As the Orioles begin their search for the now-vacant job atop their baseball operations department in the wake of Wednesday’s announcement that executive vice president Dan Duquette won’t return in 2019, a familiar face will oversee the day-to-day baseball decisions — director of player development Brian Graham.
Graham, who has been the Orioles' farm director since 2013, will be a point of contact for Major League Baseball and those outside the organization, plus players and coaches inside the organization at a time when he's typically overseeing the instructional league.
That's still going on down at the team's spring training complex in Sarasota, Fla. But Graham, who the team said in an announcement remains under contract along with vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson and amateur scouting director Gary Rajsich, will take on an increased role as the Orioles search outside the organization for a baseball executive who will "have final determination on all baseball matters that he or she believes will make the Orioles successful on the field, entertaining to fans and impactful in the community."
Graham, 58, has had such responsibilities before. He was in a player development role with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2007 when they fired general manager Dave Littlefield after seven losing seasons in that organization. Graham spent a month as the interim general manager in Pittsburgh as the Pirates conducted their search that led to Neal Huntington.
There wasn't much to be done in September from a transactional standpoint, and Graham's only move with another club was to sell pitcher Victor Zambrano to the Orioles on Sept. 9.
This time of year is a bit different, though. The Orioles have a few pressing needs Graham will oversee. In the short-term, they'll be among the teams looking at Cuban defectors Victor Victor Mesa and Victor Mesa Jr. on Friday in Miami, and Graham could lead a decision on that if those workouts spark a quick bidding war. The Orioles have $6.5 million remaining in bonus slots, the most in the game.
Should the search drag on for a month, Graham's responsibilities could be a bit more significant. Players hit free agency five days after the World Series ends, and while that basically only means Adam Jones on the major league side for the Orioles, they have one significant piece of business on the minor league side that might need to be wrapped up by then.
The Orioles didn't add right-hander Branden Kline, 27, to the major league roster in September after a dominant return from three years on the shelf with an elbow injury. But because he's set to be a minor league free agent after seven years on his initial player contract, the Orioles need to select his contract before free agency begins to ensure he stays in the organization.
Deeper in November, the Orioles will have to finalize the rest of their 40-man roster additions ahead of the Rule 5 draft — with right-hander Dillon Tate the only pressing addition — and will have to tender all arbitration-eligible players contracts by Nov. 30.
The Orioles can still do plenty in the interim. They'll have the top pick in the Rule 5 draft and can get a head start on that, and there's also the possibility of other roster movement they can take advantage of. Before Duquette was hired and when the Orioles were in that search in 2011, then-manager Buck Showalter and the remaining staff put in a waiver claim for Darren O'Day, who eventually became an All-Star reliever and a fixture in the club’s three playoff appearances.