Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette used the trade of Manny Machado on Wednesday for a five-player package from the Los Angeles Dodgers to herald in a sweeping set of practical and philosophical changes for the organization to follow on what will be a rebuild of not only the on-field, but also the off-field product.
"When you finally decide to go in another direction and set sail in another direction, it's difficult to get to that point where you say, 'OK, we're not going to be trying to win today. We're going to try and put together the best talent that we can to win tomorrow.' " Duquette said. "That's a very tough decision to make. All professional organizations have to make it, but we've recognized it. This is the first step in a new direction. We acknowledged it, and traded Manny to start our work in a new direction, to look to the future."
What that will entail for the Orioles — who have one of the smallest scouting staffs in the game, have little presence in the Latin American markets that provide some of the game's high-impact talent, and lag in several other areas — will touch every facet of the organization.
Duquette said: "We had identified the areas that we needed to improve in — technology, international scouting, facilities, the draft, strengthening our analytics, investing in international scouting, investing in more front office staff to be more in line with our competitors, expanding our nutrition and wellness resources at every level of the organization. Those are areas that we identified that we could improve in, and the ownership understands those are areas that we need to put more resources into."
"It's a plan that we've been working on for a while, but we have the support of ownership and the people that have made the recommendations to advance in these areas," Duquette said on a conference call. "They're on board, so it's a multidimensional plan."
The call was meant to be about the trade for Machado, the Orioles' sole All-Star who represented the club out of duty Tuesday night and was traded Wednesday. But Duquette took the opportunity to use a word — rebuild — that he's shied away from in the past, and said five times in 20 minutes that the Orioles were going in a new direction.
"It's a grueling process, but the clubs who have committed to it recently have given us an instructive road map in what to follow," Duquette said.
Among some of the successful examples the Orioles can look at are the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros, who went through several losing seasons in search of high draft picks and used a wave of young talent to claim the last two World Series championships. The Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies are among the teams that have turned around using that method as well.
But those teams have done more than just trade veterans — something Duquette said the Orioles will continue to do with the likes of Zach Britton before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline — and select high in the June draft. They've also used robust Latin American scouting operations to bolster their farm system for both impact talent on their major league clubs and trades to supplement the roster once the time comes to compete.
The Orioles have very little presence in Latin America as part of what Duquette has previously called a strategic decision from ownership. They're the only team listed on Baseball America's international signings tracker for this year's period, which began July 2, that hasn’t signed a player yet. One of their best international prospects to make it to the United States, Leonardo Rodriguez, was a clubhouse attendant at their Dominican Republic facility who hit a growth spurt and started throwing in the low-90s.
Part of the appeal in trading for Díaz, who defected from Cuba and signed for a $15.5 million bonus in 2015, was that the Orioles don't typically have access to those markets, Duquette said.
Rebuilding their operation down there will not only take facilities upgrades, which Duquette mentioned, but also a commitment to building roots there. Teams know that the Orioles move slowly when they're interested, if they are at all.
"It's also going to mean additional resources that we're going to have to put into our international recruiting," Duquette said. "We've got some upgrades to do on our professional scouting, and the expansion of our international scouting department, as well as additional resources and analytics that we need to add to become more competitive in the [American League] East."
It's all incredibly ambitious for an organization that's been left behind by the rest of the league in many of these trends. In acknowledging the gaps between where the Orioles are and where they need to be, Duquette is softening the blow of losing a player like Machado — and all those who follow him out the door before the Orioles start winning again.
With owner Peter Angelos' sons, ownership representative Louis Angelos and executive vice president John Angelos, gaining more influence in the organization along with vice president Brady Anderson, some of that group's ideas for a modernization of the Oriole Way are evident in Duquette's comments.
But like many of the stars he plans to trade as the first steps of their rebuild, Duquette is working on the last year of his contract. He said even if the words about the future are his, the commitment to them is team-wide — and he wants to help execute it.
"Everybody understands the changes that we need to make, and Orioles fans should know how deeply committed we are to that plan and making these important adjustments," Duquette said. "Like I've said before, my heart's in Baltimore and I'd like to make the Orioles into a top, contending organization again. Today's a new direction for the organization. I'm glad to be helping the club go in that new direction."