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Orioles front office is at a crossroads

The Angelos sons are playing a larger ownership role. Dan Duquette’s power is diminishing, while Brady Anderson’s is on the rise. 

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Oakland Athletics v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Doug Pensinger /Getty Images

After dropping yet another road series in Boston over the weekend, culminating with their fourth shutout loss of the season yesterday, the Orioles are now 14-32 and 17.5 games out of first place.

The only good thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only direction to go from there is up. There are two problems with that scenario for the Orioles: they may not yet have fallen as far as they could and the path out from their sunken place is cluttered with obstacles.

It’s depressing to think about what else could go wrong, but lots could. What if Chris Davis continues to log playing time “performing” like his bat is some unfamiliar tool in his hands? What if Chris Tillman and Colby Rasmus play again soon? And, God forbid, what if Manny Machado gets injured before the Orioles trade him for rebuilding pieces?

But the most important question is will this organization be capable of turning the franchise into a winner again given its current leadership?

Dysfunction Junction

What’s your function, front office? Hooking up signings, releases and transactions, but who is making those decisions? Apologies to Schoolhouse Rock, but last week, Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo added his two cents – more like two grand – to the national narrative that the Orioles’ front office is in disarray. In fact, he calls the Orioles “the most dysfunctional organization in baseball.”

To no one’s surprise, Cafardo lays blame at the feet of ownership and indicates that Dan Duquette’s hands are tied despite his vice president of baseball operations title. Everyone seems to know that he’s not allowed to act like most other general manager types in baseball.

Cafardo quotes an unnamed former Orioles employee as saying, “[Peter] Angelos always listens to someone other than the GM. It can be a broadcaster, a writer, someone from another team. It’s always been a tough place to work for a GM.”

Brady’s the man

Cafardo corroborates much of what Ken Rosenthal has written about recently in The Athletic and Fox Sports regarding the shift of power at the warehouse. Peter Angelos’ health is such that his sons, John and Lou, are in control of the team and their long-time friend Brady Anderson, vice president of baseball operations, has surpassed Dan Duquette in the Birds’ pecking order.

If Brady Anderson is a primary voice for on-field personnel, what do we know about his past decisions? He has shown a keen interest in pitching and was the driving force behind the free-agent signings of Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb.

Rosenthal adds Tillman to Brady’s list of pitching “credits,” saying he returned this year largely due to Anderson’s push.

To date, that’s not something to put at the top of one’s resume. Thus far, the combined ERA for the Tilly-Cash-Cobb trio is 6.71. While I think the Cobb signing will turn out to be a good one, time will tell us something more definitive about Anderson’s pitching judgment.

It’s easy to see why Anderson made the team’s rotation a priority given the staff’s embarrassing 4.97 ERA in 2017. But he’s shown in the past that he isn’t one to shy away from sharing his opinions about pitching. So much so that Anderson’s meddling was a main factor in the retirements of Orioles pitching coach Dave Wallace and bullpen coach Dom Chiti after the 2016 season.

It seems that Anderson has free rein, given his relationship with the owners, to get involved in all aspects of running the team. He does so with enthusiasm and good intentions, but it has led to questions about who’s in charge of what.

Wallace said, “I like Brady. Everybody likes Brady. But 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.”

During the three years, 2014-2016, Wallace and Chiti were in charge of the Orioles’ arms, the team made the postseason twice and earned respective ERAs of 3.43, 4.05 and 4.22.

At the time manager Buck Showalter described Wallace’s exit as “retiring from active major league coaching,” and hoped he’d return to the organization in a different capacity. Buck also mentioned Chiti as a possible replacement for Wallace as pitching coach.

But despite calling Showalter “the best game manager ever,” Wallace took an off-the-field job with the Braves less than a month after flying the Birds’ coop.

And even though Chiti was interested in replacing Wallace, he instead joined him in Atlanta after telling that he never received a call back from Duquette despite making several requests.

That’s dysfunctional. But it may be more of a statement about the organization’s structure as it is now than what it will be. Either way, with contracts expiring for both Duquette and Showalter after this season, we should see Anderson’s role grow and maybe even become better defined.

Buck could be back as well, but whoever is in charge, let’s hope they create a structure that supports a more functional management team.