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Dan Duquette, left, listens as Buck Showalter addresses the FanFest audience in 2013.
Dan Duquette, left, listens as Buck Showalter addresses the FanFest audience in 2013. (Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun)

In less than a week, thousands of Orioles fans will head downtown for the team's annual FanFest event, where players, coaches and front-office decision-makers stoke expectations for the coming season.

It is a popular rite of winter that allows the Orioles to sell some tickets and their fans to meet their favorite stars three weeks before the start of spring training.

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What it usually isn't is controversial, but the uncertain status of executive vice president Dan Duquette could make it, at the very least, uncomfortable.

That's just one of the reasons Saturday should be the club's deadline for deciding whether to allow Duquette to accept a big promotion with the Toronto Blue Jays and forgo the final four years of his contract. This interminable saga needs a definitive end before it actually begins to hurt the Orioles front office's ability to put the finishing touches on its spring roster.

Of course, there's room to wonder how much damage already has been done. But Duquette is known for moving very deliberately through the offseason, so it's possible the front office is operating as it has been throughout his three years as the head of baseball operations. He certainly deserves the benefit of the doubt after engineering three straight winning seasons in a city that had just suffered through 14 straight losing ones.

There comes a time when enough is enough, however, and this seems to be that time. Whether Duquette is doing everything he believes he must to improve an Orioles team that fell just four wins short of the World Series is no longer the issue.

There comes a time when perception becomes more important than reality, and that time has come. Orioles fans deserve to know that everyone in the front office is committed to the same goal, and nothing about this situation engenders that kind of faith.

Holding FanFest with that cloud of doubt hanging over the organization would only feed the unfortunate narrative that the franchise remains dysfunctional, even though this is a problem not of the Orioles' making.

Manager Buck Showalter said Wednesday that the front office is operating normally and that "it kind of runs itself," which should be comforting. The club does have a lot of good people working behind the scenes, and Showalter would continue to play a major role in talent evaluation and player acquisitions, regardless of whether Duquette stays or goes.

Still, there's no way to tell how much Duquette's murky job status is affecting the way other teams and player agents interact with the organization at a time when the Orioles have some holes to fill.

Though Showalter can say the team "is fine" and point to the return of several key players who didn't finish the 2014 season, the Orioles, at the very least, still need to replace outfielder Nick Markakis with a solid on-base guy. That probably will require a late-offseason trade, one of Duquette's specialties, but fellow general managers have to be scratching their heads with the rest of us.

Orioles managing partner Peter Angelos apparently is willing to let Duquette go for a suitable compensation package, so something could happen at any time, but Angelos never has been one influenced by arbitrary deadlines. He, like Duquette, does things at his own pace.

This is one time, though, when he needs to recognize that the clock matters and tell the Blue Jays the window for acquiring Duquette is closing rapidly.

That might be a hard sell, since it's difficult to imagine Duquette being a happy camper if he's forced to pass up a dream opportunity, but Angelos is a tough negotiator who is known for getting what he wants.

The Orioles deserve significant compensation for the way the Blue Jays have disrupted their offseason, especially if their dealings with Sporting News' Major League Executive of the Year violate tampering rules. Whether they'll get a worthwhile return remains to be seen, but the situation needs to be settled in time for the Orioles to greet their fans at the Baltimore Convention Center with a stable front office and a clearer view of the club's future.

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Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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