A Conversation with Dan Duqeutte
It’s completely fine with the Baltimore Orioles if national pundits and soothsayers again pick them to finish close to the bottom of the always competitive American League East.
They believed this time last season they were much better than the 100-loss aggregation most predicted, and they took that quiet confidence into a season that eventuated in a shocking 93-win campaign followed by a playoff victory against the defending AL champ Texas Rangers. The feeling is the same this spring, maybe more so. So go ahead and hate on their supposedly weak pitching staff, and say they can’t repeat the incredible extra inning (16-2) and one-run victory success (29-9) of last year. They believe in their leaders, manager Buck Showalter and Executive VP of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette, and armed with last year’s confidence, they believe in each other.
Like any front office executive, Duquette would love to have five horses who each go to the post for 200 innings. But other than a handful of teams such as Tampa Bay, Washington, San Francisco and Philadelphia, who does? What people don’t realize is that the club that finished last season, and had the best run differential and winning percentage in baseball from August 1 on, is a much better club than what ran on the field last April. When Duquette acquired left fielder Nate McLouth in late July and soon after brought up 20-year-old Manny Machado from Double A to shore up third base, they joined gold glovers Adam Jones in center, catcher Matt Wieters and shortstop JJ Hardy, not to mention Nick Markakis in right, who plays at a gold glove level, to form a top notch defense.
Duquette and Showalter have figured it out. They see how the game, particularly pitching, has changed and they’ve adjusted accordingly. Okay, so Jason Hammel, Wie Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzales, Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman may not scare many teams, nor remind them of the 1971 Orioles, who featured four 20-game winners. But in lieu of blowing the budget for one free agent pitcher, when any arm injury makes you question the investment, Duquette continues to find buried treasures by combing the international market, Rule 5 draft and even Indy ball to beef up organizational depth. It worked for him in Boston and it worked in his first year in Baltimore, as 12 different pitchers started multiple games for the Birds. That’s not how Duquette planned it, but by having depth throughout the system he was able to give Showalter a fighting chance, and the lights out bullpen usually finished the job,.
The club also featured reclamation projects such as McLouth, a former all-star who washed out in Pittsburgh and Atlanta, and Lew Ford, who after spending nearly five seasons with Minnesota had been out of the majors since 2007. Ford, 35 when he was called up last July, typified the entire Orioles season, a long shot Rocky no one believed in. But Ford never gave up on himself, and when Baltimore purchased his contract from the Independent League Long Island Ducks last May to play at Triple A Norfolk, miracles were about to happen for Ford and the Orioles.
The reserved Ford became emotional this spring when recalling his improbable comeback. For just one year prior to facing CC Sabathia in the playoffs last October, he was playing for Long Island in their playoffs not far from Yankee Stadium.
“I didn’t even start some of those games,” Ford said, shaking his head. “It was just down the road, really. But the journey within a year was crazy … but so much farther away.”
Ford had a tremendous spring, hitting over .400. However, the competition for the fifth outfield spot was fierce and he was cut late in camp. He started the season at Bowie and is serving as part of the Orioles growing depth throughout their farm system. Knowing how Duquette and Showalter don’t hesitate to call up players at a moment’s notice, don’t be surprised if Ford gets to wear a major league uniform again this summer.
So you may not give the Orioles a chance this season. Last year was an aberration, you say, after 15 consecutive losing seasons. But if you take a step back and look at the whole picture, who’s running the club from the executive offices, who’s pulling those masterful bullpen strings from the dugout, the players you don’t know but never stop hustling until the last out, you’ll get it. This is a proud franchise, and this group of players is winning back its fan base. The Orioles may not win the AL East or even make the playoffs this year, but the clubhouse culture has changed. And that means everything when it comes to competing.
|DAN DUQUETTE, GM, Baltimore Orioles ~ March 2013, Sarasota FL from Larry Richards on Vimeo.|
|Joel Poiley is co-producer along with Larry Richards for Minor League: The Road to the Show, a proposed television and multi-platform show that details the path minor leaguers take on their journey to the big leagues.|