As the Orioles officially wrapped up their disappointing 2015 season with a postmortem news conference last week, executive vice president Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter sat side by side and said they share the goal of bringing the team back to the postseason in 2016.
They were on the same page, even in answering queries about their perceived personal rift, both laughing it off. Recent national reports say their personality clash is getting worse, that they can no longer work together. But when that topic was broached, they quickly rebutted it.
"I've liked our body of work," Showalter said.
Earlier, Duquette said reports of increased tension between himself and Showalter are nothing more than gossip, and that their relationship remains sound.
"Buck and I have the same interest and passion for fielding a competitive team, and that's what I put my energy in," Duquette said.
And Showalter said the Orioles are in very good hands with the two working together.
"We better disagree about some things and kick things around. I disagree with my coaches. They disagree with me," Showalter said. "That's the least of our challenges. Throughout the organization we have a healthy draw of opinions, almost too much sometimes."
While club sources say tension has existed between the two — and it intensified some during the disappointing 2015 season that failed to meet expectations — they add that their relationship hasn't changed much since the two began working together.
"I don't think it's any different since we came together in [November 2011]," Showalter said. "Do we have disagreements on some things? Sure. Honestly, I think it's a positive. You don't want everyone to always agree on everything. But when something comes up, we all sit down and talk about things. Everyone has a say."
Managing partner Peter G. Angelos is pleased with their working relationship. They are both signed for the next three years, and as seen last offseason when Duquette was linked to the Toronto Blue Jays' president/CEO job, Angelos expects both to remain through their current deals.
How they mesh
The marriage between Showalter and Duquette has not only been fruitful, but has also given the organization stability it long lacked. Their four seasons together mark the longest tenure of an Orioles manager and general manager together since Earl Weaver and Hank Peters partnered for seven years from 1976 to 1982, and two more when Weaver returned in 1985 and 1986.
Even though Showalter and Duquette can't be described as buddies, there are few home games when they don't meet behind the batting cage during batting practice to discuss the matters of the day.
During their time together, the Orioles own the best regular-season record in the American League. But there have been times when the two have not been on the same page, leading to mixed messages throughout the organization.
Some of those are personality clashes, because in a lot of ways, they are as different as can be in those terms. But others are philosophical, as the two hold tight to their respective sides of the old-school baseball versus analytics dichotomy.
In some ways, that's why they've been successful. They are both passionate in their own ways. It's also why they can bristle.
Among Showalter's greatest strengths are his feel for the game, his feel for his team as a whole and his ability to read his players individually. He knows when to comfort players and when to push them, and because of that, he develops an emotional bond with them.
Showalter is an engaging extrovert who can talk about anything. He's well versed on every nuance of the game, from defensive shifts to video replay to the state of umpiring. He isn't shy, and will share his take on any subject, and that includes personnel matters.
The decisions that Duquette makes, however, are more based on numbers. He assembles a club based on statistical projections and scouting assessments, so he's not as emotionally attached to players who don't perform. Generally speaking, he prefers to keep information close to the vest, even shielding it from his top lieutenants at times.
In the offseason, Duquette typically works methodically, gauging all factors before making a move, often allowing the free-agent market to come to him. It has worked before — as it did with the February 2014 signing of slugger Nelson Cruz — but sometimes he's left empty-handed.
Having said that, Showalter has say in baseball decisions that most field managers don't. He also has a close relationship with Angelos, meeting with him periodically to discuss the on-field operations of the club.
Managers also don't often make trips to visit free agents on their own in the offseason — like Showalter's trek to outfielder Colby Rasmus' home in Alabama last winter — to see whether players will mesh in their clubhouse.
While Duquette is responsible for all baseball operations decisions, Showalter and vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson also have a say, and they tend to agree on most matters, according to sources.
A down year
As Orioles executive vice president, Duquette has done a solid job of bringing in undervalued talent and getting a huge payoff for it. He signed outfielder Nate McLouth off the scrapheap. Infielder-outfielder Steve Pearce became a legitimate force after bouncing among organizations. To varying degrees, acquiring players such as Jimmy Paredes, Delmon Young, Danny Valencia and Lew Ford helped plug holes over the years.
And when it worked, Duquette's style blended nicely with Showalter's chip-on-our-shoulder "I like our guys" mantra that Baltimore has embraced.
But Showalter was no doubt taken aback by Duquette's pursuit of the Toronto job last offseason, especially given the timing during the winter meetings. And neither was happy the Orioles couldn't prevent the departures of Cruz, right fielder Nick Markakis and reliever Andrew Miller via free agency. Showalter never questioned Duquette's integrity, and club sources say that the uncertainty regarding Duquette never affected his offseason moves. He was still committed to building the Orioles for 2015.
Showalter was more frustrated by the team's inability to replace those key pieces. Duquette believed Showalter could help the team overcome the low-level moves.
Duquette lauded Travis Snider, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates for two minor league left-handers, suggesting that he would adequately replace Markakis statistically. He said he also believed Alejandro De Aza'a strong finish in 2014 would carry over.
Duquette signed troubled free-agent infielder Everth Cabrera, hoping he could return to his 2013 All-Star form in the right scenario.
None of those moves worked.
Add in the fact that Showalter had to find a way to hide Rule 5 draft pick Jason Garcia — a high-upside but inexperienced flamethrower selected from the Boston Red Sox — in the bullpen, and the Orioles had their least flexible roster in the past four years. At one point, the club carried seven outfielders, none of whom could be optioned to the minor leagues. Showalter gave them all an opportunity, hoping someone would emerge from the pack, but no one did.
The team also suffered untimely injuries. Shortstop J.J. Hardy hurt his left shoulder in spring training, and later revealed he played the entire season with a torn labrum. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop's right knee injury in mid-April cost him 2 1/2 months. And catcher Matt Wieters' recovery from Tommy John elbow reconstruction was slowed, delaying his debut until June 5.
Without Cruz's 40 homers and Markakis' career .358 on-base percentage, the Orioles scored eight more runs this season than in 2014 but allowed 100 more. Few could have predicted such a marked regression of the club's starting rotation, highlighted by 15-game winner Bud Norris' struggles from day one. Starters Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez also battled injuries and struggled with consistency, while Ubaldo Jimenez failed to duplicate a sparkling first half of the season.
Over the years, there have been times when Duquette's roster moves sent shock waves through Showalter's clubhouse. Designating Young for assignment wasn't received well after the veteran had played a big role in the Orioles' 2014 success. But it was the club's nonwaiver trade-deadline dealing of right-hander Tommy Hunter that really had players boiling.
Hours after acquiring outfielder Gerardo Parra, the Orioles traded Hunter, a well-liked veteran and a stable bullpen arm. The Orioles said Hunter was dealt to give the bullpen more roster flexibility, but players privately expressed that it was a cost-cutting move that sent a horrible mixed message of a halfhearted attempt to win. The trade netted the Orioles 25-year-old outfielder Junior Lake, who played in just eight major league games after the trade and will be without minor league options next season. After the nonwaiver deadline, the Orioles went 29-31 and missed the postseason.
It was similar to two years ago, when the team designated light-hitting but beloved backup catcher Taylor Teagarden for assignment in a seemingly insignificant move that angered the clubhouse. Teagarden was removed from the 40-man roster because Duquette had promised veteran catcher Chris Snyder a September call-up for returning to the organization. While Teagarden was nowhere near the impact player Hunter was, he was respected and had the reputation of being solid defensively and a strong game-caller. The Orioles went 14-14 in September and missed the postseason.
Duquette and Showalter have worked on other sticky roster moves, such as when the club was forced to designate Pearce for assignment in April 2014, but worked to re-sign him after he rejected a waiver claim and became a free agent. Pearce rewarded the club with the best year of his career.
Moving forward, the most glaring philosophical difference between Showalter and Duquette is the confusing infrastructure that exists in regards to developing pitching.
One of Duquette's first hires was Rick Peterson as director of pitching development. Peterson, a former pitching coach of the Oakland Athletics, New York Mets and Milwaukee Brewers, arrived with an impressive big league resume as well as an emphasis on biomechanics to keep pitchers productive and healthy.
But Peterson's teachings, sources say, haven't jelled with those of the big league staff. Peterson's philosophies have been rigid, with emphasis on mechanics and delivery, while Orioles pitching coach Dave Wallace and bullpen coach Dom Chiti focus on different physical and strategic ways to get big league hitters out.
Wallace and Chiti, who are unsigned for 2016, have the unquestioned support of the Orioles pitchers. They also bring impressive major league credentials as coaches, teachers and scouts, and formed a two-way bond built on tough love that was missing under former pitching coach Rick Adair. One club source said Wallace, who is signed to a year-to-year deal, has been one of the best hires under Showalter.
One practice that has been successful under Wallace and Chiti is that all the starters watch one another's bullpen sessions, a routine that has created an open-ended dialogue of ideas. One club source said the practice allowed the pitchers to be more invested in the success of their rotationmates.
Wallace and Chiti also earned their pupils' trust by traveling coast to coast the past two offseasons to work with Orioles pitchers at the minicamp in Sarasota, Fla., and at informal workouts in California.
If the Orioles' biggest priority is to improve their pitching, there needs to be more cohesion between what gets pitchers to the majors and what makes them successful there, sources say.
"I believe continuity is important and I also think it's important, after every campaign, to review what you did well, what else you did well, and try to fix the other things," Duquette said. "I think the biggest thing in terms of the pitchers is to have a good solid rotation in the big leagues. If you keep that going, then the young guys have role models they can follow. And a lot of your player development has to be done at the major league level. If you're going to bring up players through the farm system, those players have to improve. That's very important."
A shared passion
Now, Duquette and Showalter enter their most uncertain offseason together. Duquette said the club has the resources to add — especially on the pitching front — but retaining pending free-agent slugger Chris Davis will also be a priority. Again, Showalter will play a big role in acquiring players, vetting potential targets by gathering information from his colleagues in the game. Showalter isn't one to leave a stone unturned. Meanwhile, Duquette is aware he might need to strike more quickly in this free-agent market than he has in the past.
Showalter and Duquette say they know what they're up against, and it's not each other.
"Our fans should feel very comfortable with what's going to go on between now and the first pitch next year," Showalter said. "Dan and I share the same passion for the same thing, and that's the Orioles and the fans, and that's what this is about."
Baltimore Sun reporter Dan Connolly contributed to this article.