On November 8, 2011 Dan Duquette took over as Baltimore Orioles general manager (or if you prefer, Executive Vice-President of Baseball Operations). In 2012, Duquette immediately experienced success with a team that had very few players that he had brought here. The core of this team was brought together by Andy MacPhail.
Say what you want about MacPhail, certainly Baltimore fans didn’t understand what they had when he was here. The current core Orioles players (not to mention all-stars) were brought here by MacPhail and mostly through genius trades. Chris Davis, Tommy Hunter, Chris Tillman, Adam Jones, and J.J. Hardy all were brought into the Orioles organization by MacPhail via trades. Combine these trades with the drafting of Manny Machado and it adds up to a pretty good resume. Of course not everything MacPhail did turned to gold; his “grow the arms, buy the bats” maxim never really played out and much has been made about his inability to draft and grow arms. And then there was the whole “buy the bats” thing… well they did “buy” Vladimir Guerrero and he did swing a “bat”. Okay, so not everything MacPhail tried worked. However, he definitely left his mark on this team, and overall it was a very positive mark setting the foundation for Orioles success in the future.
The future for the Orioles is now, and Duquette has the responsibility to make his own mark on the Orioles building on the foundation MacPhail has left him. A lot of what Duquette talked about when he was hired was improving all areas of the Orioles organization including player development, scouting, organizational depth and a lot of other behind the scenes aspects of the organization. Of course the problem with behind the scenes moves are they’re behind the scenes and often go unnoticed and unappreciated. Two of the more valuable pieces that Duquette brought to the ball club, Miguel Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen are testaments to the Orioles international scouting (Henry Urrutia may also turn out to be a valuable international signing).
It’s still too early to critique Duquette’s efforts in areas like scouting, player development and organizational depth. (If by organization depth Duquette meant filling up AAA with a bunch of AAAA veterans than he’s been wildly successful in this area!) Of course, we did not bring Duquette in just to improve player development (isn’t there a head of player development whose job it is to improve player development?) Duquette’s primary job is to put players on the diamond that can help the Orioles compete for a World Series, and on that front he has thus far been inadequate.
Duquette has tried to improve via trade but none of his trades (with the exception of Bud Norris where we’ll have to wait and see) has helped the Orioles make a significant push for the World Series. What, you thought Scott Feldman or Mike Morse would lead us through the playoffs? Many of his signings reek of having no definite plan to get better but instead just sign as many border line major leaguers as possible and hope you get lucky.
Speaking of getting lucky on washed out veterans… Arguably Duquette’s best move was the signing of Nate McLouth. Nate McLouth was struggling in the minors and after being cut by the Pittsburg Pirates the Orioles signed him. McLouth, appreciative for a chance to get consistent playing time, thrived in his role with the Orioles. Ironically (no, that’s not quite the right word… ‘foolishly’ would probably be a better word choice) Duquette let one of his most significant signings walk without so much as offering him a contract.
The recent signing of Grant Balfour certainly makes us a better team, but it also is merely filling a hole which Duquette created himself this offseason with the trading of Jim Johnson. But I do concede, with the signings of Ryan Webb and Balfour our bullpen has gotten better. But again, let’s not lose sight of the goal: World Series. It’s very helpful to improve your bullpen but Duquette still needs to address LF, DH, positional depth and starting pitching. This list of needs makes it seem like the Orioles are very far off, but I don’t think they are. Again, just a couple of the right players and the Orioles become serious contenders in the AL East.
Here’s the point, MacPhail never signed any major free agents, but the Orioles were in rebuilding mode when he was here. MacPhail managed to leave his fingerprints on this ball club through his trades as he got rid of veterans for young players with high upside. MacPhail was a great GM to have for that point in Orioles history. However, times have changed. Now is not the time to be trading veterans for young players with high upside. Now is the time to sign that player or two that could get this team over the hump. Now is the time for Duquette to leave his mark.