What’s Dan Duquette doing? He’s doing what he did last year, stockpiling. For Duquette watchers, his refusal to spend big money on what he perceives is mediocre free agent talent shouldn’t be surprising. Nor should his accumulation of fringe outfielders.
It’s what he did last year. And if that worked in 2012, it should work a year later.
On Tuesday, the Orioles signed Chris Dickerson to a minor league contract. Dickerson is 30, and in parts of five major league seasons has played in 258 games.
Dickerson’s resume isn’t much different than Steve Pearce, who was outrighted to Norfolk after being re-signed. Pearce has a major league deal, but isn’t on the 40-man roster.
Never a major league regular, Dickerson can play all three outfield positions, and he has a lifetime major league batting average of .266, and in Duquette’s eye, his most valuable asset is a .352 on-base percentage.
Maybe Duquette was looking ahead to August. The Orioles have a road trip to San Diego, San Francisco and Arizona. Dickerson has hit .412, .364 and .321 against those three teams.
Dickerson joins Pearce, Lew Ford, Jason Pridie and Conor Jackson as non-roster outfield hopefuls in camp. Trayvon Robinson, acquired from Seattle for Robert Andino, Xavier Avery and L.J. Hoes are on the 40-man.
The Orioles have so many outfielders that finding playing time for all of them will be a challenge—for Norfolk manager Ron Johnson.
The betting is that a few of them will be released or maybe Duquette figures out a way to stash them until they’re needed.
Last year when Orioles fans wondered why he signed McLouth and Ford to minor league deals and why he signed a washed-up Bill Hall, well, he was doing the same thing.
Miguel Tejada’s signing got most of the attention, but when his skills weren’t a good fit, the Orioles cut him loose. McLouth and Ford turned out to be more valuable.
Even when Hall briefly joined the Orioles, he was a help. Duquette looks for situations where players who intrigue him can help—even briefly.
These signings also point out the continued weakness of the Orioles minor league system. While Avery and Hoes played in the major leagues last year, they’re certainly not can’t miss prospects, and perhaps Pridie or Jackson would serve the Orioles needs better if Jones or Markakis was hurt.
Fans would prefer the sexier signings. Dickerson and Pearce aren’t terribly valuable for Rotisserie Baseball players. Duquette is looking for the smallest edge.
A year ago, Duquette signed Tsuyoshi Wada and Wei-Yin Chen. It was his way of exploiting an undervalued market. This year, the international market doesn’t have as many opportunities, so he’s looking elsewhere.
Duquette and Buck Showalter knew they had tricked the baseball gods somewhat in the season’s first four months. They couldn’t get away with substandard defense at third base, so Manny Machado was promoted and Wilson Betemit was supplanted.
This year, Duquette knows that the Orioles’ boatload of strikeouts won’t cut it, and he’s refocusing on players with higher on-base percentages. While Mark Reynolds’ on-base percentage was healthy, it was time to find someone else who didn’t strike out as often. The same with Andino.
Two of the seven regulars with 100 or more strikeouts are gone, and Duquette hopes replaced with players who put the ball in play more.
He’s done the same with the bullpen. The Orioles return their mainstays and have added a few pitchers, Mike Belfiore, Zach Braddock, Zach Clark, Daniel McCutchen and Daniel Schlereth to the mix. Mark Hendrickson will probably join them, too.
Duquette has also signed a host of Independent League players that have been briefly mentioned here over the past few months, and perhaps one of them can channel Ford or Stu Pomeranz in contributing.