Constructing a winner: Orioles
How Baltimore used the Draft, trades, free agency and international signings to build its playoff team
During Spring Training, when most teams have filled out their rosters and are focused on preparations for the coming season and staying healthy, Orioles general manager Dan Duquette was still working to improve his team. He wanted to cross off a couple more items on his wish list.
The Orioles were coming off back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in nearly 20 years, but they were still looking for their first American League East title since 1997.
About a week after Spring Training opened, Duquette made a splash by signing right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez on Feb. 19. Five days later, he struck again, adding outfielder Nelson Cruz.
While Jimenez hasn't matched the success he had last year in Cleveland, Cruz has excelled as Baltimore's designated hitter. He made the All-Star team and hit 40 home runs for the first time in his career.
"That was on our offseason shopping list," Duquette said. "We wanted a middle of the order hitter to go with Adam Jones and Chris Davis. Cruz filled the bill and had a good year for us."
Cruz's success has helped the Orioles absorb the blows of losing fellow All-Stars Matt Wieters and Manny Machado to season-ending injuries. Davis is also missing from the lineup due to a 25-game suspension for amphetamines that will extend into the playoffs.
To overcome those setbacks, the Orioles have also called on their roster's depth. Rookies Jonathan Schoop and Caleb Joseph have played big roles this season and players such as Steve Pearce and Ryan Flaherty, who began the year as reserves, have stepped up to fill some of the voids.
The pitching staff has also evolved significantly in the past year. Duquette began the offseason by trading closer Jim Johnson to the A's. Left-hander Zach Britton has replaced him in Baltimore, and the bullpen became one of the team's strengths.
"The maturation of the pitchers was good," Duquette said. "We made a couple of key additions to bullpen, which was strong with [Darren] O'Day. [Zach] Britton emerged and we picked up [Brad] Brach in offseason, and recently, Andrew Miller. Those guys have done a nice job."
Here's a closer look at how the Orioles' roster was built.
Player, how acquired, year:
Zach Britton, Draft, 2006 (3rd)
Wei-Yin Chen, Int'l sign, 2012
Kevin Gausman, Draft, 2012 (1st)
Caleb Joseph, Draft, 2008 (7th)
Nick Markakis, Draft, 2003 (1st)
Jonathan Schoop, Int'l sign, 2008
In recent years, the Orioles have become particularly adept at developing pitching. Britton and left-hander Brian Matusz matriculated in the Orioles farm system before eventually finding a home in the Major League bullpen. Left-hander Wei-Yin Chen joined the rotation in 2012 after coming to Baltimore from Taiwan.
This season, right-hander Kevin Gausman became the latest prize pupil to graduate to the Major Leagues. Two years after the Orioles selected Gausman out of LSU with the fourth overall pick of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, the 23-year old has developed into a key member of the staff.
"Director of player development Brian Graham and director of pitching development Rick Peterson, they do a good job," Duquette said. "Our Major League staff does a good job with player development, too. I think you have to have a culture of good player development throughout the organization."
The strength of the farm system helped the Orioles weather some of the losses their lineup experienced this year. Joseph came up from Triple-A Norfolk when Wieters was hurt, giving the team an internal replacement at the critical position.
Player, year, acquired from:
Brad Brach, 2013, Padres
Alejandro De Aza, 2014, White Sox
J.J. Hardy, 2010, Twins
Nick Hundley, 2014, Padres
Tommy Hunter, 2011, Rangers
Kelly Johnson, 2014, Red Sox
Adam Jones, 2008, Mariners
David Lough, 2013, Royals
Andrew Miller, 2014, Red Sox
Bud Norris, 2013, Astros
Darren O'Day, 2011, Rangers*
Jimmy Paredes, 2014, Royals (for cash)
Steve Pearce, 2012*
Chris Tillman, 2008, Mariners
*Acquired via Waivers
While the Orioles have been able to find some internal solutions when necessary this year, Duquette has also been an active player on the trade market.
In addition to calling up Joseph when Weiters was sidelined, Duquette also went to work to find out what catchers might be available in a trade. He found the Padres might be willing to deal Nick Hundley. They quickly worked out a deal that sent Hundley to Baltimore in exchange for left-hander Troy Patton.
A pair of deals on Aug. 30 also served to strengthen Baltimore's bench. First, the Orioles sent a pair of Minor League pitchers to the White Sox in exchange for outfielder Alejandro De Aza. About an hour later, they dealt infielders Ivan De Jesus and Jemile Weeks to the Red Sox for infielders Kelly Johnson and Michael Almanzar. The Orioles had selected Almanzar in December's Rule 5 Draft, but returned him to the Red Sox in July.
Duquette said the Orioles are always looking at the trade market so they can be ready to strike should a need arise.
"We try to build our roster in the offseason and have some depth so most of the people we call up will come from Triple-A," Duquette said. "But sometimes, when you have injuries, you're forced to look outside the organization."
The O's have also made a couple of waiver claims that have paid dividends, plucking Darren O'Day in 2011 and Steve Pearce in 2012. O'Day had missed most of the 2011 season with a shoulder injury before being claimed from the Rangers, but he fully returned to form and has posted a 2.06 ERA and sub-1.00 WHIP in nearly 200 innings over three seasons in Baltimore's bullpen. And Pearce bounced around several teams before joining the Orioles in 2013 and becoming a key cog in Baltimore's lineup this season.
Nelson Cruz, 2014
Ryan Flaherty, 2011*
Miguel Gonzalez, 2012
Ubaldo Jimenez, 2014
Delmon Young, 2014
*Acquired via Rule 5 Draft
Cruz and Jimenez were established players by the time the Orioles signed them in February, but most of the club's free agent signings are a little more low profile. Flaherty was picked up during the 2011 Rule 5 Draft. Miguel Gonzalez hadn't pitched in the Major Leagues when the Orioles signed him in 2012.
Duquette said seeing players such as Gonzalez and Pearce play such key roles in the team's success is a tribute to the work of the Orioles' professional scouts.
"It's very gratifying to the guys that work for us," Duquette said. "Dave Engle and Bruce Kison, they do a nice job."