Buck Showalter isn’t going to curse the fates for the way the Orioles renaissance he helped engineer came unraveled over the past couple of years. He’s old school and he knows that the manager always ends up paying the price for persistent on-field failure.
He might go home with his ego slightly bruised and perhaps tell himself he won’t manage again, but his ability to reconstruct a troubled organization has been proven more than once and he likely will be required somewhere soon.
The Orioles organization owes him a tremendous debt of gratitude for dragging it out of a 14-year losing streak that sullied the reputation of owner Peter Angelos and what had been one of the cornerstone franchises in the American League.
He didn’t do it alone. Dan Duquette came along a year after Showalter was hired and made some smooth moves to help the Orioles make a surprise playoff run in his first year as executive vice president. And ownership came through from 2012 to 2016 to provide the resources for a 2014 AL East title and a 2016 wild-card berth.
This just comes with the territory. No one questions Showalter’s managerial acumen. His track record speaks for itself. He took some heat after the 2016 wild-card game in Toronto for not using closer Zach Britton, but this really wasn’t about that.
This was about a manager having the worst season in the history of this franchise and undoubtedly was also about a long-running power struggle with Duquette that was not decided in his favor.
But it is important to understand Showalter was the human sacrifice that allows this team to give the impression of a fresh start. There is plenty of blame to go around for the way the Orioles fell off the map last September and just kept falling from day two of this past season.
Duquette certainly gets his share of blame for a variety of decisions — big and small — that left the Orioles with no choice but to embark on a sweeping rebuild that might not bear a postseason contender for several years … if ever. It was on his watch that the Orioles gave Chris Davis a club-record seven-year, $161 million contract that became an economic albatross and made it impossible to even consider re-signing superstar Manny Machado.
That doesn’t mean Duquette made that decision. Angelos was the final word on keeping Davis at that price, and it’s possible agent Scott Boras captured his ear and convinced him despite the reservations of his general manager and/or manager.
Duquette made some moves that paid off handsomely for the Orioles. He signed Nelson Cruz for a relatively tiny one-year contract right before Cruz won the major league home run title and led the Orioles to the AL Championship Series in 2014. Then he made the decision to let Cruz and Nick Markakis leave via free agency over a reluctance to give either one of them more than a three-year contract.
We all know how those two performed this season, in what would have been that fourth year.
Duquette also waited until late in spring training to sign veteran pitchers Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb, both of whom struggled after not being allowed a sufficient training period to prepare for the season.
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The Orioles have not for some time been known as a particularly decisive organization, so they misfired on opportunities to get Machado and second baseman Jonathan Schoop under long-term contracts when they might have been less confident of their free-agent futures.
That lack of foresight could not be laid at the feet of any individual, but one person it definitely could not be put on was Showalter.
There will be a lot reasons thrown around for Showalter’s dismissal, including the notion he “lost” the veterans in the clubhouse. That might be true. It’s not unusual for older players to tire of the message coming from the manager’s office after so many years, but there won’t be many of those guys still around when spring training begins in February.
You might also hear speculation that the club’s new media-shy upper management team grew tired of Showalter’s open and sometimes manipulative relationship with the press. No question, Showalter is a master manipulator, but nobody cared about that when the team was winning.
The bottom line here is there probably isn’t anybody out there who is better than Showalter, but that isn’t the problem. The Orioles ownership and front office just want someone who’s different, which is logical after a season when the team totally collapsed and attendance declined for the fourth straight year — this time by nearly a half-million fans.
Somebody had to pay for that and somebody else who might be just as culpable had to stick around to pick up the pieces.
Simple as that.