07 September 2018

Who Will Lead the Orioles to the Land Flowing with Cold Beer and Pit Beef?

God promised Abraham that if he followed the righteous path that he would be led to a land flowing with milk and honey.  In Baltimore, perhaps we seek something more akin to a place with limitless beer and pit beef, a few World Series wins.  At the moment, publicly, we do not know who will be tasked with keeping the franchise on the right path toward success.  What public clues we have are few and far between.  We know Dan Duquette is talking as if he is in control of the future.  We know MASN is teasing about whether Buck Showalter will stick around for the rebuild.  We know that Brady Anderson is more interested in lawn care and free lifts than sitting in an office managing resources.

The MASN actions certainly feel like they have been told to focus on Buck Showalter as the season ends for whatever reason.  I would be surprised if they are teasing their audience with these tweets without knowing or being told that this is something to do and that Buck is fine with it.  It almost convinces me that he will be connected to the Orioles after this season is done, but it does make one wonder to what effect will he remain with the club.  At 62, he is coming to the end of his dugout years and there is a research base that suggests that managers are best suited for the tasks they must perform from ages 45-55.  Not all individuals fit that neat peak, but it is considered by those in management research field to be the ripe age for a MLB manager.  So, will he assume the reins of General Manager (or whatever the Angeloses prefer to call that) or maybe a mid-2000s Nolan Ryan figurehead position?

While Buck has carried with him the mantle of a team builder who cannot cross the final hurdle, there is some argument to be had whether he is a team builder.  His control over pieces with the Yankees was effectively nothing.  In Arizona, he was in charge of creating the organization and is credited to their eventual World Series success similar to how Dan Duquette is credited with Theo Epstein's Boston success.  His mode of operation in Arizona was to quickly evaluate young players.  Those that did not fit what he wanted, he dealt them out for solid veteran players.

Buck traded away talents such as Joe Randa, Jeff Suppan, Tony Batista, Brad Penny, Vincente Padilla, and Travis Lee to acquire older talents like Matt Williams, Luis Gonzalez, Dan Plesac, Matt Mantei, Tony Womack, and Curt Schilling.  All in all it looks like a good batch, but it is really solely dependent on Curt Schilling's success.  Without his 35.4 bWAR for the Diamondbacks, the net effect of dealing out young players for proven veterans would have been a net loss of 24.4 wins.  Can you just excise Schilling from all this? No, but it shows that Buck was not making great trades left and right as the man behind the plan.

In Texas, John Hart's dominance as general manager was diminished when Buck was hired for the 2003 season and Buck's influence was high through Jon Daniels first season in 2006.  The deals during this 2003-2005 range though were interesting.  Travis Hafner was dealt out for Einar Diaz and Ryan Drese (-24.1 bWAR).  traded away Ryan Ludwick for Ricardo Rodriguez and Shane Spencer (-9.8 bWAR).  Figured out with Hart and others that Alex Rodriguez was sinking the team with his contract and dealt him away (~42 bWAR).  Alphonso Soriano was then dealt a couple seasons later at a loss (-3.2 BWAR).  A monumentally terrible trade sent Adrian Gonzalez (who was stolen from the Marlins in a deal for Ugueth Urbina) and Chris Young dealt to the Padres for veteran pitcher Adam Eaton and veteran closer Akinori Otsuka (-24.6 bWAR, which doesn't include the value of the players the Padres got back in the Red Sox deal).  This looks like I am just picking terrible deals, but I am really just picking the main deals that involved players that wound up doing something.  The team that included Showalter had their best deal with acquiring Adrian Gonzalez, but were unable to figure out what they had in him over a couple seasons.

In Baltimore, it has been more difficult to see what exactly lays at Buck's or Duquette's feet.  Buck has been a major proponent in several acquisitions.  He was involved in re-signing Darren O'Day, wanted Matt Wieters back, wanted Chris Tillman back, was highly interested in Andrew Cashner, was aggressive with Colby Rasmus twice, and other veteran style acquisitions.  He tends to have his favorites, which usually are older players, and quickly dismisses young talent or tasks them with pointless activities like book reports.  The point of all this being that maybe he is not the best guy to be in charge of overseeing a finishing school for young talent or be heavily involved in evaluating that talent.

Again, I find it hard to believe that MASN would continue an advertisement tease about whether or not Buck will be around to see the rebuild without being told to do that.  It makes me think he will be around and maybe even higher up in the organization.  That said, I was told from someone outside of the organization that in their every dealing with Duquette or someone else in the front office that they are near certain that Duquette will remain in his position.  He told me that the front office is not acting like there is a change in regime happening, they are acting like they will have the ball come November and beyond.  Take that for what that is worth.

What does it mean if Dan Duquette remains?  It bears repeating that Dan Duquette literally took a joke of a franchise into the playoffs three times and was a series away from the World Series.  The organization he ran did this on a mid-level roster using a core his predecessor put together, but by effectively rebuilding and reconfiguring the pitching staff, the bench, and a couple role players.  It showed a combination of luck and skill along with the flexibility to utilize outside of the box thinking, such as making Manny Machado a third baseman, becoming one of the first teams to emphasize defensive shifts, utilizing alternative markets and options to find successful players, and creating the industry trend of waiting out free agents well into the off season.  All of that happened.  All of that is real.  So, while Duquette cuts a rather mixed path it is important to note that his team got a lot of things right and it led to the success he saw that was never supposed to happen.  Add that to his work with the Red Sox and Expos, you can see why he has had a long career in baseball and why the Blue Jays were so eager to have him run their organization a few years back.

Yes, there are also negatives.  Those negatives he widely has noted this past year.  They traded a lot of aspects of organizational health to maximize their on-field play during the past several years.  That meant taking a foolishly meager international budget that was unique in MLB operations and somehow finding new ways to gut it even further after the unexpected success of 2012 accelerated the clocks.  Infighting has also prevented the club from incorporating analytics into their developmental system.  When some analytics have been pushed into use, they were chosen poorly (i.e., Rick Peterson).  Trading away and sacrificing draft picks on conditional free agents thinned out the Orioles top end prospects and the club frequently dealt away fringe prospect talent for low ceiling veterans, a practice that eventually caught up with the club.

Needless to say it has been a tough time and fascinating in how it brought so much success.

Now, lets suggest that the indications mentioned above are wrong.  That both Duquette and Buck will not be in charge of the rebuild moving forward.  What kind of talent is out there?

Two Exciting Names that Must Be on the Interview List
Amiel Sawdaye
Maryland native who was named the Red Sox Scouting Director in 2010 at 33, then promoted to the Vice President of International and Amateur Scouting for the Red Sox at age 38, and then quickly off to the Arizona Diamondbacks as Assistant General Manager.  With the Red Sox he integrated analytics, video, and scouting to improve and streamline their system, something the Orioles drastically need improvement on.  He is a communicator who can quickly understand a wide range of ideas and locate people to implement them.  Sawdaye is effectively what Dan Duquette was seen as in the early 1990s.

Kyle Stark
The Pirates did it first.  That is a common response to any major change in baseball these past several years seen as successful enough to implement all around.  While the Orioles were quick to adapt defensive shifts, the Pirates were the standard bearer.  Stark came onto the scene with the Indians and did a decent amount of analytics work for them, but show interest and ability on the developmental side.  As the Pirates' farm director, he took an antiquated system and began to standardize it within the organizational, emphasizing not only the usage of analytics but how to communicate them.  As an Assistant General Manager, his duties have expanded as well as the number of people working under him.  Stark is similar to Sawdaye with perhaps one exception, Stark has had to face the realities of a small market club which narrows the room for error.

Two Names that are Found on the Rolodex
Ned Colletti
Colletti was reported to have interviewed with the Orioles earlier this season.  Some dispute that report.  Colletti fits more of the traditional Orioles perspective in finding an established and respected person who could immediately step into the position.  That was what led to Pat Gillick, Syd Thrift, Jim Beattie, Andy MacPhail, and Dan Duquette.  A firm resume was something that it always seemed like Peter Angelos looked for.  And, it makes sense.  If you do not really understand what is going on then you find people who have had success in the past.  Colletti has had success, but it was largely considered a product of inheriting a strong developmental system and having extra cash to throw around.  In the end, Colletti was dispatched for not being current with new approaches to baseball and repeatedly underwhelming on-field play.
Paul DePodesta
You may remember DePodesta from Superbad, 21 Jump Street, or Moneyball.  Oh wait, that is Jonah Hill.  You may remember DePodesta from the book Moneyball and how Beane greatly depended on him for those turn of the 2000s Athletics teams.  You may also remember how he took that perspective to the Dodgers, clashed with the media, and was loudly and ceremoniously fired.  You may also remember how he then was picked up by the Padres and then Mets before rocking the NFL when he was hired to helm the Browns franchise.  You may also remember how the Browns franchise has been repeatedly criticized for thinking itself to be the smartest team in the front office as well as how it all went to pot this past offseason.  Going to pot makes one wonder to what extent Paul DePodesta still runs things over there with a new General Manager in town with John Dorsey who turned over about 60% of the roster.  DePodesta, with his former baseball success and analytical prowess a couple decades back, looks like a fresher version of Duquette.

Looking Forward
Realistically, I think Duquette is the right path that the Orioles would be capable of making.  In terms of running an organization, I have more faith in him than I do with Showalter.  It also helps that Duquette has seen success over such a fractured franchise.  If wishes were horses, then moving forward with a young talent like Sawdaye or Stark would see obvious to me.  If they want to go over second hand tires again, then DePodesta might be able to run the team in a more modern fashion than I think Colletti would be able to do.


Pip said...

As always, I enjoyed your article, I regretfully but strenuously disagree with you about Dan however. In addition to his abrasive personality, which almost certainly hinders dealings with other teams(And which has been alluded to in multiple comments I’ve read over the years, albeit without being directly addressed. Does anyone really think Don Chiti was lying when he said Dan refused to take his calls regarding his job?) Plus,some of the trades he has made were so badly thought out they cast a huge cloud over his whole body of work. Miley, Parra, Snyder, Webb, Matusz, signing Hunter to be a wildly overpriced MR/Closer, plus retaining Norris and Trumbo after career years, doing nothing after 2014,2015 and 2016( see Grant Brisbee’s excellent article) the Toronto fiasco, Jimenez, plus his annual “do nothing till February” MO.

I would love to see Kim Ng get a look-see. She is brilliant, and because she is not just a woman, but an Asian, Her presence in a male-dominated world would discombobulate everyone she works with, to her advantage. No one would know how to treat her, so they would tend to be extra careful, and she could take advantage of that.
As always, thanks for your excellent work.

Pip said...

I do not want to imply that I prefer buck. I think buck needs to go away. He has demonstrated too many flaws to remain, and now is a graceful time to let him go.

Jon Shepherd said...

We have discussed Duquette before. I doubt we have any new ground to cover.

Pip said...

Fair enough, but what do you think of Kim Ng?
I just looked her up to confirm her accomplishments and I think she’d be an excellent choice.

Jon Shepherd said...

I think she should be considered. My understanding is that she has been more on the operations side of things and has only been connected to one highly analytical front office, which was DePodesta's a while back. It makes me wonder whether what the Orioles need is a high octane executive or someone with a more narrow, concerted focus. When I think of scouting issues or developmental issues or analytical implementation thise are things I do not associate with her. I so hesitate being eager for someone who has interviewed six times without being chosen. That may be a gender issue, but it does make me wonder why she keeps getting interviews while not securing those positions.

So, yeah, interview her. But I would have considered her a hot commodity maybe 15 years ago like I consider Sawdaye and Stark now.

Jan Frel said...

One more shrimp to toss on the BBQ of Buck’s instincts about proven players:

He was very frustrated at letting Jim Johnson leave.... Johnson went on to be middling, while other pieces of the brass parted the seas for Zach Britton