It won’t be long now. We’ll soon find out how the Orioles intend to proceed with their rebuilding program and who will be in charge of it in the front office and on the field.
The speculation has been going on all season about who will stay and who will go, and there have been recent loosely attributed reports that manager Buck Showalter is on the way out and executive vice president Dan Duquette will be sticking around for a while.
That sounds logical enough, since the Orioles have succeeded in setting a record for failure. The manager usually pays the price for nonperformance, and Showalter has seen so much of that this year that he might only have to be asked nicely to go screaming into the night.
Since Duquette was left in charge of the team’s midseason teardown and the selection of the players the O’s got in return for several of their biggest stars, it would also seem logical to allow him to remain in place long enough to see whether he got it right.
Of course, this particular situation is way more complicated than that. The Orioles organization owes Showalter more than a kick in the pants on the way out the door. He is largely responsible for all of the on-field success the Orioles have had during the 21st century and only about 13 months of the failure.
The Showalter/Duquette brain trust — for all the whispers about their frosty relationship — worked wonders here for a long time, which doesn’t necessarily buy either of them one minute past the term of their expiring contracts but does create intense pressure on top-level management to get it right the next time.
In other words, if the Orioles let Showalter go, they had better be ready to hit the ground with somebody who has exhibited the ability to develop a young team and do it in a timely manner.
Because one thing is certain: If the manager in this soap opera was not Buck Showalter and the Orioles were looking for a strong manager with a history of turning teams around in a hurry, Showalter would probably be at the top of the candidate list.
Nobody around here should need to be reminded that it was Showalter who was the first manager of the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks, and it was Showalter who led them to a 100-win season in only their second year of existence. Or that a few years before that, it was a very young Showalter who took over a losing New York Yankees team and quickly led it to a first-place finish in the strike-shortened 1994 season and a wild-card berth in 1995.
That doesn’t mean Showalter is the only man for this job, but it does mean he knows how to do it as well as anyone, so there had better be a compelling reason to replace him that transcends the usual human sacrifice that takes place after a terrible season. There also needs to be a compelling replacement, unless ownership falls into the trap of thinking that this is a perfect time to save some money because the team isn’t going to win anyway.
That would be a big mistake. This isn’t the mid-2000s, when the Orioles were five years away and hired Dave Trembley to be the caretaker manager during the last major rebuild. Orioles fans aren’t going to wait around that long.
Heck, they aren’t even waiting around now. Attendance has been in decline for several years for reasons only recently connected to on-field performance. This year, the Orioles’ full-season attendance will fall for the fourth straight year and end up below 1.6 million — nearly a half-million fewer fans than last season.
If the O’s are going to sell this multiyear rebuild, they’re going to have to show the fan base that the players they acquired this summer and whoever they add this winter will be legitimate future pieces of a successful franchise.
The way you do that is by not losing 110 games again next year and looking absolutely helpless doing it.
One of Showalter’s greatest strengths is preparing a team to be so fundamentally sound on defense that it can help insulate an inexperienced pitching staff, but that wasn’t evident the past two years for a couple of reasons. Last season, the declining health of cornerstone shortstop J.J. Hardy altered the chemistry of the infield defense, and this year, Manny Machado’s move from third base to shortstop during the first half essentially left the O’s with both guys — including third baseman Tim Beckham — on the left side of the infield playing out of position.
Things would only get worse when the club sent Machado and Jonathan Schoop packing and populated the defense in the second half with players from several organizations.
The Orioles certainly need an organizational reset, and it’s entirely possible that someone other than Showalter might be better suited to turn things around.
Whether the Orioles will be able to identify that candidate and persuade him to accept the daunting job of turning this year’s frightful team into the next Houston Astros-like success story remains to be seen.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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