hosted by Dan’s cousin, Jim Duquette, a man you may recall as one of the several who was GM over the bad Orioles teams from 1998-2011:
Dan Duquette, on the Front Office , right now, on Trumbo, "we made a strong offer to keep him" I don't know if it'll be enough to keep him— Jim Duquette (@Jim_Duquette) December 4, 2016
Dan Duquette’s idea of a strong offer and Trumbo’s agent’s idea of a strong offer are clearly different or else Trumbo would already have re-signed with the Orioles. It’s a puzzling tidbit nonetheless because Trumbo was, of course, the home run champion of MLB this past season, but also a liability in right field.
When the team also needs a real right fielder as well as a catcher, can they afford to bring back Trumbo?
The answer would seem to be no. This particular bit of information will be ammunition for the group of Duquette detractors out there who, despite his track record of three postseasons in five seasons in charge, believe that Duquette is awful at his job and has no idea what he’s doing.
The record directly disproves this belief, yet that doesn’t mean every individual move is unassailable. Having much interest in retaining Trumbo at this point in the game is a tougher proposition to defend.
Duquette followed up about Trumbo with Orioles beat writers who are at the Winter Meetings, including MASN’s Roch Kubatko:
“We’ve had several conversations with Mark Trumbo, but we haven’t been able to cinch a deal with him,” Duquette told a group of local beat writers. “In the past, we’ve made a couple offers to him. We’ve had a dialogue going with them for several weeks.”
If this rumor was coming along from a national writer, I would shrug my shoulders and assume that writer had spoken to someone who has no actual clue about what is going on. There are a lot of those, which is one of the reasons why my default response to rumors is to say, “Probably nothing will happen.” We can’t dismiss Duquette’s own words quite so easily.
So what the heck? It’s not like Duquette is unaware of the Orioles problems and holes that they need to fill. You can read further along in his remarks to Kubatko and company to see Duquette saying things that are apparent to everyone with two eyes: “We’re trying to upgrade our outfield defense and we need a catcher. We need a right fielder.” He knows what you know and what everyone knows.
Trumbo is not a right fielder, a fact that was made apparent as the 2016 season progressed. A horrible starting rotation was surely not helped by the Orioles having one of the worst, if not the worst, outfield defenses in all of MLB.
That was the fault of more players than just Trumbo - they’ll probably still be bad next year, Trumbo or no Trumbo. But right field is the spot they can fix this year... unless they sign Trumbo and stick him out there again.
One possibility is that Duquette’s words are describing routine offseason behavior and they just sound interesting when there’s nothing happening. Although the Orioles don’t act quickly or early in offseasons, that doesn’t mean their shop is closed up and they’re talking to no one.
Maintaining dialogue even when nothing is happening is still a part of the process. There were surely a whole lot of conversations between the Orioles and Scott Boras before the Chris Davis contract came to fruition, even at this point last year.
And as for the idea that the Orioles have made offers to Trumbo - well, maybe they have, but maybe they weren’t strong, serious offers, regardless of what Duquette says. Go back into the vault of last decade and there was the time the Orioles “made an offer” to Mark Teixeira. Which everyone seems to agree they did, but to this day I don’t believe they ever expected Teixeira to take it.
Absent any further information about the offers that Duquette says he made to Trumbo, I wonder whether there’s something similar at play: That Duquette and the Orioles have made a couple of offers serious enough to not be insulting but not serious enough that they’re actually trying hard to sign him.
I sure hope they’re not that serious, because the Orioles signing Trumbo at this point would seem like they’re basically giving up on fixing any of the problems with the team this offseason. After all, they’ve already announced they aren’t raising ticket prices for next season, which sure seems like a sign that another large payroll increase isn’t coming.
Even if they did sign Trumbo and stick him at designated hitter, would they be able to make any meaningful improvement to either the catching position or right field? Unless they’ve got a surprise up their sleeve or they hit it big on a reclamation project type of signing, it would seem they can’t both retain Trumbo and fix what needs to be fixed.
Trumbo was an exciting Oriole to get in trade for the low, low price of Steve Clevenger. That the O’s got him because the Mariners weren’t willing to pay him $9 million was a steal. The bargain trade Trumbo won’t be around any more, though, and there’s a much bigger chance of it all ending in disappointment if the O’s retain him for the kind of free agent contract it’ll take to sign a guy who just hit 47 home runs.
Whatever the truth is about the O’s interest in Trumbo, the Orioles are still the Orioles. If something big happens during the Winter Meetings, that would be out of character for them. So it’s not worth panicking about (or, if you really liked the dingers, getting excited) just yet. We’ll have to keep an eye on this to see if anything more develops.