Baseball’s free-agent market opened for business this weekend and the Orioles still appear to be a few weeks away from naming a new baseball operations chief, but don’t be alarmed.
This was never going to be a big free-agent offseason for the Orioles, so the deliberate search for Dan Duquette’s replacement — and eventually a new manager — isn’t as time sensitive as it might be under different circumstances.
An industry source told The Baltimore Sun that John and Louis Angelos are immersed in the process and have talked to a number of potential candidates to run their baseball operations department.
This is the first major front-office reshuffle since the sons of managing partner Peter Angelos took over the day-to-day responsibilities of ownership, and — an understandable lack of urgency to participate in the free agent market notwithstanding — there is a lot on their plates.
The executive search would be daunting enough, but another round of arbitration in the long-running Mid-Atlantic Sports Network rights dispute with the Washington Nationals also is a major source of concern for the organization. Both situations could come to a head this month.
Though neither John nor Louis Angelos have commented on either front, they have to be feeling pressure to get it all right. The outcome of the MASN dispute is largely in the hands of their legal team, but the choice of a new front-office braintrust is just as important to the future of the franchise.
Would it be better if they were further along at this point? Maybe.
The early weeks of the offseason obviously present the most fertile environment for hiring outside front-office talent, but there aren’t many teams searching for top-floor leadership this year and the Orioles present a fairly unique situation.
The scope of the challenge facing the person who takes over the baseball operation has no real precedent in club history. The Orioles are coming off their worst season ever and the roster has been stripped of almost all of the team’s star players.
When Duquette traded away Manny Machado, Zach Britton, Kevin Gausman, Jonathan Schoop, Brad Brach and Darren O’Day at midseason, the club basically conceded the team would not be competitive for at least the next year or two.
Maybe a new baseball operations chief will decide to use some of the payroll those moves saved to sign a few mid-level free agents and hopefully avoid another record-setting loss total in 2019. But even that strategy would likely involve late-winter bargain hunting rather than a pre-Christmas shopping spree.
Remember, Duquette wasn’t hired until November 2011 and he still was able to make enough solid acquisitions to help the Orioles reach the playoffs in his first year with the club.
The most important thing is to put the right people in place and let them get to work restructuring the player development system, upgrading the scouting department and — maybe most important — regaining the confidence of the fan base.
The Orioles have suffered attendance declines for four straight years and their 2018 total (1.56 million) was the club’s worst for a full season since 1978.
Getting fans to show up next season to watch a bunch of unproven prospects finish at or near the bottom of the American League East is going to be a tough sell, but the new leadership is going to have to make the pitch that the future is bright and it’s time to get back on board.
For that matter, it might be difficult to convince a dynamic, 21st-century baseball executive to embrace that challenge. There are only 30 general manager jobs in baseball and only a handful of them are open in any given year, so there will be a lot of people willing to accept the big salary and take their chances. But the Orioles probably have already had to strike a name or two from the top of their wish list.
Nevertheless, the next few weeks are going to be critical to the long-term success of the franchise and the decisions that are made will — for better or worse — determine how the new two-headed ownership hierarchy is perceived by the fans.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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