Analysis since the All-Star Game – rightfully so – has focused on the eight players the Orioles received in trades for Manny Machado and Zach Britton. What is their profile and scouting report? Upside? Downside? How quickly can they get to MLB? Was the haul fair for a 26-year-old perennial All-Star and former lights out closer? All good questions.
Along with that analysis is what was said and wasn’t said by Dan Duquette, Buck Showalter, and O’s players and brass in the aftermath of the deals. Are clues about the future of DD and Buck, both with contracts that expire at the end of this season, in their words?
Words have meaning. Duquette and Showalter almost never veer off script and seldom, if ever, opine with random musings not part of the plan. Hence, their words, when analyzed, tell us more than other executives and managers.
What can we learn when looking closer at what they and others said?
First, what wasn’t said?
On July 18, the day the Machado trade became official, MASN’s Roch Kubatko wrote nearly 2,000 words recapping the news of the day and a 19-minute conference call with Dan Duquette, which curiously did not include two words – Buck and Showalter.
On July 19, the Baltimore Sun’s Jon Meoli wrote nearly 1,000 words on the same conference call and topics, which did not include the same two words – Buck and Showalter.
It is odd that announcing the Machado trade, the most seminal off the field moment for the organization since Showalter was hired in August 2010, the executive vice president of baseball operations apparently didn’t mention the manager. The same manager whose contract expires when Duquette’s does.
Duquette did use phrases like “new direction,” “re-building,” “re-tool our roster,” and “bring the organization back to the competitive stature that we’re used to.” But no talk of Buck Showalter. Granted, Showalter wasn’t on the conference call. But, more than likely, he would have been prominently mentioned if he was “part of the multi-dimensional strategy to build a competitive club in the future.” Right?
If the Boston Red Sox were trading their best player and officially switching from “reloading” to “rebuilding,” would Dave Dombrowski mention Alex Cora? Would Brian Cashman mention Aaron Boone? Would Matthew Silverman mention Kevin Cash? The answer is yes.
How grueling is grueling?
Discussing the way ahead, Duquette noted, “The clubs that have been through it recently have given us an intrinsic road map of what to do…I think we have a good idea of what it takes to be consistently good.”
Trey Mancini echoed Duquette this week when he said, “Yeah, in baseball that happens. We saw what happened with the Astros and Cubs when they went through a rebuild. In this sport players come and go and sometimes you have to do this.”
The “clubs that have been through it recently” include the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros, as Mancini noted, as well as the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies. Looking at the tear down approach those organizations went through:
- From 2011-2014, the Cubs lost 91, 101, 96 and 89 games.
- From 2011-2014, the Astros lost 106, 107, 111 and 92 games.
- From 2013-2017, the Phillies lost 89, 89, 99, 91 and 96 games.
- From 2015-2017, the Braves lost 95, 93 and 90 games.
Duquette referred to a “grueling process” while the organization implements the new “strategy.” Is the depth of what he’s talking about 90 to 100 plus losses through 2020 or 2021? A complete tear down? That certainly is what is implied without saying it directly.
Duquette added after the Britton trade:
“So, to me, you have a daily plan, you have a one-year plan. I don’t put that much emphasis on a two-year plan, but on a three-year plan I think you can really lean and look and try to project what kind of contribution you can get from the players you have on your current roster. There’s a lot of data that helps you do that more accurately, and we’re in the process of doing that. But that’s part of the process when you rebuild.”
Sounds, at a minimum, like a three year plan with a lot of misery along the way.
Who is guiding the ship?
Practically every article written for months by writers in the know – at the Baltimore Sun, MASN, The Athletic, Camden Chat, etc. – refers to growing influence in the organization from John Angelos, Louis Angelos and Brady Anderson. No one ever promotes the concept of a certain future or significant influence from Duquette or Showalter.
Following the Britton deal, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic wrote, “It’s anyone’s guess whether Duquette and manager Buck Showalter will remain with the club after their contracts expire at the end of the season, and whether the O’s front office will ever become truly functional.” If anyone knows the future organizational structure of the Warehouse, it would be Rosenthal, and apparently he has no idea.
Is the lack of clarity for Showalter and Duquette the result of having no future in Baltimore or because they aren’t self-promoters? It could be a mix of both.
In his July 18 remarks, Duquette said:
“Everybody understands some of the changes that we need to make. Orioles fans should know how deeply committed we are to making the important adjustments. Like I’ve said before, my heart is in Baltimore and I’d like to make the Orioles into a top contending organization again. Today is a new direction for the organization. I’m glad to be helping the club go in that new direction.”
Duquette would “like to” make the O’s a contender again and he’s “glad to be helping” that happen. Hmmmm.
With this quote, is Duquette subtly lobbying the triumvirate of the Angelos brothers and Brady Anderson to keep his job? Does he already have an extension and it just hasn’t been announced (a la the disgrace that was Ernie Grunfeld getting a “secret” contract extension in 2017 that wasn’t announced until 2018 to run the Washington Wizards)? Possible. Is DD’s future with the Orioles really TBD? That seems hard to believe. Is he being a good soldier, knowing he’ll be fired after the season but wanting another job in MLB? Maybe, but the quotes don’t really read that way.
Further muddying the waters, Peter Schmuck of the Baltimore Sun quoted Showalter on June 24, referring to veteran leadership:
“I think when the smoke clears from a lot of the stuff that’s going on, we’ll be able to look at things more down the road. I think Dan and his group upstairs are really about, ‘Okay, let’s get the best players possible for this guy or that guy,’ and when it all clears, kind of see where you are.”
The most telling part of that quote is the reference to “…Dan and his group upstairs…” Is the suggestion that the trades are happening without significant input from Buck? Is Buck implying this because he’s the one that must deal with the players every day, so creating distance makes those relationships easier? Is it because he really has no input? The latter is hard to believe.
Or is all of this too much parsing of words? Probably not. Duquette and Showalter choose their words incredibly carefully. Neither just says things to say them.
State of the Orioles
Saturday, July 28 at Camden Yards, before the game against Tampa Bay, O’s season ticket holders have a chance to ask Buck and Duquette questions during their annual “State of the Orioles” address. I’d encourage fans to ask two pointed questions:
1. Do the two of you expect to be with the Orioles in 2019? Have either of you received a contract extension and if not, would you like one?
2. Looking at the new plan, when will the Orioles expect to field a competitive team again? Two years? Three years? What is the precise projected timeline of the rebuild?
The answers probably won’t tell fans much, but they will give further clues as to the way forward. One other thought – if Showalter and Duquette are not part of the future, why in the world are they in the middle of the most significant series of trades the organization has ever seen? It is all very perplexing.
What will happen?
To be honest, I have no idea. I’m not an MLB beat writer. I’m just a fan of the Orioles that watches, listens to or attends most every game possible. But, it’s fun to analyze from the outside.
The words and tea leaves tell me that Buck is out after this season, and he knows it. Probably the same for Duquette, but he is fighting to stay.
This conclusion about Duquette was bolstered Wednesday on MLB Network Radio’s “Power Alley” when co-host Jim Duquette – former Orioles vice president of baseball operations and Dan Duquette’s cousin – said no decision has been made by the Orioles powers that be, but “Dan would like to stay there.” Jim wouldn’t say that if he didn’t know it to be true.
Time will tell. This isn’t how 2018 was supposed to be.
What do I want to happen? As I’ve written before, Buck epitomizes the orange and black of Baltimore baseball. With DD leading baseball operations at the Warehouse, no team won more games in the American League from 2012-16 than the O’s, and his career track record of success in Montreal and Boston is also impressive. I hope both stay. Channeling one of the best managers in MLB, “I like our guys.”
If that’s not in the cards, a big-time high five, strong handshake and major thank you is what I’d offer the two men that made it fun again to be an O’s fan.