Tasked with turning around an organization that had endured 14-consecutive losing seasons, the front office blueprint of building from within has made the Orioles into a contender.
When he was named the executive vice president of baseball operations for the Baltimore Orioles in 2011, Dan Duquette placed emphasis on drafting and developing young talent within the organization. From his introductory press conference, it was clear that Duquette would try to build a steady pipeline from the minors to the major league ballclub.
As a small-market team, it’s highly unlikely that the Orioles will ever be able to sign a top-flight free agent. Despite the allure of crab waffle fries seasoned with Old Bay, the copious amount of money that a team like the Yankees can flash will far outweigh anything the Orioles can bring to the table. Maryland-native and current New York first baseman Mark Teixeira can attest to that.
However, while Duquette and manager Buck Showalter will ultimately be credited with the Orioles’ turnaround, it should be noted that the previous regime was willing to clean house and, ultimately, sacrifice their own job for the good of the Orioles. With it obvious that the team was in no position to compete in the loaded AL East, former president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail put forth a plan that ultimately put the Orioles in the 2012 playoffs.
In 2008, MacPhail set the Orioles in the right direction by trading their lone ace, Erik Bedard, to Seattle for a future all-star centerfielder in Adam Jones. While Bedard struggled to stay healthy in a Mariners uniform, as well as in years since, Jones has developed into one of the premier outfielders in baseball. In addition to Jones, the Orioles received the rights to Chris Tillman, who had a breakout year in 2013 on his way to being named an American League All-Star.
With a centerpiece to build around in Jones, MacPhail felt the team needed to head in a new direction, managerially. In 2010, with the Orioles sporting the worst record in the majors, MacPhail convinced Buck Showalter, a two-time AL Manager of the Year, that he was the right man for the job. Showalter proceeded to lead the O’s to the second-best record over the remainder of the season, and it was clear that the Orioles were trending in the right direction.
Another piece of the foundation that MacPhail had built came in the form of James Jerry Hardy. When MacPhail traded two throw-away prospects and half of a million dollars to the Twins for JJ, the O’s received a shortstop ready to revive his career. However, the level of play evened out in Showalter’s first full season in the dugout.
With the team out of contention in the last few months of the season, MacPhail crushed one out of the park, pun intended. When the Texas Rangers approached the Orioles about relief pitcher Koji Uehara, MacPhail would not budge until the Rangers gave away their top prospect, Chris Davis. Along with "Crush", probable closing pitcher Tommy Hunter was thrown into the trade.
Although, at the time of the trade, he was having a subpar season for his hometown Rangers, MacPhail still saw the promise in Davis. Although he wasn’t around to see it, Davis proved MacPhail right, as he led the majors in homeruns last season. Meanwhile, Uehara has been ineffective in a relief role in Texas.
At the close of the 2011 season, the Orioles did not renew MacPhail’s contract. While his overall record, 307-433, was nothing to mention, MacPhail should be credited with building the foundation of the Orioles’ current squad, including drafting highly-touted third baseman Manny Machado.
With the team already trending in the right direction, Orioles’ owner Peter Angelos hired Duquette in November of 2011. After the team drafted Machado and pitcher Dylan Bundy in consecutive seasons, Duquette hoped to continue to stock the minor league rosters with talent. In the Orioles’ first Rule 4 draft with Duquette at the helm, the team drafted pitcher Kevin Gausman out of LSU.
With the team in contention well into August of 2012, the Orioles felt that the future was now. Duquette reached into the well and pulled out Machado, whose stellar play helped the Orioles to the AL Wild Card Game, ending the organization’s 14-year playoff drought. The Orioles would eventually lose to the Yankees in the American League Divisional Series, but hope had already been restored in Camden Yards.
While the Orioles failed to make the playoffs in 2013, Duquette once again showed his willingness to call-up top prospects to the big leagues. With a lack of reliable starting pitching, the Orioles called upon Bundy and Gausman to fill those roles. While Bundy and Gausman struggled in their major league appearances, the ability to promote players from within the minor leagues can only pay dividends in the future.
For an organization that previously traded their top prospects for former all-star players past their prime, it’s refreshing to see Duquette stick to his plan of drafting and developing players from within the minor league system. Unless Angelos decides to open the checkbook, it’s the only way the Orioles can compete year-in and year-out with the likes of the Yankees and World Champion Red Sox in the AL East.