One area in which Duquette has tried to gain an advantage involves draft picks. The Orioles have not been shy about signing qualifying offer players, which means they're tied to draft pick compensation and their asking prices could be discounted. They've also traded competitive balance draft picks multiple times in order to shed salary during the season that could be used to add another player.
The Orioles' front office, or maybe mostly Duquette, must believe treating draft picks this way gives them some type of edge, and maybe it has. This strategy is frustrating and easy to mock, but even if it's only helped the team marginally, the overall results are still there. The Orioles haven't had a losing season since 2011, and they have compiled the best record in the American League since 2012.
That brings us to the ongoing Mark Trumbo saga. The Orioles seem to still want Trumbo back, but only at a certain cost. As Ken Rosenthal reported last week, Trumbo may be inclined to accept a three-year deal now, despite previously seeking at least four years. That "would at least appear to create room for negotiation," whatever that actually means.
On top of that, Duquette is doing his best to convince Trumbo, Trumbo's representation, and anyone else who will listen that, hey, the draft pick compensation matters in this case. In a recent interview, Duquette said that "as far as the Orioles go, we kind of like the value of that draft pick that’s been enhanced with the negotiation from the new collective bargaining agreement. In other words, it’s about the last time that you can acquire that level of pick for a compensation draft pick."
If you want to take Duquette's comments at face value, that's up to you. It's usually a better idea, however, to judge actions instead of words. And, again, the Orioles have not been shy about giving up draft picks if they think it will be beneficial.
Instances of the Orioles sacrificing MLB Draft picks under Duquette:
- July 2013: Acquired Bud Norris and an international bonus slot for L.J. Hoes, Josh Hader, and a competitive balance pick (ended up being 37th pick)
- Feb. 2014: Signed Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz (lost picks No. 17 and No. 55)
- April 2015: Traded Ryan Webb, Brian Ward, and a competitive balance pick (ended up being 74th pick) to Dodgers for Ben Rowen and Chris O'Brien
- Feb. 2016: Signed Yovani Gallardo (lost pick No. 14)
- May 2016: Traded Brian Matusz and a competitive balance pick (ended up being 74th pick) to the Braves for Brandon Barker and Trevor Belicek
So here's the final tally of gained and lost picks:
Extra draft picks: Nos. 27 and 36
Forfeited/traded draft picks: Nos. 14, 17, 37, 55, 74, 74
Maybe you don't mind the Orioles missing some of those later picks. It depends how you view the MLB Draft. I look at it as a glorified lottery, meaning every extra pick gets you a little bit closer to potentially landing a talented player. Still, the O's have tried to use both the qualifying offer and competitive balance pick systems to their advantage, however minuscule it may be.
It's always nice to have an extra draft pick, but the Orioles have also assembled a win-now roster. The future is uncertain; several key players will likely be departing in the next few years. Is this really the time to start worrying about draft picks, just because the pick compensation system will be changing?
The win-now state of the roster is also why it's frustrating that the Orioles didn't make a serious run at Edwin Encarnacion. Trumbo is apparently seeking something in the three-year, $40-$50 million range. Encarnacion signed with the Indians for three years and $60 million (with a club option in 2021). Both players are 1B/DH types, and Trumbo is a few years younger than Encarnacion. Encarnacion, though, is the much better hitter.
Encarnacion's wRC+ of 134 last year was his lowest in the past five seasons. In 2016, arguably the best offensive season of Trumbo's career, he posted a wRC+ of 123 (he also had a 124 wRC+ in 2012). Even at his absolute best, Trumbo falls short of Encarnacion by a decent margin.The difference in career wOBA between Edwin Encarnacion (.365) and Mark Trumbo (.332) is about the same as Trumbo and Julio Borbon (.298).— Matt Kremnitzer (@mattkremnitzer) December 23, 2016
If the Orioles didn't want to spend on Encarnacion and don't want to risk disrupting the clubhouse (and fanbase?) with a Jose Bautista signing, moving on from Trumbo still makes sense in ways that have nothing to do with a draft pick (though that's an added bonus). Chris Carter brings similar skills to the table for less money. A Pedro Alvarez reunion at DH, possibly paired with Trey Mancini, would be cost effective. And while the roster is getting rather full with outfield options, there's still a chance the team can add an actual decent defensive outfielder (even if it's Michael Bourn).
The Orioles are playing hardball with Trumbo. It's not wise for them to bid against themselves, so don't think the draft pick is any significant motivation. It hasn't been before, and the O's are doing what they can to maximize the performance of the major league roster. That's what they've done, and it's worked, even if some of the moves have been misguided. Don't go and start taking Duquette's word on things now.
Stats via FanGraphs. Transaction and contract info via MLB Trade Rumors and Cot's.