Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette talks to fans and the press through the years. (Baltimore Sun staff video)
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette, who helped build three playoff teams after arriving in Baltimore in 2011 and in July took on the public face of the team's rebuild by trading the club’s top stars away during the worst season in franchise history, won't be around to see the rest of the transition.
The Orioles announced Wednesday night that Duquette won't be offered a new contract to return as the team's baseball chief, his departure coming on the same day the team told longtime manager Buck Showalter he wouldn't be back in 2019. Together, their exits mark the end of the most successful period in recent franchise history and is the surest sign yet the Orioles are heading in a much different direction.
“The club decided they weren’t going to renew my contract at the end of the term and I think that’s probably for the best,” Duquette said. “I appreciate the opportunity Peter Angelos gave me and the confidence he gave me with the opportunity to run the ballclub.”
The club will now conduct a search outside the organization for Duquette’s replacement as the new baseball operations department head. That hire 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,” the team said in a news release.
As the team conducts its search, player development director Brian Graham will assume interim control of day-to-day oversight of the baseball operations department. Graham, as well as vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson and scouting director Gary Rajsich, will remain under contract.
“With the conclusion of the 2018 season, the club has decided to reorganize its Baseball Operations department under new executive management,” Orioles spokesperson Greg Bader said on behalf of the club’s ownership group. “We thank Dan and Buck for their many contributions over the past several years. Under their leadership, prior to the 2018 season and for six consecutive years, the club delivered competitive teams playing meaningful baseball into September, achieved three postseason appearances and came within four games of a World Series appearance, and won more games than any other American League club during a period spanning five of those six enjoyable seasons.
“Everyone in Birdland and across our organization will cherish these memories, and we all join in thanking Dan and Buck for their contributions. … As we look forward to the next chapter of Orioles Baseball, we are grateful for the ongoing support of our fans. While this year has been a challenge, the organization is determined to grow and change in ways that will ultimately lead us back to the postseason."
The Orioles are expected to cast a wide net for their next baseball operations chief and use the opportunity to redefine roles and titles throughout the department.
In being handed control of the baseball operations department on an interim basis, Graham will assume added responsibilities during a pivotal time while the organization searches for a new head.
He will be the point person for all major league baseball matters for any baseball-related issue, attend to any medical or injury problems with players and communicate with major league and minor league employees, some of whom have contracts that will expire at the end of the month. Graham previously served as interim general manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2007.
Duquette took on an active role in what grew into a necessary rebuild for the organization. After the first of five franchise-altering trades in July, the trade that sent Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers for five players including top prospect Yusniel Díaz, Duquette declared the organization was entering a new phase, directing resources from major league payroll to scouting and player development.
And in the three months since, Duquette has been the face of that movement. However, the club’s ownership determined some of the shortcomings that made such a change in direction necessary outweighed what Duquette could bring in the future.
Duquette, 60, formerly the general manager of the Montreal Expos and Boston Red Sox, was hired in November 2011 after a lengthy search to replace the departed Andy MacPhail, helped complete his predecessor's progress in a lot of ways. Much of the team's core, including Machado and Jonathan Schoop in the farm system and the likes of Jones, J.J. Hardy, Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters, were already with the team.
Duquette, however, built a pitching staff that offseason that propelled the Orioles to the playoffs for the first time since 1997 with the additions of Wei-Yin Chen from Japan, Miguel González from Mexico and Jason Hammel from the Colorado Rockies. They won 93 games and the wild-card game over the Texas Rangers in 2012, starting off a run of winning baseball that hadn't been seen in Baltimore in more than a decade.
From there, Duquette's best work came under the radar. He added outfielder Nate McLouth in June 2012 to bolster an already stellar defensive outfield. Others added in small trades or quiet free-agent signings include Brad Brach and Delmon Young.
But that was also the year when his greatest weakness with the Orioles would come to light — trading young pitchers away and seeing them flourish elsewhere. In 2013, it was future Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta for Scott Feldman, and local left-hander Josh Hader for Bud Norris.
In 2014, he traded left-hander Eduardo Rodríguez for two months of reliever Andrew Miller — a move that solidified a team with World Series aspirations and propelled it to a division title. After sweeping the Detroit Tigers in the American League Division Series, the Kansas City Royals ended the Orioles' season with a sweep in the AL Championship Series. The team's success made it even more odd when Duquette was a public candidate for the presidency of the Toronto Blue Jays, which struck many in the organization the wrong way after they provided him with a way back into the game after almost a decade out of it.
But that job never materialized for him, and for the Orioles, neither did much more success.
Part of that was the pitching that was traded away, and part of it was free-agency decisions. Their pitching staff would have looked different had those not been used as trade chips, along with the likes of Zach Davies and Parker Bridwell, had been given a chance with the Orioles. Instead, free-agent flops like Ubaldo Jiménez and Yovani Gallardo, plus ill-fated trade acquisitions like Wade Miley, made for one of the worst rotations in baseball.
Conversely, he was always able to find power on the cheap, such as AL home run kings Nelson Cruz and Mark Trumbo. The Orioles led the league's home run revolution in a lot of ways. The problem came when it was time to decide which of those sluggers to keep. Ownership drove the disastrous seven-year, $161 million contract for Chris Davis before the 2016 season, but Trumbo hasn't provided the same return on his contract from his better days, either.
The team last made the playoffs in 2016, when it lost the AL wild-card game in 11 innings to the Blue Jays. Duquette traded for shortstop Tim Beckham at last year's trade deadline and that got a bit of a spark in August from last year's moribund club, but the Orioles collapsed in September.
Even with a retooled rotation featuring Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb, each signed late in the spring in typical Orioles fashion, the club got off to the worst start in baseball and Duquette was answering when he'd be trading his top stars before Memorial Day.
Eventually, Duquette handled those trades. He sent Machado to the Dodgers for five players, Britton to the New York Yankees for three and Brach to the Atlanta Braves for international bonus slot money.
And on trade deadline day, he traded Kevin Gausman and Darren O'Day to the Braves and Schoop to the Milwaukee Brewers.
That Schoop and Gausman still had club control left after this year was an indication Duquette was being trusted with the baseball future of the organization. Instead, that will be entrusted with someone else.