The next 36 hours in Birdland should be fascinating.
Because this snapshot of time should provide us a significant glimpse as to what direction this Orioles’ franchise is heading and who is steering it.
If most organizations were in this predicament, today would be the perfect time – an offday after a pathetic stretch — to fire someone.
The Orioles, as you know, though, are not most organizations.
They don’t do anything conventionally. Sometimes that’s admirable. Many times, it’s akin to pulling the fire alarm after most of the building is reduced to ashes.
This season is rubble – and it’s May 7.
The Orioles (8-26) have played 21 percent of their schedule and are already an unfathomable 17 games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox. Want some context? Last year, the Orioles finished in last place in the American League East and were only 18 games behind the division-winning Red Sox at season’s end.
These Orioles have lost six in a row, 12 of 14, and 19 of 23, and are tied with the Cincinnati Reds for the worst record in baseball.
The Orioles are winless in their last 12 road games, and return from a West Coast trip in which they were outscored 35-17 in six contests.
That kind of craptitude often gets the manager fired. It did in June 2010, when the Orioles were a majors’ worst 15-39 and were coming off an 0-6 road trip in which they were outscored 34-8 in six games.
It won’t get the Orioles’ manager fired this year. I’d be floored if it did.
Buck Showalter doesn’t have a contract for 2019, and so, technically, he’s lame-duck and vulnerable. But the sense within the organization is Showalter’s contract status is a formality. He’ll be back in the dugout in 2019 if he wants to be back – and he has said publicly he does.
In June 2010, Dave Trembley didn’t have the same juice. That 0-6 road trip to Toronto and New York got Trembley canned, and replaced with interim Juan Samuel, who ultimately was removed that August for Showalter.
You know the rest of this story. Showalter changed the culture in the clubhouse, and the Orioles went 34-23 for the remainder of 2010. After a down season in 2011, Showalter helped break the club’s string of 14 losing seasons in 2012, the first of three playoff runs in five seasons.
Showalter, known as a tireless worker and adept tactician, is second all-time in Orioles history in length of managerial tenure and wins, behind only Hall-of-Famer Earl Weaver. He’s in his ninth season with the club, by far the longest stay with any of the four teams he has skippered. In a word, he’s been great for this franchise.
Still, you can make the argument that his message is stale and the shine is off. That the 61-year-old no longer holds the same respect or gets the same response out of his players as he did in, say, 2012 or 2014. You can also make the argument that those teams were hungrier, with players in their primes, and this group is older, stagnant, less-talented and basically unreachable by anyone.
No matter which side of the coin you are on, Showalter has cachet in the organization. That coin won’t be tossed away frivolously.
That brings us to executive vice president Dan Duquette, whose contract is also up at the end of the season. He joined the organization before the turnaround, 2012 season and he deserves plenty of credit for the club’s successes, too.
In his role as GM, though, he’s considered the roster architect. And this roster is a three-legged table. It lacks defense, speed, on-base capabilities, high-end pitchers and capable utility types. It’s littered with players who are in current roles that are more conducive to failure than achievement.
Because it is highly unlikely that Duquette will be retained for 2019 – almost assuredly not in his current role – making him the ceremonial lamb right now has to be a consideration. That’s particularly reasonable since what happens with the roster at the July nonwaiver trade deadline will shape the future of this organization, and having it shaped by someone who won’t be retained seems counterproductive.
All that considered, Duquette’s not the culprit, either. He is an architect of this roster – but not the architect. The Orioles’ plan is blueprint-by-committee, with Duquette, Showalter, vice president Brady Anderson, majority owner Peter Angelos, his sons, John and Lou, and, likely countless others, all weighing in.
Anderson and the Angelos Boys took the lead this winter. Peter Angelos was instrumental in the 2016 landmark contract for Chris Davis. There’s also an organizational philosophy in place not to spend much on international amateurs, which contradicts Duquette’s talent procurement style at other stops.
The point is Duquette’s fingerprints are on parts of this roster, but his hands are tied on others. And that surely is recognized by the powerbrokers.
So, if a head must be lopped today or tomorrow, it’d appear that two of Showalter’s lieutenants, hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh and pitching coach Roger McDowell, are most vulnerable. Given that the offense has been particularly putrid most of this season, including scoring five runs in 30 innings this weekend in Oakland, Coolbaugh finally could be voted off Birdland after being shielded by Showalter for the better part of three seasons.
The reasoning has always been that Coolbaugh can only do so much; the veteran hitters must be willing to change their approaches. That sentiment still has worlds of merit.
Plus, Showalter is exceptionally loyal and will fight for his guys. He hired Coolbaugh – after Anderson also met with Coolbaugh and gave his support — in 2014. But this situation may be bigger than Showalter’s influence.
Or maybe not.
If Showalter’s staff remains as assembled when the Orioles face the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday at Camden Yards, we’ll know who wears the sliding pants in this organization. The same can be said if Duquette gets punted.
Anderson, who clearly is one of the organizational leaders now and going forward regardless what title he possesses, is going nowhere. He probably is the only one who has the influence to get Showalter canned, but there’s no indication that’s his prerogative. Frankly, I expect a three-headed, decision-making monster to continue into 2019 with team president Anderson, manager Showalter and a GM liaison of their mutual choosing at the helm.
As for the next 24-36 hours, I’m not as confident about the outcome. Who knows what will happen.
I’m basically sticking with what I wrote last month when the Orioles were 5-14. Firing for firing sake without actually making this team better provides little purpose besides sprinkling some blood toward the blood-thirsty mob.
I don’t think dumping one or two people in this group is gonna suddenly make the players get on base or field or hold leads or pitch scoreless first innings.
But that’s not how it works in professional sports.
You pay millions and stink, someone takes the fall.
It’s early May, but it’s also a perfect “Fall Day.”
At least it would be in typical organizations.