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Under Dan Duquette, Orioles Reclaimed Winning Ways

December 15, 2016
Five years ago, Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette came to Baltimore hoping to bring a championship. He hasn't quite made it, but his five years have been a success. 

With three postseason appearances and five consecutive non-losing seasons for the first time since the glory days of the 1980s, one would think Duquette has been praised universally. He hasn't. 

Some of his detractors claim he simply inherited players acquired under his predecessor, Andy MacPhail, and is getting undue credit. Or that manager Buck Showalter, whom he also inherited, did most of the work. 

MacPhail did find center fielder Adam Jones, right-handed starter Chris Tillman, shortstop J.J. Hardy, first baseman Chris Davis, third baseman Manny Machado, catcher Matt Wieters, second baseman Jonathan Schoop and closer Zach Britton, the core that's sparked the Orioles' revival.  

But under Duquette and Showalter, those players have flourished.

Duquette signed Jones and Hardy to reasonable extensions without allowing them to enter the free-agent market. Jones' six-year, $85.5 million contract in particular has worked out well for both parties. The center fielder has performed brilliantly for the first four years.  

Britton and Tillman, who had difficult beginnings before Duquette and Showalter, have become All-Stars. Machado was moved from shortstop to third base, another move that has been a masterstroke, and Schoop has developed nicely. 

Duquette inherited a team that went 69-93 in 2011, and a year later, the record reversed. The 93 wins sent the Orioles to the postseason for the first time since 1997.

In 2012, Duquette acquired left-handed starter Wei-Yin Chen and right-handed pitcher Miguel Gonzalez and got four successful seasons out of both for not much money. Neither of them was on other teams' radars when they signed with the Orioles.

Duquette has exploited the international market well. Chen and outfielder Hyun Soo Kim were the first Orioles to come from Taiwan and South Korea, respectively. His first big international signing was a two-year, $8.15 million deal for left-handed starter Tsuyoshi Wada, but the pitcher needed Tommy John surgery and never pitched for the Orioles.

Besides Chen and Gonzalez, Duquette quickly traded right-handed starter Jeremy Guthrie, the nominal leader of the pitching staff, before spring training began in 2012. He acquired right-handed starter Jason Hammel and right-handed reliever Matt Lindstrom from the Colorado Rockies. Hammel was a key pitcher in 2012, and Lindstrom fetched left-handed starter Joe Saunders, who won the Wild Card game against the Texas Rangers.

He also signed outfielder Nate McLouth from the minor league scrap heap. McLouth resurrected his career and served as an effective replacement in the outfield and leadoff hitter when right fielder Nick Markakis was lost with a broken hand in September 2012. 

Duquette also did excellent work with the 2014 team, signing outfielder/designated hitter Nelson Cruz to an $8 million contract once spring training began. Cruz provided the key offensive spark the Orioles needed, and the team cruised to an American League East title. 

The 2014 team had excellent starting pitching, and it was Britton's first year as a closer. 

In perhaps his most daring move with the club, Duquette wisely jettisoned former closer Jim Johnson, who had saved 101 games in 2012 and 2013, because he thought he was getting too pricey. 

The salary dump wasn't widely popular in the Orioles' organization, because Johnson was considered a clubhouse leader, and because there was no obvious replacement for Johnson.  

When the Orioles whiffed on signing closer Grant Balfour due to a failed physical -- another controversial move, but one Duquette didn't bear responsibility for -- they moved on. Right-handed reliever Tommy Hunter started the 2014 season as the closer, but was replaced by Britton, who has become arguably baseball's best. 

The 2014 season, which included a trade-deadline deal for standout reliever Andrew Miller, was wildly successful, but the offseason that followed was a fiasco. Duquette's reported dalliance with the Toronto Blue Jays was never fully explained and marred the offseason. By the time the escapade ended in late January, Duquette needed a replacement for Markakis, who left in another controversial move as a free agent, and he resorted to a trade for then-Pirates outfielder Travis Snider, and that one backfired. 

Snider, who was acquired for two promising, young left-handed pitchers, Steven Brault and Stephen Tarpley, wasn't an adequate replacement for the ultra-dependable Markakis. By the July trade deadline, the Orioles needed a replacement for Snider, which ended up being outfielder Gerardo Parra, who cost the Orioles another pitching prospect, right-hander Zach Davies. 

To make matters worse, Parra wasn't re-signed. 

After the embarrassing 2015 season, which ended with the team salvaging a .500 record, Duquette rededicated himself, and the Orioles made the postseason again as a wild card last season. 

The 2016 season was, in Duquette's words, "a personal favorite of mine," and that's because he had a dynamite year. 

Turnabout is fair play, and just as Duquette smartly knew when Johnson was getting expensive, he also surmised slugger Mark Trumbo would be a good buy when the Seattle Mariners thought he was too rich for their tastes. 

Trumbo hit 47 home runs and was another steady presence in the Orioles' clubhouse. 

The Orioles retained Wieters on a qualifying offer and re-signed Davis and right-handed reliever Darren O'Day. Duquette also signed Kim and first baseman/designated hitter Pedro Alvarez and made a good deal in picking up outfielder Michael Bourn Aug. 31. 

Not every one of Duquette's signings has worked out. Right-handed starter Ubaldo Jimenez's four-year, $50 million deal hasn't been a disaster, as popularly portrayed, but he hasn't lived up to the investment, and February 2016's signing of right-handed starter Yovani Gallardo hasn't worked out well yet.  

Even though fans pan Duquette's trade of right-handed starter Jake Arrieta and right-handed reliever Pedro Strop to the Chicago Cubs for right-handed starter Scott Feldman and catcher Steve Clevenger, everyone associated with the Orioles knew Arrieta had been given multiple chances to succeed and just wouldn't do it in Baltimore. 

Duquette tirelessly defends the Orioles' farm system, and he has a point. While he inherited a system that wasn't rated highly, under Duquette, Mychal Givens, a high draft choice who failed as an infielder, has been converted with great success to relief pitching. 

Right-handed starter Kevin Gausman, his first top draft choice, began pitching better in the last two months of the 2016 season, and late in the season, lefty reliever Donnie Hart and first baseman/designated hitter Trey Mancini, both 2013 draftees, made successful major-league debuts. The team also has high hopes for catcher Chance Sisco.

Besides the international markets, Duquette has also used the Rule 5 draft with great success, picking up utility man Ryan Flaherty, left-handed reliever T.J. McFarland and outfielder Joey Rickard, all of whom have helped the team at times. 

While Showalter deserves much credit for the team's success and for helping convince managing partner Peter Angelos to boost the team's payroll and widen its contract parameters, that shouldn't lessen Duquette's role in the Orioles' renaissance.

The Orioles haven't yet reached the World Series under Duquette, but even if they don't, he's helped keep the team relevant and successful.

Issue 228: December 2016