Schmuck: Dan Duquette deserves chance to right his wrongs after Orioles' rough 2015

Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette talks with a league official during practice for the ALCS Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014 at Camden Yards.

It's hard to be fair when you're frustrated.

The Orioles are in one of those free falls that take us all back to the bad old days when no one expected anything else. They have collapsed with such a loud thud that the only thing left to do is round up the usual suspects and apportion the blame.


Or not.

Obviously, there are reasons why this year's Orioles team bears no resemblance to the one that ran away from the rest of the American League East last year, swept the Detroit Tigers in the AL Division Series and ended just one step away from the World Series.


Those reasons have already been enumerated. The club failed to build on last year's success and instead chose to use it as an excuse to play budget ball when everybody knew that 2015 might be the last best chance for a while to take that final step in October.

I'm pretty sure if you hooked Peter Angelos and Dan Duquette up to a polygraph they'd admit they went cheap at just the wrong moment, quibbling over a fourth guaranteed year for 2014 home run king Nelson Cruz and poking a huge hole in their offensive lineup. Then the front office spent this season shedding enough ill-advised contracts to pay for that fourth year and then some.

We already know that.

Now comes the month of speculation about Duquette's future, which also looks a lot different than it did nine months ago, when he was the reigning Major League Executive of the Year and was being courted by the Toronto Blue Jays.

If you read the message boards, you already know that a lot of fans want Duquette's head. If you follow the national sports media sites, you're starting to hear whispers about friction in the Orioles front office.

None of this is counterintuitive. The Orioles are a mess right now, so the fans have every right to be disappointed and it's fair to assume that there is plenty of discontent upstairs. Professional baseball is a highly competitive business at every level, and failure of this magnitude is good reason for some organizational soul-searching.

Still, it's important to remember where the Orioles were just a few years ago and respect the job that Duquette, Buck Showalter and — yes — ownership did to pull the franchise out of a 14-year funk and propel it into the playoffs two of the past three seasons.

Duquette arrived here a handful of months before the uplifting 2012 campaign and brashly predicted that the Orioles would immediately post their first winning season since 1997. While everyone was wondering what he might be smoking, he made a series of small deals and then traded starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie to the Colorado Rockies for starting pitcher Jason Hammel and reliever Matt Lindstrom.


That move turned out to be a key to the Orioles' turnaround season. Hammel was terrific in the first half and Lindstrom would be traded during the stretch run for veteran starter Joe Saunders, who started the one-game wild-card playoff and notched the Orioles' first playoff victory since 1997.

Fast forward to the offseason of 2014, when Duquette was taking some heat for waiting out the free-agent market. He waited long enough to pick up Cruz for just $8 million, which turned out to be the bargain signing of the year, and the Orioles went on to win their first AL East title of this century by 12 games.

So what happens now? Duquette clearly underplayed his hand last winter and lost his magic touch, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he's no longer the right man for the job. Both he and Showalter are signed through the 2018 season and it appears unlikely that either one of them is going anywhere but back to work this winter.

The bigger question is whether Duquette and ownership will learn from the giant mistake that was the past offseason. Duquette loves to scan the waiver wire and shop the Rule 5 draft for inexpensive projects. But the Orioles are facing a huge talent deficit next year with pending free agents Matt Wieters, Chris Davis and Wei Yin Chen (among others) very likely to sign elsewhere.

It would be nice to think that the Orioles will really make it a top priority to keep Davis, but failing that, they must be willing to pursue at least one front-line starting pitcher and another run-producing corner outfielder.

The current front office deserves a chance to make this right. But if it chooses instead to fall back on player development and a long-term rebuild — rather than increasing the payroll and trying to get right back up after this year's collapse — the Orioles are going to lose the fans they worked so hard to win back.


Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at