Patient Duquette deserves some offseason patience from fans - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Dan Connolly

Patient Duquette deserves some offseason patience from fans

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

Whenever the Orioles make a move like they announced Tuesday – the re-signing of little-used right-hander Logan Ondrusek to a one-year, $650,000 deal with a $1.5 million option for 2018 – fans begin to grouse.

All four of the Orioles’ American League East division rivals have purchased at least one veteran free agent on a multi-year deal this offseason while the Orioles have made some waiver claims, inked some minor leaguers, selected two players in the Rule 5 draft and re-signed Ondrusek to a major-league deal when a minor one seemed more likely.

So, executive vice president Dan Duquette’s going to be a target of criticism right now. He is every year in November and December (and January and February, too).

Cue the “print the playoff tickets now” jokes. But, here’s the deal: The Orioles have printed those tickets more seasons than not with Duquette at the helm.

Strange but true. So, frankly, it’s premature to blast Duquette for the club’s early offseason inactivity. With this regime, you have to give it time and see what happens.

Duquette said this at last week’s winter meetings: “We work at building our team year-round. We’re trying to build our team so that we’re good in October. But we have to work at it on a year-round basis.”

I’ve been around plenty of GMs. No one takes that “year-round” mantra more seriously than Duquette. Eventually, you assume that the kick-back-and-wait mentality is going to backfire. That a Nelson Cruz or a Delmon Young or a Pedro Alvarez won’t be standing around with his hand out one February, and the Orioles’ roster will pay dearly for it.

For the most part, though, Duquette’s made the most of collapsing markets and players on the fringes while escalating the payroll to its highest perch in club history.

Sure, offseasons around here are frustrating to watch. Established players go elsewhere and the Orioles plod along, collecting shiny trinkets.

During those times, just keep telling yourself there’s a track record.

Duquette’s never had a losing season in Baltimore. He’s been in charge of three different teams in 15 seasons, and has had just one full year in which his club didn’t play .500 or better (1997 in Boston; the 1994 Red Sox were also under .500 in a strike-shortened year, but Duquette didn’t join them until just before spring training and the team he built that offseason, the Montreal Expos, was terrific).

That kind of consistency in different locales is pretty hard to do.

There have been busts in Duquette’s Baltimore tenure, for sure. Trading away Jake Arrieta, Josh Hader and Zach Davies and not getting to the playoffs in those years certainly hurts. The Travis Snider deal was a bust and the free-agent signings of Ubaldo Jimenez and Yovani Gallardo haven’t been worth the money. But there’s a flip side, too.

No one was excited about Hyun Soo Kim last winter; heck, even Duquette wanted him in the minors last March. But Kim emerged as one of the club’s best hitters in 2016. Alvarez was an afterthought last winter, and he provided solid production in 2016. And then there’s the Mark Trumbo deal with Seattle that barely made a blip nationally last December and may go down as one of the better trades in franchise history.

The point is: This is what happens with a Duquette-run club, especially one without an open checkbook. It’s nothing new. He’s going to keep making small moves. And the occasional calculated splash. Some will pay off, some won’t. Most won’t be talked about outside of the 410 area code.

Then, in October, we’ll stand back and evaluate all of those moves. Whether they were shrewd or completely irrelevant. There likely will be a mix of both.

We can evaluate the current transactions – or lack thereof — now, too. But I caution that.

As a GM, Duquette exhibits an abundance of patience with the market.

As fans of the team Duquette runs, it’s probably best to exhibit nearly as much patience with him as well. Or you’ll drive yourself crazy before April. Or October, for that matter.

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. 18-87-44-29

    December 14, 2016 at 10:00 am

    It’s all cream and peaches til late 2018…..when he & Uncle Buck follow MM & ZB out the door with nothing but a couple draft picks to show for it.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 14, 2016 at 10:13 am

      A case can surely be made for that. But don’t forget that may mean 7 years of potential winning after 14 years of losing. Something to be said for that, right?

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        December 15, 2016 at 6:56 am

        Right

  2. Bancells Moustache

    December 14, 2016 at 10:03 am

    It’s like we haven’t seen this movie before, Dan. Every year Duquette bides his time and finds bargain bin purchases, but once the hot stove season starts, everyone expects him to give nine figure deals to Cespedes, Fowler, Rich Hill and Ian Desmond all while extending Machado right after the World Series ends. As poet once said; what’s with these people man? Its lemonade. Read the sign. Lemonade. Delicious.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 14, 2016 at 10:13 am

      It’s on repeat. I have no idea what rabbit is jumping out of the hat in Feb. maybe none. But you almost expect it now.

    • Camden Bird

      December 14, 2016 at 7:55 pm

      I had to reply for no other reason than that you, sir, may have the best user name I have ever seen.

      (And the Ice-T reference was great, too.)

  3. pjclark4

    December 14, 2016 at 10:13 am

    Hi Dan,
    I hear what you are saying. It’s been fun to be a perennial winner again.
    The Duquette approach, combined with the core he inherited, has indeed brought us a better return than the previous 15 years before he arrived. That is fact.
    For some reason though, this offseason feels different for me. The spark isn’t there. Maybe it’s just me. I’m older, my kids are getting older, and life is leaving me less time to analyze every O’s move in peace.
    But what if it isn’t just me? What if the fan base overall isn’t happy with a team built to simply reach the postseason anymore? What if the same old approach at the plate isn’t as fun to watch? Year after year, a quarter of ABs will end in a K, we refuse to manufacture runs, and the OBP is nearer the bottom than the top. And year after year, we end up with guys on the roster who fit that same mold.
    The Kim signing was a step in the right direction, and catching lightening in a bottle with a Rule 5 guy is a real possibility. It happens and it is fun to root for those kids, but to rely on the same technique every year seem to get us roughly the same team every year, and it isn’t a team built for a World Series run.

    I think that’s where I’ve lost a little bit of interest this winter. I’ll be right there come April. I’ll go to games, and I’ll watch or listen to most of every one, but I’d love for DD to do something for me to actually be excited about.

    Honestly, I don’t really care what the rest of the AL East is doing. The huge contracts in the winter rarely pan out. I’m not asking for them to make the sexy splash, I just want to see some sort of sign that they realize that an offense that relies almost exclusively on the long ball isn’t one that is built for a true October run. Trumbo had a career year, but let the man walk. He hit .214 in the second half. HRs are great, but I’d give the last beer in my fridge to swap him for a legit leadoff hitter. Not that there is ever only one beer in my fridge, but hypothetically.

    I don’t mind the DD wait and see approach, I just don’t want it to lead to the same old roster we’ve had. It keeps us competitive, but it’d be hard to argue it’s ever been truly built for a WS, in my opinion. You need to manufacture. You need to put pressure on the whole opposing team, not just the opposing pitcher.

    My O’s mojo is missing, Dan. Could also be that I think Buck lost some of his shine, not only with the fans, but with his players after that debacle in Toronto. How does one restore blind faith in a leader after that fail?

    I’ve said too much, but this feels like a safe place.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 14, 2016 at 10:20 am

      Def a safe place PJ. Love well-thought-out responses. Keep them coming. As for your reasonings, I do believe a next step has to be taken to diversify the lineup. The formula has gotten stale — and proved ineffective in the postseason. That’s his challenge this winter. And he may fail in that. But I don’t expect him to punt. The guy has a plan, though I don’t always follow it.

    • Steve Cockey

      December 14, 2016 at 10:58 am

      PJ – Excellent response here, and this echoes a lot of the feelings that I have as well. Has Duquette produced better results than the previous 14 years? Absolutely. Is 3/5 playoff berths a hell of a lot more fun than the alternative? Absolutely.

      But, sooner or later, 6 playoff wins spread across 5 years isn’t good enough either. Isn’t the goal here a deep playoff run that results in the team’s first World Championship in 33 years? It should be, and this organization simply doesn’t operate in a way that says they’re “all in” to win a championship. And that’s frustrating to a lot of fans, myself included. Couple that with a refusal by ownership and/or management to maximize Machado’s and Britton’s value by trading them now and re-stocking for the future, and there’s certainly a feeling among many (if not most) fans that while another year or two of competitive-but-not-championship play is possible, the next dark period for the franchise could be less than two years away.

      At Buck Showalter’s introductory press conference, I’ll never forget a line he gave about the organization’s strategy for the future. He mentioned that they needed to build a solid core of players first, and were waiting for the moment that they could say “NOW,” when it was the right moment — with enough core pieces in place — to aggressively add from outside the organization. It was the essentially the old “sleeping giant” mantra that we’d heard so many times over the years about the franchise.

      In some ways, the giant has awoken. They’ve been relevant again for 5 consecutive seasons, which is saying something. But, at the same time, that “NOW” moment never came. The core has been in place these last five years, and while the payroll has risen substantially, the organization has never aggressively added to supplement it. To put the team over the top. To go “all in” for winning a championship. And that’s beyond frustrating for die hard fans like me.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 14, 2016 at 12:38 pm

      I don’t disagree with Steve. But I hear this a lot. And often the Nationals and their all-in mentality is used as an example. And they’ve won one fewer playoff game than the Orioles in the past five years. All-in mentality is great — if it works. For the record, the Orioles did re-add Davis, O’Day and Wieters, and Trumbo, Kim, Alvarez and Gallardo last winter. Everyone wants big names, but that doesn’t always get you to the playoffs, either.

      • Steve Cockey

        December 14, 2016 at 2:38 pm

        Completely agree. O’s have spent money, namely to keep some of their own like Jones, O’Day and Davis. And big names/dollars aren’t the be-all, end-all. But there needs to be a middle ground, too. Following up playoff berths that fell short with McLouth and Alexi Casilla (after 2012) and Snider/Young/Wright to “replace” Cruz/Miller/Markakis (after 2014) simply doesn’t cut it. Right or wrong, it sends the message that simply making the playoffs is good enough.

    • Camden Bird

      December 14, 2016 at 8:02 pm

      PJ, that was a great post. And I agree 100% with your evaluation of the team and Duquette. I still have my O’s mojo and I still trust Buck as much as ever. But Duquette seems to do the same things every offseason, and it usually ends the same way: with a team not up to par with TRUE World Series contenders. I would love for Dan to be more involved in the draft and building up our minor league system instead of trading away our draft picks every year for guys like Gallardo and other flops.

  4. tater tots

    December 14, 2016 at 11:12 am

    Everyone on planet Baltimore can see that the Orioles won’t be able to afford Britton and Machado. For Britton especially – why wouldn’t we at least entertain moving him to build and extend the core pay 2018? Will DD and Buck get extended themselves past 2018 or are they going all-in now and we’re going to be left with a reclamation project afterwards? Results have been good, but fail to see longer term vision being acted on…

    • Dan Connolly

      December 14, 2016 at 12:39 pm

      I agree on longer-term vision. This would be a time to reload and not rebuild. And one way to do that is dealing Britton, as much as it will sting.

      • Camden Bird

        December 14, 2016 at 8:17 pm

        Dan, I’ve been saying the same thing (as some others have, too.) In response, a lot of fans have used profanity-laced rebuttals and questioning my sanity about dealing our best pitcher when that is arguably our biggest need. And while I can understand their argument, to be honest, I think they’re looking at things only in the here and now and as a fan rather than what is the wiser baseball move to help this team long-term. Trading Britton will certainly sting, but based on the huge paydays and hauls other teams have given up for lesser quality relievers than Britton, you have to think that the O’s can get a king’s ransom for him.

        And as much as I would be heart-broken to lose Machado, if things are looking more and more certain that there’s no way we can re-sign him (think Alex Rodriguez when he left Seattle), then we should get yet another handsome return for him as well.

        With two big returns for Britton and Machado, that could replenish life in a minor league system that has been lacking largely since the mid-late ’90s.

        And while prospects are never a guarantee, who knows? Maybe the next superstar or two could be in those two big hauls if necessary. Fans don’t like it from a fan perspective (myself included), and we like immediate results and the here and now. But for a team to be perennial World Series contenders, you need to look long-term, build through the draft, have a strong minor league system, and make the occasional big free agent signing to help get your team over the hump. Just look at St. Louis and Boston.

  5. Eldersburg Enigma

    December 14, 2016 at 11:25 pm

    PJ’s comments were the ones most closely matching my sentiments this offseason. Look at the White Sox; they finally stopped trying to sign the extra piece to put them over the top (Frazier, Melky, and Robertson in recent seasons) and instead started building a young core. The O’s window is quickly closing–either go all-in for the short term, or start the rebuilding earlier. Because otherwise, two short years from now–and conceivably as early as the 2018 season–the wheels might come off.

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