The beginning of the 2016 season has been a happy and mostly calm one for the Orioles and their fans. The baseball gods have seen this contentment and are apparently displeased, so they have dropped a drama bomb in our laps. On Tuesday afternoon, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported that the Nationals are pursuing O's GM Dan Duquette for their own team president job.
This is not the first time we have heard this story. The offseason before this, there was the whole strange saga of the Blue Jays supposedly pursuing Duquette for their president's job - a step above GM, and a job that doesn't exist in the O's organization.
O's owner Peter Angelos shut all of that down at the time. Duquette's contract runs through 2018 and Angelos expects it to be honored or to be compensated if it's not. Whatever his price was, the Jays wouldn't meet it. In the end, all it did was upset the O's apple cart for a while, and perhaps that was part of the motivation all along.
An added wrinkle that makes this story weird as it bubbles up to the surface again is the reporter who is making it a story. Berardino is a BBWAA member, so this isn't quite the same level of rumor as when some random sports radio dope blows up a story on Twitter that was probably never true.
But that St. Paul Pioneer Press is as in St. Paul, Minnesota, so I can't help but wonder, why this guy, why now? You would expect something like this to originate from either one of the local beat groups, or a large national writer such as Ken Rosenthal or Buster Olney.
A Twins guy? That sure looks like somebody trying to cover his or her tracks. "I'll leak to this random guy in Minnesota," the thinks-himself-devious source might say. "No one will ever expect it!"
If the Nats have genuine interest in Duquette for that job, from where might that information originate?
The most obvious answer is the Nationals ownership. They would know who they want, and moreover, they would probably like to tweak the nose of Angelos, against whom they're embroiled in a multi-million dollar dispute over MASN rights fees. They might right this second be sitting in an office somewhere, grinning like C. Montgomery Burns and saying, "Excellent" over and over again.
Another guess could be Dan Duquette, or someone in his camp. If Duquette has really been looking to take on the next challenge, then it's possible that he might have been contacted through a back channel and had some interest in heading to the O's southern neighbors. If it was Duquette, his motivation for getting the story out there would probably be to put some public pressure on Angelos to let him take a promotion this time.
It could also be coming from somewhere in the Orioles front office. When the Jays thing came along, one of the things that some reporters said was that there were people in the O's FO who were unhappy that Duquette didn't take the promotion - presumably because they, whoever they were, wanted a job to open up above them so everybody could potentially get promoted one run up the ladder. There aren't many secrets in an office.
And as for why now, well, it strikes me as entirely too much of a coincidence that the day the mediation between the Orioles and Nationals over MASN rights is scheduled to begin, this story happens to "randomly" leak to a "random" unrelated reporter. I mean, come on. I wasn't born yesterday.
Does "Give us Duquette and we'll give you (some concession in the negotiation)" sound plausible to you? It doesn't sound completely crazy, though it also doesn't completely line up with what has otherwise seemed to be a bitter digging in of heels by the Nationals in the whole MASN dispute.
Dan Connolly, the longtime Baltimore Sun beat writer who's now struck out on his own website Baltimore Baseball, finds the idea that the Nats would use it for MASN leverage unlikely. He says the Orioles expect to win the MASN case anyway. I don't believe any of the Sun beat crew ever acknowledged the MASN situation at all, so it's interesting that Connolly addresses it now that he's at his own outlet.
Whatever may or may not happen here, the process doesn't seem to be very far along. That's according to MASN's Roch Kubatko, who says that he is told the Nationals have not contacted the Orioles about permission to speak to Duquette for the team president role.
On Twitter, Orioles beat reporters relayed Duquette's response to all of this, delivered by text message: "I don't know anything about this nor has anyone contacted me." That is a strong denial.
If we take those three ideas at face value, the story's abrupt leak today seems like little more than Nationals ownership trying to poke Angelos in the eye when his team is enjoying what is, for the O's, unprecedented early season success. And if they can somehow make Angelos look like the bad guy in the process, so much the better for them.
For their part, the Nationals, through a spokesperson, have issued this:
From Nats spokesperson, on Duquette rumors: "We are not in discussions with Dan Duquette, nor are we in the market for a team president."— Chelsea Janes (@chelsea_janes) April 12, 2016
Again, if we take this at face value, that's that. There's nothing here. And maybe there is nothing here. But somebody went to the trouble of going to an unusual channel to get this topic in the news, and whoever that somebody is, they're not going to turn around to the local beat corps they just spurned and admit it was them at this point in time.
Consider the above Nationals statement and its use of the present tense. "We are not in discussions with Dan Duquette" is not the same as saying, "We have had no discussions with or about Dan Duquette." They might have also come out with a statement that said, "We are not interested in Dan Duquette, contrary to that report." However, that's not what they chose to say. Maybe it's a clue or maybe it's nothing at all.
The second part, "nor are we in the market for a team president" is a bit more strong of a denial; on the other hand, they have similarly not indicated that they will not be in the market for a team president - just that at the moment that spokesperson issued the above, they were not in the market. That could change at any time.
What made the whole Jays pursuit unbearable was the way it seemed to drag on for an entire month even after Angelos categorically shut the whole thing down publicly. If that happens this time around, while the season is going on, that would not be much fun. Hopefully this is the only time we ever hear about any supposed pursuit of Duquette by the Nationals or any other team.