Fifteen months ago, Dan Duquette was still outside looking in, trying to get back into major league baseball after nearly a decade away.
Now, after a whirlwind stretch in which he was the surprise hire for the Orioles’ top executive post and then put together a patchwork roster that made the playoffs for the first time in 15 years, Duquette is near the top of the fraternity that had shut him out.
On Thursday morning at a news conference at Camden Yards, Duquette, the Orioles’ executive vice president of baseball operations, and his manager, Buck Showalter, discussed their contract extensions that will take them through the 2018 season and give them more security, theoretically, than any other manager-general manager tandem in all of baseball.
“My personal journey was really to put everything I had into the job. These jobs don’t come along very often,” said Duquette, whose last big league executive post before being hired by the Orioles in November 2011 was as Boston Red Sox general manager in 2002. “When you get an opportunity to participate with a major league team and help turn it around, that’s a special opportunity. So my interest was really in putting all my energies into the team and helping the team.”
Based on available information, Duquette, who was signed through 2014, now has the second-longest contract in all of major league baseball for general managers, behind only Oakland’s Billy Beane, who is contracted with the A’s through 2019.
“It doesn’t change anything as far as my job description,” said Showalter, who has 1,078 wins in his 14 years as a big league manager and is 196-185 since taking over the Orioles in August 2010. “I’ve always lived under a day-to-day mentality. You look at everything like it is your last job.”
For Duquette, the extension means he has time to implement the program that he thinks can bring sustained winning to an organization that had become one of the most fallow in the sport.
“We have to build our farm system so we can be competitive. And when you have some stability, you can put some programs into place that should be able to become routine so that your process gets better,” said Duquette, who was the architect of winning clubs in Montreal and Boston. “So that you are more efficient developing players, so that [prospects] get here a little bit quicker, so that your scouting is a little bit more defined, so people understand exactly what you are looking for. And that’s what the time gives you, an opportunity to build the organization from the ground up.”
Despite nearly nine years away from big league baseball — time spent, among other ways, operating a sports academy in his native Massachusetts, developing a baseball league in Israel and running a summer collegiate team — Duquette got hired by the Orioles because of his plan to rebuild the organization through player development and scouting.
In one year, with deft management by Showalter, the Orioles won 24 more games than the previous season and demonstrated that they, at the least, had a solid core to build around. Duquette was integral in bringing in several unheralded players who contributed to the postseason run, including Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen, Jason Hammel, Joe Saunders and Nate McLouth.
But more so than the acquisitions, it was the way Showalter’s and Duquette’s strengths and styles complemented each other that led ownership to offer such lengthy extensions.
“I think it’s just a testament to their working relationship, because there was never really much concern,” said Louis Angelos, who represented ownership and his father, managing partner Peter Angelos, at Thursday’s conference. “You can start with a standard three-year deal, but then it becomes, ‘Let’s go further than that. Let’s make this about building a sustained, winning, competitive team.’ And we got two guys who are really, I think, an unmatched team.”
Duquette said he knew he and Showalter could work together well when he called him on Christmas Day 2011 to talk about signing Chen, and Showalter was engaged in the discussion.
“I said this is a man after my own heart. He wants to have a winning team,” Duquette said. “I know that may not play well at home, but I knew that this was a passionate man that wanted to do everything he could to win a game.”
Showalter joked back, “I think my wife understands how those presents got under the tree.”
Although their personalities and backgrounds differ — Showalter’s an outgoing, small-town Southerner and Duquette’s a New Englander who on the surface is more cautious and guarded — both have built successful baseball teams only to be fired before those clubs reached the World Series.
Now, assuming they can continue to make it work, they are set to be together for the next six seasons, chasing a collective dream.
“Any good team that I’ve ever been around since Little League has stability at the top, they have clear direction and good players. And we have all of that here in Baltimore today,” Duquette said. “And our aim is to build a perennial contending team that we can all follow closely and we can all be proud of.”
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