As we wait through a couple of off days before games begin again – in Texas for the Orioles – I thought I would weigh in on some comments made by Orioles Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette. Most of these are from a Steve Melewski MASN article which can be found in its entirety HERE.
Duquette has grown on me over time. When he first came to the Orioles, he struck me as aloof and condescending. Obviously the GM fellow in any baseball organization does not need to be a life-of-the-party dude (and being aloof may even be a resume enhancement). But he had been out of the game for a while; and then there is that issue of WHO he was involved with in the past. Lots of early hires seemed to have those good-ole-boy connections sort of look about them. But Duquette is truly proving to be an outstanding baseball guy in terms of both management and that inscrutable extra quality of “an eye for the game.” (To quote one of Buck’s favorite lines, I guess I’d say “he’s got a good look in his eye!”)
One of the issues that both Duquette and Showalter are frequently asked about is the long-term positioning of Manny Machado. I don’t get the fascination with this question. Obviously the kid can play both positions. So I like Duquette’s response, “It looks to me like he’s doing a really good job at third base and he’s got himself established there … So I don’t really feel the need to project where he is going to play.”
Good answer Dan! We know J.J. Hardy is going to be at shortstop for another year. Perhaps an extension of his contract at that time will be in order. Beyond that, the Orioles can see who is coming up, and they can then shift Machado or choose to retain him at third at that time. This is a good problem to have, and trying to project today where he will ultimately be is attempting to bring definition to something still terribly speculative.
Duquette then went on to elaborate about Machado, “A year ago at this time, he was hitting .265 in the Eastern League and playing shortstop. Then he came to the big leagues and made the All-Star team. Evidently for Manny, the Eastern League was a much tougher league. He looks good to me.” It is a remark like this that is causing me to have warmer feelings for Dan, though I still think he is the last guy in the organization with whom it would be fun to hang out at Buffalo Wild Wings!
Duquette was asked about whether it is easier to buy or develop #1 starters and he said, “How many teams have No. 1 starters? How many No. 1 starters are there throughout the industry? There are less than a handful. You need to have a process to develop pitching throughout the organization.”
In a way, that is a no-brainer answer. Like, who would say, “We’re not going to develop pitchers throughout our organization; we’re going to get them through free agency”? Yet at the same time it does speak to a philosophical commitment that is among the primary bullet points of strategic initiatives for every great baseball organization.
OK… here I climb up on my soapbox about relief pitching and closers. If it is factual that there are only a handful of true #1 starters in the industry, it is not also then logical to confess that there are only truly a handful of genuine closers? So, would it not be better to develop a group of relievers who can successfully close out games and match up the projected hitters in the final inning, rather than having an announced policy as to which person is the current “designated closer?”
Duquette made several astute remarks about the way this Orioles team has been embraced by the fans and why the attendance has improved. He said, “I think the fans identify with the work ethic of this ballclub. It’s a hard-working team. … The whole idea is to have the community identify with the team and feel like they are part of the team. The fans have really connected with this group and under the leadership of Buck it’s created a nice connection with the community.”
This observation is absolutely true. I have often remarked from my exposure to the players and Buck – particularly at FanFest sorts of events, along with what can be gleaned from TV interviews – that this is a group that really likes each other and enjoys coming to work. As an organizational leader in varied settings over the years, there is something to be said for the intangible qualities of “atmosphere.” When it is good around a team or organization, a visitor can feel it immediately … and just the opposite. Baltimore fans feel this current good vibe, and the Orioles have “it” … whatever that positive quality of “it” is … they’ve got it, “it”, … you know what I mean. Is “it” enough to win a World Series? That end result is neither probable nor impossible. But having been a coach, I’d certainly rather have a team with “it” than without it.
How about some of you readers weighing in on Dan Duquette. Is he proving to be better than you at first expected?