Duquette Primed to Turn O's Into a Contender

Solid rapport with Showalter can do nothing but help the O's this season.

Last Saturday, Dan Duquette began his first Orioles Fan Fest as the Vice President of Baseball Operations with a light hearted joke. As he sat next to Buck Showalter on a lighted stage in front of a packed house of season ticket holders he turned to the crowd and said, “you guys probably know more about the Orioles than I do.” It was a seemingly innocuous way to break any tension he might have been feeling in his first MLB job since being fired by the Boston Red Sox in 2002. It also probably spoke more about the collective knowledge of the die hard fans he was facing, rather than his own abilities as a high powered baseball executive for one of baseball's most beleaguered franchises.

Still, it was hard not to conjure up an underlying theme from his words. On the one hand the quote pointed to the fact that, despite 14 straight losing seasons, the Baltimore Orioles still have plenty of dedicated fans that remember the glory years of the 60's, 70's and 80's. By all accounts this year's Fan Fest was a rousing success, drawing thousands in attendance. On the other hand it also highlighted the fact that, for the eighth time in Peter Angelos' almost 19 years of owning the team, there is a new top executive running the show. It's that kind of flux at the top of the organization that has contributed to the Oriole's continued struggles. It is also the kind of pattern that Duquette is not only looking to stop, but is used to stopping.

From 1994 to 2001 Dan Duquette acted as the GM of the Boston Red Sox, presiding over a massive re-building project. While the Sox hadn't experienced the kind of droughts (both in wins and playoff appearances) that the O's have experienced since 1998, Duquette still did a lot in his time there to build back up the team's farm system, while acquiring a number of high profile players via trade and free agency. In fact, for the most part it was his group of players that would lead the Red Sox to the World Series Championship three short seasons after Duquette was fired in early 2002. Still, Duquette didn't spend a lot of time focusing on his past in the Northeast on Saturday, mentioning it briefly early on in his time on stage. He instead chose to focus on his future with the Mid-Atlantic's most storied baseball franchise.

Already, Duquette has made a number of moves as the O's top every day executive. In two plus months he's added a number of pitchers, including left handers Wei Yin Chin of Taiwan, Tsuyoshi Wada of Japan and Dana Eveland from the Los Angeles Dodgers. Duquette spoke to the opportunities those guys will have as they join the rest of the Oriole's pitching staff that were held over from last season.

“There's opportunity to pitch here,” Duquette said of the holes in the Oriole's rotation alongside last season's starters, Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz. Duquette continued by talking about the potential versatility they could get from adding so many arms. “Some of those players that will be competing for starter spots will also be able to help us in the bullpen. It's just dependent on how they pitch in the spring.” He also added that the organization, “[needed] to find some dependable starting pitchers,” after last year's struggles in pitching consistency. “We add more depth to that position this year. It will be up to the guys to perform and show that they're dependable.”

The Orioles have also acquired a number of position players, including 27 year old outfielder Jai Miller, 25 year old infielder Ryan Flaherty and 33 year old veteran outfielder Endy Chavez, who spent last year helping Texas to the World Series. He also brought in Taylor Teagarden from Texas to back up starting catcher Matt Wieters, a gold glover last year and occasional DH. Still, he says the work of adding players isn't done. “We should be able to try out a few more players to supplement our roster…That never stops really,” said Duquette of the constant process of scouting for good talent. “I think there's a good opportunity to add a few more players in the next couple of weeks.”

Duquette also seems to have a fantastic rapport with manager Buck Showalter, who appeared with him on stage for over 40 minutes at the beginning of Fan Fest. “How often do we talk? We we're talking Christmas Day,” said Duquette when asked on stage about the interaction between him and Showalter. He continued by spelling out the multitude of ways the two have communicated over the past two months. “We talk a lot, we text a lot, we e-mail a lot,” he said to many laughs, both on stage and off of it.

The two were serious, however, about their collective vision for the Orioles. “See, Buck's great strength is that he's an organization builder,” said Duquette of Buck's considerable managing and coaching experience. Showalter, like Duquette, has spent a lot of time in his career building great teams, only to be let go right before they reaped the best fruits of his labors. Indeed, the Yankees and Diamondbacks both won World Series Championships in each season (1996 and 2001 respectively) after letting Buck go. “Buck and I share the same passion for organization building, and it's a big job. It's a lot easier when you have people that have the same vision,” said Duquette of their compatible goals. “Buck and I share that same vision of providing a top quality club for the Orioles.”

Dan wrapped up his interview back stage by talking about what he's trying to do within the organizational structure as whole. “The big addition this week was Brady Anderson and we formalized his roll to help raise awareness for top quality fitness in the organization,” said Duquette of the former Oriole's all-star, a staple of the team's last real success in the mid to late 90's. Duquette also promoted many executives from within, including John Stocks (player personnel), Michael Snyder (Assistant Director of Scouting and Player Development), and Rick Peterson, “a top quality pitching clinician,” in Dan's words.

He expounded on the organization building with the following. “I think what's important to recognize is the experience and work of the people, and you get them inside…so we can leverage their skills to help the team produce some top quality players.” He finished by saying that, “those assignments…will make the Orioles stronger.”

Duquette certainly recognizes the passion of O's fans, and it was evident in more than just his early joke. When he met with reporters back stage he talked about how much he appreciates the fan base. “When they started asking about players in the minor leagues, that shows that they are really engaged so I was heartened,” Dan said of the eager fans he talked with. He was also impressed by the fan's concern for the team's activities off of the field, highlighting a smart discussion with one of the many season ticket holders in attendance. “The woman who asked about the adjustments of the players coming from Japan to the US to play and…the adjustments they have to make to be successful. That showed a lot of intellect and engagement.”

One final quote highlighted both the loyalty of the fan base that Dan was working with, and their keen eye for their sports franchises. “I love the passion of the fans, and their interest in the team,” said Duquette of a rabid Charm City fan base. Indeed Dan, welcome to Baltimore.

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