Baltimore Orioles: Learning From the Past, Looking Toward the Future

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - DECEMBER 17: Brandon Hyde (L) is introduced as the new manager of the Baltimore Orioles by general manager Mike Elias during a news conference at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on December 17, 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - DECEMBER 17: Brandon Hyde (L) is introduced as the new manager of the Baltimore Orioles by general manager Mike Elias during a news conference at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on December 17, 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /
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Baltimore Orioles
BALTIMORE, MD – JULY 27: Adam Jones #10 of the Baltimore Orioles looks on against the Tampa Bay Rays during the third inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on July 27, 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

The Revival (2012 – 2014)

As for the 2012 draft, there are many noteable names such as Kevin Gausman, Branden Kline, Christian Walker, and Josh Hader.

Despite Duquette’s moves, the legwork to build a pool of talent was mostly completed before he arrived, leading some to believe that McPhail is the unsung hero who brought winning back to Baltimore. The Birds finished second in the AL East at 93-69 in 2012, won the first MLB Wild Card game against the Texas Rangers and then lost to New York in the ALDS (2-3).

For the first time in 15 years, Baltimore was back on the radar as a top tier team. Some highlights to that season are the team’s three All-Stars Adam Jones—who signed a six year, $85.5 million contract that year—(.287/.334/.505 and a 4.1 WAR), Matt Wieters (.249/.329/.435 and a 4.1 WAR), and Jim Johnson (AL leading 51 saves). Manny Machado made his MLB debut that year and the pitching staff finished sixth in the AL with a 3.90 team ERA.

The following season ended in disappointment as the Baltimore Orioles missed the playoffs, finishing third in the AL East at 85-77. Still, All-Star Chris Davis made headlines leading the AL with 53 HR and finished third in MVP votes along with fellow All-Stars Adam Jones and J.J. Hardy, and Jonathan Schoop made his MLB debut that year.

With the good also came the bad, and it came from the front office. 2013 is the first time we see questionable moves from Duquette than will burn the Orioles in the long run.

In July of that year, he traded Pedro Strop and Jake Arrieta (admittedly he was awful at the time, but it is fair to assume the Orioles were incapable of grooming a dominant starter) for Steve Clevenger, a sub-par catcher born in Baltimore, and Scott Feldman who pitched to an average-at-best 4.27 ERA and left Baltimore that offseason. If the Orioles developed Arrieta properly, maybe he could have won a Cy Young in Baltimore instead of Chicago.

At the trade deadline of 2013, Duquette trades Josh Hader, future stud reliever, for Bud Norris who pitched to a 4.65 ERA across 282.1 innings with the O’s.

Both trades were necessary risks to make a playoff push, but similar trades in the future create an unfavorable trend of poor return.

With much to prove, the 2014 Orioles came roaring back to win an AL East title for the first time since 1997. Delmon Young hit the famous bases-clearing double in the ALDS to help sweep the Tigers in that series. Although the Kansas City Royals swept the Orioles in the ALCS, the total run differential was six across four games.

If there ever was a time to go all the way, the Orioles seemed most likely to win in that year. Key signings before 2014 included Duquette’s fruitful contract with Nelson Cruz where he went on to hit 40 dingers and 108 RBI that year. Duquette let Cruz walk after 2014 and instead signed Mark Trumbo hoping to replace him, which he failed to do so adequately.

Duquette also signed Ubaldo Jiménez before 2014, but the veteran struggled with the worst starter ERA at 4.81 (3.43 team ERA in 2014).

And lastly, at the trade deadline, Duquette sold Eduardo Rodríguez to the BoSox for a rental on Andrew Miller. He fared well at his stint in Baltimore with a 1.35 ERA in 20.0 innings, but it is fair to question the worth of a rental reliever when giving up a prospect who has been a reliable starter for the Red Sox for five years.

Leaking Ship (2015 – 2016)

Fans wittnessed another down season for the Baltimore Orioles as they finished .500 on the dot for the season. Missing the playoffs and placing third in the division was not expected for a team with that level of talent. Manny Machado and Chris Davis both had a monster year, but most of the team had average performance.

Before that season, the Orioles did not re-sign Nick Markakis, a Baltimore icon alongside Adam Jones for almost a decade. He had some health issues, which may have been the main reason for letting Markakis go, but after leaving Baltimore he remained a consistent performer in Atlanta.

On top of letting Markakis walk, Duquette traded for Gerardo Parra at the deadline to fill the gaping hole in right field. In exchange for Zach Davies, who is currently 27 and has a career 3.91 ERA over 3+ seasons with the Brewers, Parra produced a measely .237/.268/.357 slash line over 55 games with the Orioles. Chalk that up as another failed trade for Duquette.

And last, but certainly not least, it is time to talk about the Chris Davis contract. After 2015 he became a free agent in the open market. He wanted big money and the Orioles would never give him that money, right?

I mean they let Cruz walk even though he hit 44 bombs after leaving. They let Markakis walk and he sustained solid production for the Braves. The only other big contract they committed to was Adam Jones’ in 2012. But oh how wrong I was. They signed Davis to a seven, yes SEVEN, year $161 million contract that will not exire until he is 37 years old in 2023.

Oof, talk about a bad deal made by Duquette and the front office. This deal is debatedly the worst contract in the history of baseball.

Most of you may be saying this was the beginning of the end, but I would like to take you back to before the 2015 season even started. The Toronto Blue Jays at the time were seeking to hire a General Manager. Duquette reportely had interest and so the organizations began talking over a deal that would send him to Toronto. The Orioles wanted prospects in return (because their farm system was gutted from deadline trades among other factors), but they were asking for too much, so a deal never materialized.

I would argue that this moment was the beginning of the end. A bad omen, one might say, for the future of the organization. Entertaining the idea of leaving in order to manage a division rival, while still under contract? This had bad news written all over it.

Moving past that mediocre season, the 2016 Orioles played well enough to finish second in the AL East and earn a wild card game against the Blue Jays. Welcoming new addition Hyun Soo Kim from South Korea performed well despite only garnering 305 at-bats, Manny Machado continued to tear it up, Chris Davis collected 38 HR, and Zack Britton had a historic 0.54 ERA and 47 Saves on the season.

So what went wrong? Well, Duquette continued to plug washed up veterans like Vance Worley, Yovani Gallardo, Wade Miley, and Pedro Álvarez into the lineup to solve the team’s weaknesses.

On top of that, prospects in the organization either had repeated setbacks due to injuries or were not developing properly. If one looked closely, they could see the 89-win-Orioles as an extremely fragile team waiting to fall apart, and that happened in the 2016 Wild Card playoff game.

A Quick Descent (2016 – 2018)

It was a tight game all night long. Tied 2-2 since the fifth inning, the game went to extra innings. Neither the Baltimore Orioles nor Toronto Blue Jays could cross a runner at home. Then, in the bottom of the 11th inning, Brian Duensing comes out to pitch. He strikes out the first batter he faces. Then, Buck Showalter replaces Duensing with Ubaldo Jiménez and 1-2-3, he gives up the game. Just like that. Single, single, home run and the Orioles season is over.

If Duquette almost leaving the team to become GM somewhere else was the beginning of the end, then this wild card game was the tipping point for the franchise.

The O’s could not recover from the previous season as they fell hard to fifth place in the division in 2017. Fans look at the 2016 Wild Card game and wonder what could have happened if Zack Britton, the league’s hottest reliever that year, was put in the game.

Nevertheless, 2018 got even worse for the O’s as they lost a historic 115 games. They were forced into a rebuild after trading away Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Darren O’Day, Kevin Gausman, Brad Brach, and Zack Britton at the deadline.

After that season, Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter’s contracts expired and were not renewed.

Over 8.5 seasons, Buck Showalter was the first Oriole manager since Earl Weaver to manage the team for more than 4 years and has the second most managerial wins in Orioles history (669).

He, along with Duquette, led Baltimore to three playoff appearances in a five year span and one AL East division title. Say what you want about the two, they deserve credit for the success over that time period.