Time for O’s, Duquette to end ‘toxic’ impasse
Orioles general manager Dan Duquette can give valid explanations for each of his swings and misses this offseason. But his inactivity is creating a perception — justified or not — that he has gone on strike.
It’s a problem for the Orioles, whose roster is not as strong as it should be coming off the team’s first division title since 1997. And it’s a problem for baseball, which essentially is powerless to resolve the stalemate between the Orioles and Blue Jays over Duquette’s future.
Well, the impasse needs to end, and soon.
Baseball wants it to end — both incoming commissioner Rob Manfred and outgoing commissioner Bud Selig spoke with Orioles attorney Alan Rifkin at the recent owners’ meetings about the need to resolve the matter, according to major-league sources.
But Duquette isn’t backing down from his desire to become CEO of the Blue Jays. And Orioles owner Peter Angelos isn’t backing down from his insistence that Duquette complete his contract, which runs through 2018.
Who is hurt by the staredown? Just about everyone else.
Some Orioles employees want Duquette out, believing the uncertainty over his status is creating instability within the club’s power structure. Roch Kubatko, who works for the Orioles-owned Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN), wrote recently, “I’ve heard the situation described as toxic by more than one person in the organization.”
Orioles fans, meanwhile, are right to wonder if Duquette is doing his best to improve their club when his true wish is to bolt for the Jays, a division rival. Even if you believe the best about Duquette — that he is performing his job with the utmost integrity — he is compromised in the public view.
The obvious solution is for Angelos to negotiate a deal with the Jays that would compensate the Orioles for Duquette’s departure. Duquette would leave for a promotion. Angelos would rid himself of an employee who wants to be elsewhere. And the Orioles would benefit from whatever compensation they could wrangle for the reigning Executive of the Year.
Until it happens — if it happens, given that Angelos, in particular, is not one to relent — questions will linger over the direction of the franchise. Yet, the one thing that is not apparent, at least not yet, is whether Duquette’s quiet offseason actually will damage the team’s chances of repeating as AL East champions in 2015.
The only loss on the Orioles’ pitching staff was a mid-season addition, left-hander Andrew Miller. The returns of catcher Matt Wieters and third baseman Manny Machado from injuries and first baseman Chris Davis from his 25-game suspension for amphetamines should help compensate for the losses of free-agent outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis.
The Orioles didn’t want to guarantee a fourth year to retain Cruz, who turns 35 on July 1, or Markakis, who underwent neck surgery shortly after signing with the Braves. They didn’t like Nori Aoki’s defense or lack of power, and they were unwilling to offer more than $6 million to Colby Rasmus, who batted .225 last season, albeit with a .735 OPS. Aoki went to the Giants for $4.7 million, Rasmus to the Astros for $8 million.
All of those decisions were reasonable. All may be proven correct. In fact, according to the Steamer projections on Fangraphs.com, the Orioles’ Alejandro De Aza will produce more Wins Above Replacement (1.6) than any of the above players in ‘15 — including Cruz, who led the majors with 40 home runs.
The Orioles’ outfielders include not just De Aza and Adam Jones, but also Steve Pearce, who had a .930 OPS in 383 plate appearances last season, and David Lough, who had a .931 OPS in limited duty after the All-Star break. Rookie Dariel Alvarez will get a look. So might Mike Yastrzemski, the grandson of Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski. The O’s also could sign someone like free agent Nate Schierholtz as a backup, sources said.
Ah, but enough of the party line — it assumes that everything will work in the O’s favor, in a division that is not as powerful as in the past. Well-run teams do not proceed on such assumptions. Well-run teams go all-out to correct their deficiencies, and therein lies the rub. The second-guessing of the Orioles’ offseason, fairly or not, stems in part from the question of whether Duquette is fully engaged in his job.
Duquette can end this by saying, “I do not want to work for the Jays. I am an Oriole.” Angelos can end it by cutting the best possible deal with the Jays. But neither man is budging.
To borrow a phrase that players often use, it’s not a good look.