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As the Orioles free fall continues, the blame game is underway

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The Orioles are losing a whole lot lately, which means a return of the palace intrigue and blame game kind of stories. Yes, reports of a Showalter-Duquette rift are back.

Tampa Bay Rays v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

There’s nothing quite like winning to make everyone look like a team of geniuses, and there’s nothing quite like losing to leave people standing around looking to whom they should point the finger to blame. The Orioles, having lost 20 of their last 29 games, are well into territory where fans are looking for someone to blame, and if at least one report is to be believed, there is serious internal strife as well.

On Saturday, Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported that GM Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter have a relationship that “continues to be unsteady.” Past unsteadiness, according to Rosenthal, occurred towards the end of the 2015 season. It’s not a coincidence this was another time where the Orioles were an on-field disappointment relative to preseason expectations.

Without ever offering anything concrete about that tension, Rosenthal muses, “Would Showalter want to remain manager if Duquette stays as GM, or would Showalter, who recently turned 61, prefer to be the GM himself?”

Either one of these would be quite the major tectonic shift in Birdland. Both would be depressing. For the most part, bad teams are the ones that are talking about changing managers or GMs midseason. Orioles fans have been there before, in the dark years. Things have been better for a while, which doesn’t mean they’ll stay better forever. They sure don’t feel very good right now.

A grain of salt for palace intrigue

My default stance is to dismiss palace intrigue stories like this. A lot of the time, especially when they come without any particular detail, things can be reported that don’t end up amounting to anything in the long run.

However, it’s also worth keeping in mind that it’s not exactly a secret that Showalter doesn’t seem to be too happy with the pitching staff he’s been saddled with. Recently, Showalter spoke in post-game remarks about how so many of the pitchers they might have counted on to help at the MLB level are sitting in Triple-A with 5+ or even 6+ ERAs.

From what MASN’s Gary Thorne said during Sunday’s broadcast, it’s not an isolated complaint. When you look at how the players who’ve been pitching for Norfolk have been performing both there for Triple-A and then how they’ve been pitching in MLB, it’s no surprise there would be frustration. There is a lot of failure there.

These are Duquette’s guys. Jayson Aquino, Gabriel Ynoa, Logan Verrett, Edwin Jackson, Alec Asher, and Vidal Nuno are most of those who at least had enough of a whiff of quality to get an MLB shot. Other 2017 bullpen strugglers like Donnie Hart and Stefon Crichton are Duquette’s draft picks.

Bad decisions of the Duquette era

This is the pitching depth Duquette built for this season and it’s a complete failure to date. They’re still paying a price for past failures, too, being as they’re still saddled with Ubaldo Jimenez, and still looking at a thin farm system due to doing things like signing Yovani Gallardo last year or trading possibly useful pitching prospects for useless outfielders like Travis Snider and Gerardo Parra.

There’s also that category of free agent signings that felt good at the time but don’t feel so good now: Mark Trumbo, J.J. Hardy, Darren O’Day, and even Chris Davis, although that last one seems to fall more on ownership’s shoulders than Duquette’s.

Should Duquette have been savvy enough to sidestep these moves, knowing where they would be right now? Maybe. He’s tried to sidestep some potentially bad sentimental re-signs at times, like when the O’s passed on re-signing Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz, but it seems he has avoided the wrong ones.

In general, between the team’s drafts under Duquette’s watch and the trades it has made, it’s fair to say that there appear to be some major flaws in either the way that Duquette and his people identify and value talent, develop it, or both.

Certainly, if one wants to judge Duquette on his worst moves, then he looks like an idiot of the highest order. Anyone would appear to be the same when judged by their decisions that look the worst in hindsight. This is not a particularly fair way to judge Duquette given the success that the team has enjoyed in his five full seasons at the helm.

Baseball isn’t always fair, but still, an assessment of Duquette’s performance has to acknowledge that the team is hampered by issues that Duquette couldn’t really control or have much latitude to try to mitigate for this season.

Things Duquette couldn’t expect or fix

In particular, the injuries suffered by Chris Tillman and Zach Britton have been a challenge for the team. While they were likely aware in the offseason of some shoulder problem for Tillman, they were still stuck having to pay him $10 million this season. Britton’s spring training injury is not something you could have seen coming and he has an $11 million price tag.

That’s a lot of money that the Orioles had no real way to avoid spending and it’s getting them zero or negative value. Add in the .213./.289/.430 batting line of $11 million man Manny Machado and that’s even more substantial. When several players of their caliber aren’t performing for whatever reason, that’s a tough thing to expect the GM to fix.

The transformation of Kevin Gausman into an amalgamation of Orioles-era Jake Arrieta and Orioles rotation-era Brian Matusz isn’t much of a money problem but it’s still one you can’t really pin on Duquette, either. Gausman was Duquette’s first ever draft pick, so he’s definitely Duquette’s guy, but Gausman was solid-to-good for three seasons running. There was no way to expect... this.

Take all of those problems together and of course the Orioles are heading to a dark place right now. The sum total of all of Duquette’s bad decisions make it difficult to emerge from that. Then again, the sum total of all of Duquette’s good decisions helped get them three playoff berths in five seasons.

Does that mean Duquette should be fired? Judging from the replies to Camden Chat’s articles on Twitter and Facebook by people who may not even be aware that Camden Chat has articles, many believe that the answer is yes. One can only hope that whoever is pondering that decision is applying more reason to the question.

Hopefully, the Orioles will start winning again soon and all of this talk will quiet down as it does every time the Orioles are making fools of the various projection systems and their adherents.

If the O’s don’t start winning and the rumors from people like Rosenthal don’t quiet down, we could be headed for a tumultuous and not very fun summer in Birdland. When failure is this complete, someone must always take the blame.