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Orioles' Dan Duquette appears to be staying, at least for now

Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette.
Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun)

Obviously, December hasn't started out well for the Orioles and their fans.

The month began with the news that Most Valuable Oriole Nelson Cruz had signed a four-year deal with the Seattle Mariners and, before last week was over, Nick Markakis had bolted to the Atlanta Braves and free-agent reliever Andrew Miller had signed with the rival New York Yankees.

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So, the reports Sunday that executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette was a top candidate to become the Toronto Blue Jays' next president and chief executive officer sent a shiver through the Orioles organization and its fan base, and rightfully so. He and manager Buck Showalter have led a once-woeful team back to prominence and nobody around here wants to mess with that success.

Turns out, the job isn't really open yet. Longtime Blue Jays executive Paul Beeston reportedly will remain in place at least through the 2015 season, which leaves room to wonder just what's going on in both organizations.

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Was the Duquette leak a trial balloon that was quickly popped by Orioles principal owner Peter G. Angelos on Sunday when he made it clear that he expected Duquette to honor the last four years of his contract?

There also were reports that the Blue Jays were interested in Chicago White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams, who said this week that the revelation was old news and that "that ship has sailed." That would seem to indicate that Rogers Communications, which owns the Blue Jays, has been re-evaluating its top management for awhile.

The only thing that's certain at the moment is that the timing of the ESPN and Fox Sports reports was particularly curious, since just about everyone who is anyone in Major League Baseball was either en route to the winter meetings in San Diego or just getting unpacked at the hotel headquarters of the annual trading convention. That doesn't mean, however, that they were false.

By any measure, this is an uncomfortable time for job speculation to be engulfing the guy who is supposed to be totally immersed in improving the Orioles for next season, especially when the other team involved is a close division rival that already has made some big moves in its attempt to jump over them in the standings.

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Of course, there is not always fire under the smoke that rises from baseball's hot stove, but there appeared to be some in this case. It certainly seemed logical for the Blue Jays to be interested in Duquette, who has worked magic in Baltimore, was an architect of the 2004 Boston Red Sox championship team and garnered a lot of Canadian fans when he built a pennant contender with the Montreal Expos in the early 1990s.

It's also logical for Duquette to be interested in the job, which would be a big step up in power and influence, since he would be given almost total control of the entire Blue Jays operation.

In other words, don't be surprised if this isn't the last you hear of this, though it seems highly likely that Duquette will stay put for at least the 2015 season.

Duquette didn't put any Baltimore minds at ease when his initial public response to Sunday's news included a fairly ambiguous noncomment, but he has since tried to make it clear that he is focused this week entirely on upgrading the Orioles roster.

The trouble with Duquette is that he makes it almost impossible to read between the lines when he responds to media inquiries. He seldom speaks off the record, and he has a habit of responding indirectly to direct questions to avoid being put on the spot.

Perhaps, the only thing about this situation that is known for sure is that he is locked into his contract with the Orioles through the 2018 season and would need permission from Angelos to speak to any other team about a job. Based on Angelos' comments Sunday, which confirmed the iron-clad nature of Duquette's contract and the club's desire to retain him, that would appear to be a very hard sell.

Though it is customary in baseball for teams to let front office employees out of their contracts to pursue a higher level of employment, it is far from unprecedented for an owner to deny other clubs permission to interview a highly valued executive.

If you need a very recent and relevant example, Williams told the Chicago Tribune in an email Sunday that the White Sox already denied the Blue Jays permission to talk to him about the same job.

If the Orioles cared about the customary promotion protocol, they simply could give Duquette the same title that the Blue Jays might offer him if they decide over the next year to replace Beeston. But the difference in the organizational structure of the two franchises probably makes it impossible for Duquette to get as much authority in Baltimore as he would get from the corporately-owned Blue Jays.

The bigger question for Angelos at that point would be whether he would want to force Duquette to stick around if he really would rather be somewhere else.

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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