Media reports indicate that the Baltimore Orioles are on the verge of naming Dan Duquette as their new general manager. This may prove to be one of the better decisions that embattled team owner Peter Angelos has made in some time. The Orioles have been amongst the laughing stock of baseball for the majority of Angelos’ tenure, producing just three winning seasons in those 19 years. There is a good chance that their fortunes are about the change because of the hiring of Duquette.
The first and most important thing that Angelos must do to increase Duquette’s chances of being able to right the ship, is to butt out of the day to day operations of the team. The owner is reputed to have many expectations and policies that annually hinder the success of the team. He must accept his role as an owner and allow his employees to use their skills to facilitate the progress of the Orioles. Although meddling team owners (see George Steinbrenner) have had success in the past; that is the exception rather than the rule. Since Angelos has always demonstrated a willingness to put money into the team, he must now find it in himself to change and to give patience and authority to his new GM.
Duquette is best known for being Theo Epstein’s predecessor in Boston, and not being able to bring the team a World Series championship prior to his departure. Despite never winning a title, he is still one of the most seasoned and versatile front office executives in the game. In addition to his eight years as Red Sox GM, Duquette also held the same position with the Montreal Expos for three seasons in the early 1990’s, and has worked in a variety of other front office positions in baseball during his 25 year career.
The Orioles have not produced much homegrown talent of note out of their minor league system in recent years. Duquette should help in this area immediately because of his eye for talent. In addition to his GM work, he has also served as a scouting assistant and a director of player development. In particular he was instrumental in drafting and signing much of the nucleus of the fantastic Expo teams of the early to mid 1990’s, including Rondell White, Marquis Grissom, Vladimir Guerrero, and Javier Vazquez.
Duquette also has experience in rebuilding farm systems with the worst of problems. When he started with the Red Sox, they were severely lacking at developing young talent. Among the causes was their reluctance or inability to sign African American and international players. The year before Boston hired Duquette, the Red Sox had 13 black players combined on their six minor league teams, the worst rate in baseball. Under Duquette’s watch, the team greatly diversified their system and brought in better talent, led by one of his earliest draftees, Nomar Garciaparra. While Theo Epstein undoubtedly deserves credit for the player development powerhouse Boston has become, Duquette certainly helped in laying that foundation.
Acquisitions by trades and free agency are other areas where Duquette has excelled in the past. He has proved that if he is given the resources, he is able to obtain top notch talent. He acquired Pedro Martinez, not once, but twice. The Expos, under Duquette’s direction, traded for Martinez from the Dodgers in 1993. In 1997, Duquette, now the Red Sox GM, traded for Martinez again, who became a lynchpin of the 2004 World Series team.
Perhaps Duquette’s biggest score in free agency was when he signed Manny Ramirez prior to the 2001 season. The 160 million dollars Ramirez ultimately agreed to obviously played a major role in bringing him to Boston, but it must have taken some slick work on the part of Duquette to convince the player who was infamously so dedicated to his home of New York and his comfort level in Cleveland.
Even though Baltimore currently has an image problem because of the way they have been run by Angelos, that is something that can also be overcome by Duquette. As mentioned previously, before he was hired by Boston, the Red Sox struggled greatly with the issue of race and how that was perceived by the public. Under his watch, he made great strides in changing that reputation by taking measures to reconcile with disgruntled black former players like Tommy Harper, Reggie Smith, and Jim Rice. The team had also only signed two black free agents before Duquette, but he immediately began signing free agents of color like Carl Everett and Jose Offerman, and even came close to landing Kirby Puckett.
Duquette may not be a savior, but he should be a step in the right direction for the Orioles. It was just last week that Toronto Blue Jay assistant GM Tony LaCava was offered the their GM position and turned it down, fueling speculation that the job had become so undesirable because of Angelos, that the team would be forced to under-hire. If Duquette becomes GM as expected, he will immediately bring respect and legitimacy to their front office. Even if he can just start to get the franchise back on the right track, he will be worth the hire; and anything beyond that will be a bonus. Duquette’s track record suggests that Baltimore fans should have some hope for the future, and that is something that could not come any sooner.
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