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The next two months will define the Baltimore Orioles franchise for years to come

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Should Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter be part of the looming big decisions?

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

The season is barely a month old, it is May 3 and the Baltimore Orioles record stands at 8-22. They won only two series in April – at the New York Yankees and at home against the Detroit Tigers – which is terrible. No team in the American League has fewer wins, and the Birds’ run differential of minus 58 is horrendous.

This is not how the season was supposed to go. And, to make matters worse, it went down the tubes almost immediately after Opening Day. At least last year the club provided some entertainment by hanging around wild card contention until Labor Day.

It’s a long season

Of course, the MLB season is the ultimate grind and anything – really, anything – is still possible.

In 2013, from June 22 through August 17, the Los Angeles Dodgers went 42-8 (.840). In 2017, the Dodgers topped their own record with a 43-7 (.860) stretch. Do the O’s have that in them? Unlikely.

There is no shortage of other examples of significant turnarounds, because that’s how baseball works. The 2001 Oakland A’s were 8-17 in April and finished 102-60. The 2006 Minnesota Twins went from 9-15 to 96-66, the 2006 San Diego Padres from 9-15 to 88-74, the 2007 New York Yankees at 9-14 to 94-68, the 2007 Colorado Rockies 10-16 to 90-73 and the 2010 Atlanta Braves 9-14 to 91-71.

Yes, a turnaround is possible. However, while possible, is it probable? I’d say no. It is way more likely that the Orioles will have a miserable season in the cellar of the AL East.

Buckle up

Assuming “miserable” continues as the primary word to describe the first half of the 2018 season, it is actually time – as the 2012 rally towels say – to Buckle Up. The pre-trade deadline moves this year will define the future of the Baltimore Orioles like nothing the organization has seen in decades. And I don’t believe that’s an overstatement.

Prime targets to be traded include pending free agents Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Zach Britton, and Brad Brach, along with Darren O’Day (reasonable $9M salary for 2019) and Andrew Cashner (reasonable $9.5M salary for 2019). Moving some combination of this group should bring back a nice haul of young players, and combined with what the Orioles already have at Norfolk and Bowie, put them in position to be much younger and competitive in relative short order.

Duquette/Showalter dilemma

All of that said, compounding the uncertainty is the well-documented status of EVP of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter. Neither has a contract past the 2018 season. Are they part of the long-term plan of Peter, John and Louis Angelos? We don’t have an answer to that question.

It is hard to get a read on Duquette and Showalter because both are so tight lipped. Neither gives away any information in interviews, and rumors about the two and their future are few and far between. They seem to have a good working relationship, but who really knows. A few years ago, Duquette was rumored to join the Toronto Blue Jays as President, and there were corresponding rumors that Showalter would become GM and stop managing. None of that happened, obviously.

Two questions

The real questions – aside from what players to sign or trade and when – are two-fold: (1) If Duquette and Showalter aren’t going to be around post-2018, should they be the ones making the decisions as the trade deadline approaches and the tear down (or “re-load”) begins? (2) If they are going to be around post-2018, shouldn’t that fact be affirmed with contract extensions and statements from the Angelos family offering support for those two developing the roadmap forward?

It seems silly that Duquette, Showalter & Co. would make the monumental decisions due in the coming months, then bring in a new management team to rearrange the pieces handed to them. Shouldn’t the EVP of Baseball Operations and manager of the future chart the course?

Duquette and Showalter need to either be extended and endorsed, or fired.

Resumes

Dan Duquette turns 60 years old on May 26. He’s been around since before the 2012 season. He’s a popular punching bag for O’s fans, but the big-picture facts speak for themselves. The Orioles made the playoffs in 2012, 2014 and 2016. They were competitive at least until early September in 2013, 2015 and 2017. This is the first year – out of seven seasons with DD – that came off the rails early. That’s not a bad track record.

Of course, we can point to some ridiculous signings that didn’t or are not panning out – Chris Davis as an example, Ubaldo Jimenez as another – but my guess is the call to spend on some of those contracts came from Peter Angelos and not Dan Duquette (particularly the Chris Davis signing; no way Duquette was in favor of that). The O’s farm system is improving and DD has a track record of building successful franchises, previously with the Montreal Expos and Boston Red Sox.

Should Dan Duquette be the main decider in the coming months? He can make a strong case that the answer is yes.

Buck Showalter turns 62 years old on May 23. He’s been around since August 2010. After using 2010 and 2011 to implement his program, Buck has been nothing but successful since 2012, until this season. Consensus around MLB puts him in the top category of managers (Terry Francona is probably the only one I’d pick ahead of Buck) and that is hard to dispute with the steady, stable and winning teams he’s delivered in Baltimore over the last eight years.

Frankly, to me, Buck Showalter is Baltimore baseball. Year after year the club exceeds expectations on the field and that is a direct result of his tactical managing, temperament, leadership and the lessons he learned after getting fired in New York, Arizona and Texas. With a few breaks for the O’s against New York in 2012, Kansas City in 2014 or Toronto in 2016, Buck might have an even more impressive legacy.

Is Buck Showalter the right manager to lead the team through this difficult season and beyond? He can make a strong case that the answer is yes.

The verdict

DD and Buck have been successful. They’ve made the Orioles something to be reckoned with in the AL East – and something fans in Charm City can be proud of – in ways that did not happen for 15 years before their arrival.

What they’ve accomplished together is impressive. Undeniably, the Orioles have had good teams and a solid core since 2012. Yes, the group – including Manny Machado, Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, Chris Tillman, Matt Wieters, Jim Johnson, Ryan Flaherty, Miguel Gonzalez, Delmon Young, Zach Britton and many others – appears to have fallen short of their ultimate goal and the window is now closed.

But their run in Birdland was far from a failure. In fact, it put the Orioles back on the map with three playoff appearances after more than a decade of futility. Baltimore baseball and the Oriole Way is back. What fans wouldn’t have taken that during the days of 2010 and before?

What should happen? Sign DD and Buck to five-year extensions this week and let them put together a new group to make a run at a World Series title. Buck always talks about making the postseason so the club has a chance to roll the dice. Based on their past work, I’d roll the dice one more time with DD and Buck.