Put Away the Pitchforks! Dan Duquette Deserves Another Shot

two men flexing arms one wearing cape and mask

The buzz around the Orioles as they wind down this disappointing season is that there is tension in the Warehouse and many fans expect and hope that Peter Angelos will fire Dan Duquette at season’s end. Fans are angry with Duquette over the past offseason, but as I wrote back in February, it is the Toronto Blue Jays, the now eventual winners of the AL East (ugh), that are ultimately to blame for torpedoing the offseason and with it the 2015 season, not Duquette. I would think it would be pretty hard to negotiate with players and agents when there seems to be a cloud of uncertainty hanging over your head and the owner doesn’t seem to trust you any longer. I didn’t know that all in February when I wrote that article, but it is clear as day where Orioles fans should be directing their anger. Had Rogers never approached Duquette without going to Angelos first, I can only imagine how different the situation would be right now with the Orioles.

Unfortunately, what Duquette was able to acquire didn’t pan out for 2015 like it has for him in the past, but let’s not forget why also Dan Duquette was originally hired by Peter Angelos and what he has proven over and over again – he can win on a budget. Orioles fans expect Brady Anderson, Buck Showalter or some other replacement GM to suddenly be able to do that, but it is Duquette and the way he has assembled competitive and winning teams in Boston and Baltimore that has made the Orioles so successful until this season.  Let’s take a look at Duquette’s tenures in Boston and Baltimore to see exactly how he has built those teams:

dan duquette

Good Scouting or “Dumpster Diving”

Dan Duquette’s biggest strength has been shown when it comes to looking for and finding low cost talent under every rock. Fans may call it “dumpster-diving” but they can’t deny what he was able to get out of those players in Boston and what similar players have produced in Baltimore.

Looking back at his tenure with the Red Sox, they were able to get seven years of an average OPS+ of 100 out of Troy O’Leary – originally a waiver claim from the Milwaukee Brewers, five years out of Reggie Jefferson averaging a 112 OPS+, four years out of Brian Daubach with an average OPS+ of 110 and probably his best low cost signing. Tim Wakefield, who went 16-8 with his new knuckleball pitch in 1995 as the staff ace to help the Red Sox win the AL East and went on to have a 17-year career with the Red Sox helping them to multiple playoff appearances and two World Series championships. None of these players were considered premium talent when they were acquired by Duquette, but together they helped the team win at a lower cost so the Red Sox could allocate resources for premium players like Pedro Martinez.

For the Orioles, Duquette and his staff brought in players like Nate McLouth, Steve Pearce, Joe Saunders, Danny Valencia, Jason Hammel, Miguel Gonzalez and even Alejandro De Aza, all low-cost players who had poor seasons previously with other clubs and suddenly flourished when they came to Baltimore.   Granted most of these players have not had sustained success with the Orioles like some of the players did in Boston, but they were good enough to get the team into the playoffs two out of the past four years, somewhere the Orioles hadn’t been in the past 14 years.

Should Dan Duquette return as Orioles GM?

 

Free Agency

Dan Duquette’s record in free agency is also much better than his predecessors. Wei-Yin Chen proved to be a bargain and Nelson Cruz was the best free agent signing of the 2013-2014 offseason. Sure the jury is still out on the Jimenez contract, but there’s doesn’t seem to be terrible waste of free agent money like there was under Andy MacPhail with a Garrett Atkins, Kevin Gregg or Derrek Lee – players that just took the Orioles money because nobody else wanted them and had terrible seasons in return.

There was no need to sign those type of players because of the more inexpensive players Duquette was able to get production from on the roster. It’s true Duquette has never really struck it big in free agency with the Orioles, but looking at the rebound Jimenez has had this season, he really hasn’t missed badly.

 

Rule 5 Draft

Duquette actually started his success with Rule 5 picks in Boston when he took Orioles minor leaguer Vaughn Eshelman in the 1994 Rule 5 draft.   Eshelman went 6-3 with an ERA+ of 101 in 1995, and helped the Red Sox win the AL East.   He was terrible after that, but he helped get the Red Sox to their goal for that one year for next to nothing in salary.

For the Orioles, Dan Duquette has also used the Rule 5 draft to pick up roster depth such as Ryan Flaherty, T.J. McFarland and now Jason Garcia with each player contributing to the Orioles. The days of wasted picks like Jose Morban or Jose Bautista seem long gone.

 

Roster Maniuplation

Another huge reason for the Orioles’ success is the way Duquette has creatively manipulated the 40-man roster. It hasn’t always been great for the players, but Duquette has been willing to option anybody who had an option to a low level team like the GCL Orioles to keep from having to release important roster depth such as a McLouth or Steve Pearce. No other GM the Orioles have had under Angelos has had that ability to think creatively.

 

Trades

Duquette’s perceived weakness has been his trading ability, and while he has used many members of the Orioles’ farm system to procure talent, and hasn’t really come up with any “steals” like MacPhail did, on the other hand his trades never really set the organization back when you actually look at what the Orioles traded at the time and a few did help the Orioles win in 2012 and 2014.   He struck gold in the Jason Hammel for Jeremy Guthrie trade and also wound up doing better than he gets credit for in the Bud Norris deal. Fans forget that Bud Norris went 15-8 with a 3.65 ERA and beat the Tigers in the playoffs in 2014. Norris faded in 2015, but that’s the gamble the Orioles took. There’s a price to be paid by teams that want to win and Duquette paid the price. The player or players acquired don’t always work out to be a long-term solution for your franchise, but if they can get you to the playoffs and a good shot at the World Series, then isn’t it worth it?

The Jake Arrieta trade is always going to be looked at as a poor deal given his success with the Cubs, but the fact is Arrieta had no future as a starter in Baltimore because the team couldn’t develop him properly. He was forced to change mechanics multiple times before Duquette got there and he had lost his confidence. You can argue Duquette should have traded him earlier though as he did have more value in 2012 instead of 2013, but the Orioles wanted to give him one last shot as a starter. It didn’t work and they needed to stabilize their rotation, so they shipped him off for Scott Feldman and the rest is unfortunate history.

Fans also lament the Andrew Miller deal, but Miller pretty much stifled the Tigers’ offense in the ALDS single-handedly. He would have also been a difference maker had the Orioles got to the World Series in 2014. Eduardo Rodriguez was scuffling in AA Bowie at the time with a 4.79 ERA and like Arrieta, he looked to have the future of a reliever if he were to get to Baltimore. The trade made sense at the time and still makes sense. Also signing Miller to the contract he got afterwards from the Yankees would have been a poor allocation of resources considering all of the holes the Orioles were going to have to fill after the 2015 season.  Not that it is a definite to happen, but could you imagine not having the extra $9 million this offseason to help re-sign Chris Davis and have Miller instead?   What good would Miller have been this season and in future seasons if there was no offense to support the starters to get to him with a lead in the first place?

Looking at the other side of trading, let’s not forget also that Dan Duquette was able to turn Heathcliff Slocumb into Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe in the losing season of 1997 for the Red Sox, so he can make trades to re-build a team as well should the Orioles take that route eventually.

 

Amateur Draft

Drafts under Dan Duquette in Boston gave the Red Sox key components of the 2004 and 2007 World Series Championship teams. It’s true the 1st-round selections under his watch didn’t pan out that well, but the Red Sox were able to get Carl Pavano in the 13th round of the 1994 draft when they also picked up Nomar Garciaparra in the 1st round, and Duquette used Pavano as part of the deal to trade for Pedro Martinez after the 1997 season. Kevin Youkilis and Jon Lester were drafted in 2001 and 2002 respectively, so in spite of the first round misses, he did bring in some premium young talent and used a lower round pick to bring in one of the greatest pitchers in MLB history.

Unlike under previous GMs, the Orioles have only had only one top-10 picks to use during Duquette’s tenure and they used it on Kevin Gausman in 2012. In 2013, they selected Hunter Harvey 22nd overall. In 2014 they didn’t have a 1st round pick because they signed Ubaldo Jimenez. In 2015, the Orioles used their 25th pick on D.J. Stewart, who struggled in his first professional season. Harvey has also struggled with arm problems for the past two seasons, but the talent is there when he’s healthy.

As for lower round picks, Chance Sisco was drafted in the 2nd round in 2013 and he looks like a future catcher for the team. Trey Mancini, who is an interesting bat to watch, was drafted in the 8th round of 2013.

Overall if you look at drafts under Duquette, there have been misses in the first round, but when there have been hits, they are potential franchise players. I’d expect that trend to continue given what he’s done in Baltimore thus far. The draft really is a crapshoot, so it shouldn’t be a surprise.

 

The 2014-2015 Offseason

Duquette’s biggest weakness has been his propensity for not wanting to change a winning roster as he did little after the Orioles’ 2012 Wild Card win before 2013 just like with the Red Sox in 1995 before 1996, and just like that Red Sox team the Orioles missed the playoffs. However, I won’t put the lack of impact moves on him after the Orioles AL East Championship season of 2014 too much because Toronto really scuttled any chance he had to do anything due to the tampering that clearly occurred.  Peter Angelos didn’t really trust him after that, and other teams and agents knew it, which likely made deals harder to get done. He does have to take some responsibility though, as he figured that the losses of Markakis and Cruz could be replaced with a combination of internal talent and some “dumpster-diving” finds, but those players did not perform to the level of expectations this season.

Ultimately the decisions to not re-sign Markakis and Cruz will prove to be wise in the long term, but their replacements needed to be better and more additions should have been made to change the offensive makeup of the club before the season started. Acquiring Gerardo Parra was a desperation move but fortunately it was only a short term deal. Justin Upton or Andre Ethier would have been much better fits for what the Orioles needed, but the Orioles couldn’t get a deal for either done.

As I mentioned, Duquette made a similar gamble to keep a winning roster intact in Boston after their 1995 AL East victory and the Red Sox wound up losing ground in 1996 to the team that did the most that offseason – the Baltimore Orioles. In 1997 they wound up finishing in 4th place in the AL East and we all know what happened during that offseason.

 

Looking Forward

Given the way the Orioles have performed in 2015, not wanting to improve the roster shouldn’t be an issue as long as Duquette can have the full trust of Angelos again. There’s a lot of work to be done this offseason but I have faith that Duquette can re-tool this roster as he did in Boston after their disappointing 1997 season. Like in Boston he should have learned his lesson and will hopefully allocate more resources toward proven options. Duquette has proven he can make a flurry of roster moves when needed, and the Orioles will need a flurry this offseason.

The one piece that has been missing from Duquette’s tenures in Montreal and Boston has been the lack of players that have a good approach at the plate and get on base. The problem is in spite of Duquette’s rhetoric about on base percentage, the organization doesn’t seem to value this, and Buck Showalter especially doesn’t seem to put any extra value on these players, seemingly preferring better defense with a free swinging offense instead of a well-rounded offense. I hope after this season, Showalter and Duquette will finally be on the same page about the importance of players that have a plan at the plate and aren’t as aggressive so that the offense can finally be more consistent. Keeping Chris Davis would be a great start, as he’s one of the most patient and consistent hitters in terms of plate approach that the Orioles have without even looking at his production.

As for the pitching staff, I have confidence Duquette can right the ship as he did in Boston after 1997. There doesn’t seem to be a Pedro Martinez to trade for out there, but there’s going to be enough pitching available so that the Orioles should be able to get some proven talent into the organization. He’s already built multiple successful bullpens so I’m not worried about that at all. Duquette seems to have a real knack for finding good low cost bullpen arms, and knows for the most part when to jettison those arms and that has really helped the organization with resource allocation. The Jim Johnson trade would have never happened under previous GMs given his back-to-back 50-save seasons, but doing that freed up payroll to sign Nelson Cruz in 2014. With Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter, I think he over-estimated the trade market for their services, but one of those players is now gone and I think you’ll see Matusz depart this offseason via a non-tender.

Fans need to realize that Peter Angelos will not allocate vast increases to this payroll, and any GM that is employed under him will have to manage their resources accordingly. Given the number of players that are needed to make up a major league team and the depth that that team needs to have to be successful, the Orioles simply can’t spend $100-125 million dollars on four or five players because they have to spend it on the entire roster. Because of this limitation, “dumpster-diving” or “good scouting” as Duquette calls it – is how the Orioles are going to acquire the inexpensive talent needed to fill their roster.   As I’ve shown, Dan Duquette is one of the best, if not the best GMs in MLB at finding low cost talent that he can get premium or at the very least league average performance from. Therefore it makes absolutely no sense to fire him.

He has done the one thing no GM under Peter Angelos could do since Pat Gillick – he’s won in spite of the Orioles’ poor development from their farm system instead of depending on it and he also hasn’t drained the farm system completely with the trades he has made. To fix the farm system to the point where it can be depended on as a major source of talent for the Orioles will require new ownership and that isn’t happening any time soon.

Like it or not Dan Duquette, because of his skillset and the people around him, is the best fit for the Baltimore Orioles under the ownership of Peter Angelos and he deserves another shot to prove it this offseason.

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