At what point are you just forced to start trusting that the Orioles know what they’re doing?
Last week, when we released the results of the MLB Daily Dish front office survey, we found that Dan Duquette finished 28th out of 30 GMs in terms of how his own fans felt about his performance. It was, at once, deeply shocking and understandable. Shocking because the Orioles have been in the postseason three times in the last five seasons, and have won more games than any other team in the American League in that span. But understandable because…well, just look at their offseason moves over the last several years.
Dan Duquette has prioritized acquiring sluggers more than any GM since Jack Zdurenciek’s calamitous reign in Seattle. He seemingly bid against himself (or was ordered to by owner Peter Angelos) for Chris Davis. He ponied up for Mark Trumbo. He’s signed Pedro Alvarez twice. He traded for Seth Smith. In a league that prioritizes defense, Duquette has gone in the opposite direction.
He’s also struggled to patch a starting rotation that is consistently underwhelming. Ubaldo Jimenez coaxed a four year, $50 million deal out of him. Yovani Gallardo signed for two years and $22 million. Both moves have been total disasters. Meanwhile, he released Miguel Gonzalez, who has provided the White Sox with a solidly league-average starter since the start of 2016.
So yeah, I get why O’s fans might be less than on board with what Duquette is doing. But is that fair? I mean, again, we’re talking about the winningest regular season team for the last five years. Shouldn’t that trump our own gut instincts?
Well, not really. More than anyone else, the people responsible for the Orioles’ excellence were acquired under other people’s watch. Duquette was hired in November of 2011. By then, Manny Machado, also known as the second best player in baseball behind Mike Trout, had been in the organization for a year already. Chris Davis had been acquired by Andy MacPhail the previous summer as well. Adam Jones? He’s been around since 2008. J.J. Hardy, Matt Wieters, and Jonathan Schoop all also predate Duquette’s arrival. While he did strike gold with Steven Pearce (waivers) and Nelson Cruz (coming off of a PED suspension), those moves seem more like the exception than the rule.
On the pitching side, it’s more complicated. Duquette did strong work early in his tenure acquiring talented arms. Chris Tillman, Dylan Bundy and Zach Britton all had been around for a while, but Kevin Gausman was Duquette’s first draft choice. He also made strong out of the box moves to acquire Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez in his first offseason, and claimed Darren O’Day off of waivers as well. And in 2013, he acquired Brad Brach for a minor league arm that never developed. But he also traded Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop for a mediocre Scott Feldman. While it’s possible neither pitcher would have developed in Baltimore, that would be an additional indictment against the O’s regime.
And, Duquette has struggled to uncover amateur talent who will be able to replace his stars if and when they leave. Chance Sisco is literally the only O’s prospect listed on MLB.com, Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law, or Baseball America’s Top 100 lists, and Law wrote this winter that “there’s little to no star potential anywhere here above short-season ball, and after their No. 1 prospect it’s not clear there’s a future regular position player in the system.” With Machado, Britton, and Jones eligible for free agency after next season, and Chris Davis slated to start his decline phase, there’s every indication that Baltimore will crater after 2018. Conversely, there’s nothing to imply that Duquette will have the ability to help them rebuild.
At best, Duquette’s performance is a mixed bag. There’s no doubt that he’s managed not to get in the way of the club’s success at this point. That, in and of itself, is an accomplishment. But he’s done very little to improve the team’s long term outlook. So at what point do we start trusting Dan Duquette and his Orioles? Even with the club off to yet another hot start, the answer is apparently never.