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The strange case of Brady Anderson’s role with the Orioles

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A new report by Ken Rosenthal shines some light on what Brady Anderson does with the Orioles. Here are some key takeaways.

Division Series - Detroit Tigers v Baltimore Orioles - Game Two
Anderson throwing out the first pitch prior to the Delmon Young Double Game in 2014.
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Brady Anderson has been a part of the life of Orioles fans since he was acquired from the Red Sox, along with Curt Schilling, in a July 1988 trade for Mike Boddicker. If you were born later than that, Brady has been around for more than your whole life. He was around until 2001 as a player and, after some time elsewhere, in recent years he has been a part of the team’s front office.

It’s Anderson’s front office role that is of interest today. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports published an article about Anderson’s role with the team, highlighting what may be unorthodox about it and whether it has contributed to any of the tension that’s often said to be going on in the Orioles front office. I’m going to discuss the parts that stood out to me. You should read the full thing if you haven’t yet.

Anderson has been in the front office for longer than I realized

Anderson assumed his current role a few months before Showalter took over as manager in July 2010 and more than a year before Duquette arrived in Nov. 2011.

This is the first thing that jumped out of me because I didn’t have any idea that Anderson pre-dated either Showalter or Duquette. Well, that depends on how we want to parse the phrase “his current role.”

Strictly speaking, Anderson has only been in his current role, Vice President of Baseball Operations, since February, 2013. Before that, he was Special Assistant to the Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations (that is, Dan Duquette,) having been hired for that in January, 2012.

That doesn’t pre-date either Duquette or Showalter at all. A Baltimore Sun story at the time Anderson was formally hired as the special assistant describes his prior role before that date as “an informal, ad hoc capacity helping with the conditioning and development of players such as Nolan Reimold and Brian Matusz.”

It’s possible that Anderson’s role was under-reported before his special assistant title was announced. It’s possible that he’s just been doing the same stuff for six years and they keep changing his title.

Anderson seems to report only to Peter Angelos

Later in the article, Rosenthal poses the question to both Anderson and Duquette: Who does Anderson report to? Rosenthal relates Anderson’s response in a way that makes it seem like Anderson is trying to deflect the question, before saying:

“Of course I report to Peter ultimately – he’s the boss. But Buck told me he didn’t like the infield one day at Triple-A. So I got in my car and drove four hours to Norfolk to talk to the groundskeeper. I don’t care. Anybody can give me an assignment. I’m happy to do it. There’s nothing too small or too large I won’t do to help the team.”

It’s a nice go-getter anecdote describing a team-first attitude, although it is a little weird that they couldn’t just call Norfolk’s groundskeeper on the phone, isn’t it?

Duquette’s answer to this question was a bit more direct:

“I wouldn’t say that he technically reports to me or Buck. The owner had hired him before I had gotten here, and the owner hired him directly. Brady’s been around. I think he respects the office of the manager and the general manager. But I don’t know that he reports directly to Buck or I.”

At the very least, this shows that calling Anderson “special assistant to the EVP” was a complete fiction all along - which is perhaps why that title changed after about a year.

Worth noting that neither Showalter or Duquette had anything critical to offer, at least on the record, regarding Anderson. The only negative thing Showalter said was like when you answer “what’s your worst quality” in a job interview by saying, “Well, sometimes I just work too hard.”

Anderson, according to Showalter, “tries to save ‘em all,” meaning the near-lost-cause players. That does seem to jibe with Anderson being said to have worked with Reimold and Matusz in the offseason before 2012. Over the last couple of years, he has also tried to help Mike Wright. In Rosenthal’s analysis, these are the kinds of players who remind Brady of himself when he was at a low point early in his career.

Sources of conflict

Not everyone is happy with this arrangement. The recently-departed pitching and bullpen coach tandem of Dave Wallace and Dom Chiti seem to have butted heads with Anderson, with Chiti tersely acknowledging, “I’m not going to deny that Brady was part of why I left,” though he didn’t elaborate.

The peculiarity of Anderson directly reporting to Angelos - which even Anderson acknowledged is “an unusual case” - seems to have been part of the issue, with Wallace telling Rosenthal, “One of the problems is, when you have a role in an organization where you have total autonomy and really no accountability, that’s tough.”

Wallace also characterized Anderson as occasionally creating an “us vs. them” wedge between players and coaches. Anderson’s working with Wright appears to have been a particular source of contention with Wallace and Chiti.

For his part, Anderson sums up his involvement with the players in tough situations by noting that Arrieta has blossomed outside of Baltimore and he believes that’s because past Orioles coaches “created doubt in his head.” His goal is to work with players in such a way that he does not create that doubt for them, as Red Sox coaches once created doubt for him.

Rosenthal reports that there are player agents who have expressed concern to the player’s union about Anderson’s role with the team, and that Duquette and Anderson sometimes say different things to agents.

Two ex-Orioles, Matt Wieters and Jake Arrieta, are quoted in the article talking generally about the problems of having an ex-player who wants to stay involved directly with players but also has front office (not friendly to players) responsibilities.

Arrieta, who you may recall had some unkind words for former Orioles pitching coaches, praised Anderson’s direct involvement with him. Arrieta as an Oriole was certainly one of those lost-cause cases.

But Arrieta also noted that, having heard things from ex-teammates he’s kept in touch with, “You have to decide, which way do you want to go? ... When you start talking business and contracts and things like that, it can get a little hairy.”

What does Anderson actually do here?

What specifically Anderson may have done for talking business and contracts is not mentioned in the article. According to Rosenthal,

Anderson said that he never discusses contracts with players and rarely gets involved in negotiations with their agents, saying that part of his role is “the least of what I do, almost non-existent.”

It’s a strange statement for a guy who was treated as the almost-certain future GM back during the strange “the Blue Jays are trying to poach Dan Duquette” saga. Don’t have a GM who has no experience negotiating! From his public quotes, Anderson never sounds like a guy angling for the GM job tomorrow, though he does say in this article that he’s “not blind to the idea of being GM one day.”

Rosenthal, however, does credit Anderson for getting involved in helping the Orioles re-sign Darren O’Day and Mark Trumbo, though it’s not stated what exactly he did.

Players working out with Anderson in the offseason in California is one of those things that they’ve been talking about at FanFest for several seasons now. An increased attention to fitness and nutrition seems to be something he’s brought to the organization. Adam Jones, one of the few players who’s been around longer than Anderson’s front office involvement, noticed:

“He’s brought over a work ethic that I’d say we had, but now it’s magnified. Our nutrition side in the clubhouse has changed tremendously due to his influence. ... That’s what he brought – the work ethic and nutrition, understanding that to play this game at a high level you just can’t sit there and eat McDonald’s and get away with it. He’s been a great source in that regard.”

Arrieta described Anderson being involved in a variety of day-of-game workouts with players, including lifting, sprinting, and biking, in addition to throwing some BP and working with outfielders shagging fly balls.

Is it working? Well, the Orioles haven’t had a losing season since Anderson was hired as a special assistant, so that’s something. Whether they’re succeeding because of Anderson, in spite of him, or if he doesn’t factor in much either way is not something that even a thoroughly-reported article from Rosenthal can really say.

It’s working out for the organization in general, though, with a predicted “disaster” by a club official source of Rosenthal’s following the 2015 season not materializing (yet) since the O’s ended up making the postseason in 2016.

Unanswered questions

  1. Who are the success stories for Anderson with regards to his direct work with players? It’s nice he took an interest in Wright, and farther back, in Reimold and Matusz, but if that’s the best his involvement has gotten on that front, that’s not very much.
  2. Does Orioles ownership see Anderson as the future general manager-type, as everyone assumes? The dual GM arrangement with an ex-player didn’t work out so well last time.
  3. Was Anderson the guy who told many of the reporters that the Orioles signed Dexter Fowler last year? That has nothing to do with Rosenthal’s article. It’s just something I’ve wondered.
  4. What lessons has Anderson learned in the time he has worked in this role? What does he do now that’s different than what he would have done five years ago?