In your first season as Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations you helped lead the Orioles to the playoffs for the first time since the late 1990s, providing a fun and exciting team along the way. You made shrewd moves like bringing in high-upside/low-risk guys named McLouth, Ford, Saunders and more who would ultimately play roles in turning around what many had written off as a perennial loser. Not every move you made came up spades (I’m looking at you Joel Pineiro), but many of them did.
The funny thing is, many fans were worried when we hired you. We saw guys like Jerry DiPoto and Tony LaCava turn down the job or take positions elsewhere, leaving the Orioles with a guy who had been out of the business for years. ”Typical Orioles” many groaned, unaware of the track record you possessed. Building Montreal into arguably the best team in baseball in just a few short years, then leaving for Boston and bringing in the core for a team Theo Epstein would ultimately get all the credit for. You were unappreciated, fairly or not. Fans clearly didn’t realize that you needn’t have two capital letters in your last name to be a successful GM in Major League Baseball.
In Moneyball you were (wrongly) portrayed as being the anti-sabermetric guy. The dummy who overpaid for Johnny Damon (which, as we all know was a good deal in hindsight – especially because marquee players bring back greater returns in larger markets). In actuality you were one of the first to embrace the statistically-driven baseball we know and love today. In fact, one could argue that you paved the way for a guy like Theo Epstein in Boston, who we all know is numbers-driven above all else.
I implore you to look back on your time as the General Manager for the Expos and Red Sox, learning from the successes and failures you had at each stop. The Orioles may have been the last team not named “Yankees” to lead Major League Baseball in player salaries (1998), but that doesn’t mean we have to spend like the Orioles of the late 1990s to be successful.
I’m sure you remember that time you traded Delino Deshields for a young Pedro Martinez? Deshields was coming off of a successful season where he hit .295 and stole 43 bases, reaching base nearly 39% of the time. Martinez had, at the time amassed just 115 Major League innings, but would go on to post a WAR no lower than 3.3 in the 4 seasons he spent in Montreal. That includes his masterful 1997 season where Pedro won a Cy Young nearly unanimously over guys like Schilling and Maddux. This was accompanied by several other moves where you moved veterans for young and cheap players with upside or acquired high-upside/low-risk guys that ended up playing a big role in winning teams.
In Boston you laid the groundwork for what would become the famous “Curse of the Bambino” busting Red Sox team. In fact, consecutive 90 win seasons showed that the team was on the verge of doing something special. Initially some of the moves you made were the ones that fans had come to expect from you based on your success in Montreal. You acquired Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek for Heathcliff Slocumb after he posted a 5.79 ERA in the first half of the season. You acquired Pedro Martinez from Montreal the season after he posted a 1.90 ERA in 241 innings by offering prospects Carl Pavano and Tony Armas, Jr.
The problem is… well, you made some not so great moves at the end of your term in Boston. As Jonah Keri points out, it could have been the pressure of being so close or having a roster of stars ready to make an impact that pushed you to make some questionable decisions. Signing Troy O’Leary to a long term deal despite a less than stellar track record, moving prospects for what would become bench bats, and more. Keri detailed more of the moves that would prove your ultimate undoing in Boston, but really it doesn’t provide much value for us to review them ad nauseum.
What I would like to request, is that we look critically at these decisions and why they were made. You see, the Orioles look suspiciously like those Red Sox teams of the late 1990s/early 2000s where a lot of the pieces are in place for a sustainable contender. I love that we can bring in guys like Alexi Casilla who could provide a lot of value despite costing the club very little. That does not mean however, that we need to lock up guys that helped the 2012 club to long-term deals. I love McLouth as much as the next guy (this is a lie) but he doesn’t need to be “locked up” so to speak.
Rumor has it this past season that you balked at a request from the Padres that would require Jonathon Schoop and Nick Delmonico (among others) for All-Star 3B Chase Headley. Whether or not it is true, the key is that you made a decision not to mortgage the future for one season. This flies in the face of the moves that hurt you in Boston like trading Dennis Tankersley for Ed Sprague. I would suggest that this be a strategy that you continue to exercise as we move into years 2, 3, and 4 of the Duquette reign in Baltimore.
What you’ve done in Baltimore has been spectacular, building on the core put into place by Andy MacPhail and other previous regimes. As the Orioles continue to (hopefully) improve you shouldn’t abandon the methodology you’ve utilized to this point. Continue to target improving OBP, not because it’s the Moneyball-ist of the Moneyball stats, but because it’s the most economically viable aspect of the team to improve. Continue to bring in veterans that need a second chance (Jason Bay looks pretty good) because they could be next year’s Nate McLouth. Continue to give young guys a chance (*cough* Manny Machado *cough*) as they prove they deserve them. Continue with everything you’ve done to this point because it’s pretty clear that it has worked. What I’m going to ask though, is that you don’t fall in love with the moves you make, because today’s savior could become tomorrow’s albatross contract. Congratulations on a successful season, here’s to many more like it moving forward.
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