The worst season in Orioles history is nearing the end, but for an organization that faces many obstacles to return to respectability, the rebuild is just beginning.
This offseason will be a busy one, with Orioles decision makers determining the futures of many within the organization — most notably manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president Dan Duquette — while also contemplating whether this is the ideal time to restructure the infrastructure of the baseball operations department.
That process has already begun, according to an industry source, with the Orioles ownership and top-level executives looking throughout the industry to cultivate a list of individuals whose interest they’d like to gauge for various roles. The Orioles have long been known for being methodical in making decisions, but this regime realizes decisions and action must be made quickly once the season ends, according to the source.
Showalter said before Friday’s series opener at Yankee Stadium that he hasn’t been told about his future beyond this season. Duquette said Friday it is his understanding that those decisions will be made at the end of the season.
John and Louis Angelos, the sons of manager partner Peter G. Angelos, have assumed decision-making control of the team given to them from their 89-year-old father. The club also brought in a new chief operating officer, former Miami Heat executive John Vidalin, to oversee the club’s business operations. While John and Louis were involved in the hirings of Duquette and Showalter, seven and eight years ago, respectively, they will have much more influence this time around.
That isn’t to say the fates of Showalter and Duquette, who are in the final year of their contracts, are set. Club ownership decided to retain both through the season, looking at it as an opportunity to evaluate each through the club’s roster overhaul. That this season will end with the most losses in team history, and the club never had a stretch of improved play, doesn’t help either one’s cause. But several factors are at play.
Duquette was given the keys to make the team’s nonwaiver deadline trades, jettisoning Manny Machado at the All-Star break, closer Zach Britton six days later, and then Kevin Gausman, Jonathan Schoop and Darren O’Day at the July 31 deadline. He removed some of the team’s highest-paid players in the process. In return, the Orioles received quantity — 15 players and other assets — but the quality of the haul won’t be determined for several years. Of those players, infielder Jonathan Villar, 27, could be a fixture for the next two seasons before he reaches free agency, and five others have made their debuts with the Orioles, but their contributions have combined for minus-0.5 wins above replacement entering Friday, according to Baseball Reference.
Showalter was given a roster ripped of the majority of its cornerstone pieces and had them replaced mostly with inexperienced or unproven players. Showalter and his staff have worked to teach a new group the “Oriole Way” of playing strong defense, playing smart baseball and doing the little things right. That’s been a challenge with this group, mostly because many come from different organizations. But that instruction, which mostly is accomplished during the opening weeks of spring training, continues to the end of this season.
It is clear the Orioles must make decisions on Showalter and Duquette sooner than later, and part of that, according to the source, will be meeting with both. The contributions of Showalter and Duquette in bringing winning back to Baltimore — a stretch of three playoff berths over a five-year span from 2012 to 2016 after 14 straight losing seasons — won’t go unrecognized, and if both don’t remain in their current roles, the source indicated they will be offered other positions within the organization. Also, those meetings give both the opportunity to say whether they want to remain with the Orioles. Losing takes a toll, and both might want to pursue other opportunities.
The Orioles will have to go through the decision-making process quickly. Under Major League Baseball rules, when receiving permission to speak with executives or staff under contract with other teams, organizations have a seven-day window to interview them. That window can be extended by the team that employs that person. So in that context, it’s wise for the Orioles to have a working list of potential candidates for positions at the end of the season. At the same time, the Orioles plan to go into the process with an open mind, knowing candidates they could bring in might fit better in different roles after the interview process.
Duquette has been the public voice of the rebuild, saying the Orioles will reallocate their resources, investing less in the major league payroll and more into scouting, recruiting, player development, technology, facilities, training programs and the international free-agent market. The Orioles have already signed more international free agents to six-figure bonuses than last year, but the other aspects of the rebuild will likely have to wait until a baseball operations head — whether it’s Duquette or someone else — is formally selected.
If Duquette’s role in a potential rebuild is murky, Showalter’s might be more so, especially if the Orioles plan to move forward with an inexpensive payroll. Showalter, still noted as one of baseball’s best managers, was the fifth-highest paid manager in the majors this season, according to USA Today. Next season, only four players on the Orioles’ active roster will be paid more than the $4 million Showalter made this season. So no matter whether Showalter wants to be part of the future, a key question is whether a rebuilding team such as the Orioles can afford to pay a manager that much or is better served hiring a younger, cheaper manager.
Throw in the latest chapter in the team’s long-simmering dispute with the Washington Nationals over Mid-Atlantic Sports Network rights fees, which will begin to be written early in the offseason, and it makes for a busy — and important — first two months for the Orioles even before the winter meetings in early December.
Despite recent attempts to resolve the dispute, the Orioles are now set to have their case heard in front of a new MLB arbitration panel in mid-November, and at this point, it appears that will be the next step in a conflict that dates six years.
A newly assembled MLB Revenue Sharing Distribution Committee will hear the Orioles’ argument. Up to $150 million in accumulated rights fees are at stake, not to mention future fees that would affect how the teams spend money, between Washington and Baltimore, which have become disparate markets in terms of ticket prices and attendance.
That decision will affect how the Orioles can spend throughout the organization, and if the club doesn’t win, it will likely keep fighting in the courts, which increases the importance of making decisions on the baseball side of the club early in the offseason.