The man leading the Orioles says his team's fans would have hated Jose Bautista and are more drawn to players like Mark Trumbo.
Back in December, when the off-season hot stove was at its scalding peak, Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette was asked whether his team had any interest in bringing aboard slugging rightfielder Jose Bautista, then plying his wares in the free-agent market after several excellent seasons with the AL East-rival Blue Jays. Despite Baltimore's need for a corner outfielder, Duquette said no, and while he could have chosen any number of reasons why the O's weren't pursuing Bautista—his age (36), his injury history (checkered), his defense (poor), his contract demands (sky high despite all those previous factors), the draft pick compensation attached to him—he picked one that sounded just plain weird: Orioles fans don't like Bautista.
“That’s true,” Duquette told The Baltimore Sun on Wednesday morning. “That’s true. The agent called and I said, ‘Really? Jose is a villain in Baltimore and I’m not going to go tell our fans that we’re courting Jose Bautista for the Orioles because they’re not going to be happy.'”
Fast forward to Tuesday, when Duquette was asked again, this time by MLB.com's Mark Feinsand, about his feelings on Bautista and why Baltimore passed on his services. Duquette again went with the "Our fans hate him" line of reasoning, but he also added something a little curious in explaining what exactly it is he thinks Orioles fans do like.
Well that was an easy one; our fans just don't like Jose. We play those guys 25 times a year and he's the face of the Blue Jays. He's the villain in the play whenever we play the Blue Jays. I like our guys. Our guys are good. [Mark] Trumbo is like a working-class-type baseball player. If he was going to work every day on a construction site, you would understand that he brings that kind of work ethic every day. That's the kind of player that our fans identify with. We try to get gritty players that work hard every day and give their best effort every day. Our fans seem to like that and respond to it.
Leave aside the fact that, whatever Duquette says about Bautista being some kind of Baltimore-haunting bogeyman, the decision not to pursue was financially motivated, full stop. Duquette's Orioles have never been major players in free agency, and Bautista's camp was reportedly looking for a multi-year deal. It's also hard to imagine that even the most Bautista-hating Orioles fan would've held on to that anger for long if he had helped bring a World Series title to the city for the first time in 34 years; he probably would have gotten a statue of him 50 feet tall in the Inner Harbor.
Instead, let's focus on Duquette's thoughts on Trumbo, who was acquired from Seattle back in 2015, bashed an MLB-high 47 homers last season and signed a three-year deal with the Orioles after receiving a tepid response from other teams in free agency. Trumbo was a very good hitter for the Orioles last year, and it makes sense for Duquette to identify him as one of the guys who make his team good. But what about Trumbo suggests a "working-class-type baseball player?" What exactly makes him "gritty?" This isn't to suggest that Trumbo doesn't work hard at his craft, but while he is many things—large, powerful, strong—"gritty" isn't exactly a quality one associates with a man who is 6'4" and 225 pounds. It's more a word applied to the likes of David Eckstein and Dustin Pedroia and the Orioles' own J.J. Hardy—men of much smaller stature whose offensive approach is always described as "scrappy" and "hard-nosed" and "blue collar," who regularly are labeled as the emotional leaders of their teams, who we are told "make the most of their talent" and "aren't afraid to get their uniforms dirty" and whose "work ethic" is praised to the high heavens, just as Trumbo's is here by Duquette. That kind of player is the one that Orioles fans, according to Duquette, are drawn to.
It's interesting that Duquette picked Trumbo, whose entire Orioles career spans 159 games across a single season, as someone he thinks fans in Baltimore identify with instead of going with a player like Adam Jones, the All-Star centerfielder who has been with the team since 2009, is currently leading the charge for Team USA at the World Baseball Classic and is outspoken on matters of social justice, such as the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of the Baltimore Police and the protests that followed. Or that he'd choose Trumbo instead of Manny Machado, the homegrown superstar who is the face of the franchise and a perennial MVP contender and played like his hair was on fire for the Dominican Republic at the WBC. Or that he apparently thinks Orioles fans wouldn't have warmed up to Bautista, a brash and demonstrative player responsible for one of the biggest and best shows of emotion the game has ever seen.