As the Orioles' long offseason begins, a total housecleaning is in order - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Paul Folkemer

As the Orioles’ long offseason begins, a total housecleaning is in order

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

The Orioles wrapped up the worst season in franchise history on a rare positive note, blanking the Houston Astros on Sunday in what may have been the swan song for both center fielder Adam Jones and manager Buck Showalter.

Now, the Orioles head into an offseason rife with questions. One looms larger than the rest: Who will be the manager and general manager for the club next season?

The contracts of Showalter, the club’s skipper since August 2010, and Dan Duquette, the Orioles’ executive vice president since November 2011, expire this month. The two baseball lifers, who were at the helm for three Orioles’ postseason teams, face uncertain futures.

Showalter and Duquette deserve credit for restoring winning baseball to Baltimore after more than a decade of futility. During a five-year span from 2012-2016, the Orioles won the most games in the American League, going 444-366 and earning an AL East pennant in 2014. Nobody will soon forget those accomplishments.

Having said that, it’s time for a change. The Orioles are in dire need of a fresh start, which means finding a new GM and manager to steer the ship.

Simply put, when a team puts up a season as historically awful as this year’s 47-115 Orioles — who tied for the fourth-most losses of the modern era — maintaining the status quo can’t be an option.

What’s hard to swallow is that the Orioles not only lost 115 games but lost 115 games in a season in which they thought they might contend. That’s where they differ from those other 115-loss teams, who knew they were going to be bad. The 1962 New York Mets (120 losses) were an expansion team and never had a chance of success. The 2003 Detroit Tigers (119 losses) were in rebuild mode from the beginning and threw untested youngsters to the wolves. The 1916 Philadelphia Athletics (117 losses) had traded away nearly their entire roster in a cost-cutting measure.

The Orioles, though, started the 2018 season thinking they could still make a run at the playoffs, ignoring the warning signs of a dreadful 2017 September (4-19) and a 75-87 record. It’s why they didn’t trade Manny Machado, Zach Britton or other pending free agents during the offseason. It’s why they signed Alex Cobb to a four-year, $57-million in spring training to bolster their pitching staff.

The Orioles were making one last bid for glory before their best players went their separate ways, which made their catastrophic collapse all the more stunning.

The season derailed immediately, with the club losing five games in a row after an Opening Day walkoff win. For whatever reason, the Orioles never could pull themselves out of their tailspin. Loss after loss piled up, and the club was buried by the end of April in a season that snowballed hopelessly out of control.

The Orioles were depressingly consistent with their losing. They never won more than nine games in any calendar month. Only once did they win more than three games in a row. And they had just two series sweeps all season: a two-gamer against the New York Mets in June and a three-gamer over the Toronto Blue Jays at the end of August. By contrast, the Orioles were swept 17 times in a series of two or more games.

Even the Kansas City Royals, who for most of the season were side-by-side with the Orioles in MLB’s basement, found a late-season spark after committing to a rebuild. They won 19 of their final 33 games, as their young team gelled and several prospects put up promising performances.

That didn’t happen in Baltimore. The Orioles lost for four months with a roster of experienced veterans, then lost for two more months with a team of untested youngsters. No combination of players could find a way to win, and the coaching staff seemed helpless to improve the situation.

All season long, the club’s defense and fundamentals — which had been a strength under Showalter in past seasons — abandoned them. The sloppy play, and lack of improvement over the course of the season, didn’t go unnoticed by Orioles’ veterans.

“It’s extremely disheartening when you kind of play this sloppy game, extra bases, missed coverages, missed execution on all kinds of different things,” said catcher Caleb Joseph after one particularly gruesome loss in Tampa Bay in early September. “It’s one thing if you’re playing clean games that you can see everybody kind of improving, and you can see guys moving in the right direction and kind of taking advantage of opportunities, but that’s just not what we’re seeing.”

Let’s be clear: Showalter wasn’t the reason the Orioles fell apart in 2018. No manager could’ve led this team to success. But eventually, any manager’s message can begin to be ignored — as Showalter himself has often acknowledged. Even a skipper as successful and well-respected as Showalter reaches a point where he may not be able to click with his team. It’s nobody’s fault; it’s just baseball. Sometimes a club simply needs a new voice.

A managerial change would, most likely, result in sweeping changes to the coaching staff, too. That’s probably for the best. Pitching coach Roger McDowell has found little success in his two years in Baltimore. The Orioles, who had a 4.22 ERA in 2016 under former pitching coach Dave Wallace, have seen that mark inflate to 4.97 in 2017 and an MLB-worst 5.18 this season, while young pitchers such as Dylan Bundy have failed to develop as hoped. Meanwhile, the Orioles’ offense, led by fourth-year hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh, had the lowest batting average (.239) and on-base percentage (.298) in the AL this year, and few hitters performed up to expectations.

The Orioles’ housecleaning, though, shouldn’t be limited to the field. They could also use a revamp in the front office, where layers of bureaucracy and confusion have run rampant in recent years. In July, I detailed the Orioles’ many mistakes and poor choices that led to this disastrous 2018 season, and most of them spawned from the fact that Orioles’ key decision-makers often weren’t on the same page.

In fairness, the Orioles have already taken steps to improve that situation. Majority owner Peter Angelos has ceded control of club operations to his sons, John and Lou, who have steered the team in a new direction (including a renewed commitment to the international amateur market, which was lacking under the previous regime). They handed Duquette the reins for the Orioles’ flurry of selloff trades in July, and he pulled off five deals that netted 15 prospects and international bonus slot money.

Still, while Duquette got the rebuild started, there’s plenty more work to be done. What better way for the Angelos sons to make their own imprint on the team than to hand-pick a new general manager? They inherited Duquette, but with the offseason now upon them, they can take the time to sift through other promising candidates and find one whose vision for the club best matches their own.

The times are very much a-changing in Baltimore. The overhaul of the roster is in full swing; 11 players who were on the Orioles’ Opening Day roster have already been jettisoned from the organization, with plenty more to come this winter. Now, the Orioles need to take it a step further.

If the Orioles are fully committed to a rebuild, they need to reassess every aspect of their organization — not just who’s on the field, but who’s in the dugout and the front office. No single person was at fault for the debacle that unfolded in Baltimore this season, but everybody shoulders at least some responsibility.

There’s no time like the present for the Orioles to start from scratch. The sooner they can put together a new front office and coaching staff — and distance themselves from their 2018 disaster — the better.

22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Orial

    October 1, 2018 at 12:56 pm

    I’m hearing that the biggest changes coming(maybe by Nov)I are not Buck,DD,but ownership itself. Is MLB demanding that the team be sold and NOT allow the Sons to simply take over? This could significantly derail any plans going forward especially when it appeared there was finally a direction. This saga never ends. Meanwhile the Mesa bros are in Fla waiting to be scoffed up. Can’t ANYTHING go smoothly?

  2. Djowen

    October 1, 2018 at 1:13 pm

    Every team has one owner that is designated as the one in charge to MLB. For the O’s it is Peter who is no longer running things. MLB told the team that they needed to designate who is in charge by November. They never demanded that the team be sold.
    The Mesa brothers are Cuban. Miami is a Cuban hot bed. Why wouldn’t they look at Miami as the place they want to go even if they could get an extra million in Baltimore?

    • Orial

      October 1, 2018 at 6:49 pm

      I heard that MLB will not allow a transfercto Sons and push for a sale. Not my opinion but what I heard(WashingtonTimes)

  3. Chuck

    October 1, 2018 at 1:18 pm

    The 3000-pound elephant in the room is Chris Davis. Can a rebuild seriously begin with one hand tied behind the team’s back: a wasted roster spot, or worse, three or four automatic outs every night? What impact will his presence have on the kids, both those in the clubhouse and those down on the farm waiting for a chance? The truth is, in business terms, his contract is a sunk cost; you cut your losses and move on. The results of a truly bad negotiation almost could not have been worse. I KNOW the financial impact will be enormous, but it already is.

  4. deqalt

    October 1, 2018 at 1:55 pm

    Orioles aren’t being sold obviously. I think the overhaul should start in the minors were clearly the Orioles have a pitcher development problem!

    • Orial

      October 1, 2018 at 6:51 pm

      Check the Washington Times. May have to sell.

      • Djowen

        October 1, 2018 at 10:03 pm

        Here is what the Washington Times said:
        “That fight has resulted in rumors in Baltimore that the Orioles would consider moving the franchise if they are dealt what they believe is a debilitating hand in the MASN dispute.

        Last week, respected Baltimore Sun columnist Peter Schmuck wrote that the MASN dispute has led to “whispers around town about the possibility of the Orioles leaving Baltimore one day.”

        I know Peter Schmuck well. He didn’t just pull that out of thin air.”…
        “Threats of relocation are empty. What is more likely is that in the next several years, the Orioles are sold. There is this feeling inside Major League Baseball that they would not live with the two sons running the franchise, although how they could force a sale is unclear.

        Then again, that could be the whole purpose behind MLB’s support of the Nationals in the MASN dispute – to force a sale. Then, for Orioles fans, Christmas may finally arrive at Camden Yards.”

        This is coming from a Washington newspaper that supports the Nationals and not the Orioles. No where does it say the MLB is forcing a sale. It says that MLB doesn’t want the 2 brothers running the team but it does not give any support to their statement other then rumors from Peter schmuck.

  5. Beeb

    October 1, 2018 at 2:34 pm

    It’s amazing that losing 115 games is somehow a recipe to keep anyone. Let Dan go back to the Cape Cod league. Let Fightened Hormonal Buck keep Britton warming in the pen…somewhere else. “Anyone But” should be the mantra of every fan. Can it get worse?

  6. bmorebirds

    October 1, 2018 at 2:37 pm

    Yup, time for an unsentimental, top-to-bottom overhaul. I hope this leads to an era where the Angelos family allows BASEBALL PROFESSIONALS to guide the Orioles’ on-field fortunes. Along those lines, if I go online tomorrow and see Brady Anderson has been made the new GM, that will be a baaaaad omen.

  7. deqalt

    October 1, 2018 at 3:45 pm

    Please someone tell me why the Orioles didn’t need a lefty throwing 100mph? #joshhader

  8. Creatively09

    October 1, 2018 at 3:57 pm

    You make the case for it, but I don’t know if the O’s will make that commitment. I have a bad feeling in my stomach that Duquette will be back, and I really hope that doesn’t happen.

  9. Beeb

    October 1, 2018 at 4:00 pm

    BMore! I agree on Brady. He seems to enjoy the periphery role. Let’s hope that continues. The “everyday” is much harder. First interview question should be for a new manager, “what would you do with Davis?”.

    • bigdaddydk

      October 2, 2018 at 8:50 am

      That’s a good interview question, for sure. It’s also important to note, since ownership seems to have a strong interest in Davis, at least financially, that a manager may be handcuffed for four more years. Maybe less once they’ve paid him enough to strike out and bat below .200, but I wonder if they’ll actually agree to eat the contract and move on. It is, as was noted above, a sunk cost. Because the money is guaranteed, he gets paid to strike out, sit on the bench, or sit on the couch at home. They all pretty much have a similar result and the team is better with a replacement level player than Davis. As much as I hate to say it — I really do like the kind of person Davis is as a charitable and generally, seemingly, humble fellow — he needs to be cut loose now and the team needs to just acknowledge that it was a bad contract and move on.

  10. bmorebirds

    October 1, 2018 at 4:59 pm

    Beeb, Chris Davis’ presence is a testament to Angelos Family Meddling. The fact that the Orioles may have to eat his monstrous contract should clue-in the Angelos clan that this ain’t fantasy baseball. folks. It may feel like it, but the resulting 115 losses are all too real. They need to hire the best front office they can attract, given their industry-wide reputation for meddling and mucking things up, and then sit back and give talented BASEBALL PROFESSIONALS the autonomy to return winning baseball to Baltimore. 2018 can’t swirl down the toilet fast enough for Orioles fans.

  11. willmiranda

    October 1, 2018 at 8:32 pm

    I think I’ll blame the media since no one else has. Not too hard, though. It seems to me we have pretty well-informed people in these discussions, but we don’t seem to know very much about the troika of Brady and the Young Angeloses or how they interact in the present dynamics. Media people don’t usually say much about them except who they get along with. Sometimes we read Brady was influential in making the team attractive to some players when those players are doing well, but that’s about it. Not a lot of digging, it seems to me. Full disclosure: I don’t live in the Baltimore area, so maybe I’m missing a lot. But I just don’t see that the troika has a lot of baseball management smarts or even interest. If they really are as influential as has been suggested, maybe the housecleaning should start there, redefining them into weaker roles, assuming that they have to stay in some capacity.

    • Orial

      October 2, 2018 at 8:28 am

      Excellent hard hitting comment. We all know what the media can do(ask Trump). So yes let’s hear what Brady does and yes this house cleaning should be more extensive than we all think.

  12. Raymo

    October 1, 2018 at 10:07 pm

    This is off topic, but here’s a suggestion for a future posting. Before the season began, the writers at BB made their predictions for the season. One guy surprisingly picked the Braves to win the NL East. What did he see that the rest of us missed?

    • willmiranda

      October 2, 2018 at 10:53 am

      Ryan Flaherty saw something in Atlanta that made him pick the
      Braves over the O’s. Maybe he’s ready to be a GM.

  13. Ekim

    October 2, 2018 at 7:41 am

    AMEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. SpinMaster

    October 2, 2018 at 4:24 pm

    Guys, great comments all. Before we start re-constructing the roster, can someone who knows, tell all of us why the debacle of last September happened and why did the front office ignore it this past off season. There is something wrong in the clubhouse since the same players were there last September that were here to start the season. Don’t we need to assess where we went wrong so we know NOT to repeat it again.

    • Orial

      October 2, 2018 at 6:29 pm

      I’m sure that’s foremost on their minds. There was talent around too.

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