BALTIMORE, MD — It’s August 18 and the Baltimore Orioles (36-86) are 50 games below .500 and 50 games behind the Boston Red Sox (87-36) for first place in the American League East.
It’s been an absolute nightmare of a season, a season that the Orioles came into thinking they would compete for a playoff spot. The exact opposite transpired, leading to the departures of several key players, most notably Manny Machado. The team also tried to move Adam Jones, but the longtime Oriole used his 10-5 rights to veto a trade and remain with Baltimore until his contract expires after the season.
Jones isn’t the only one with a contract that’s up after the 2018 campaign concludes. Manager Buck Showalter and General Manager Dan Duquette are also soon-to-be free agents. Duquette deserves all of the credit in the world for the moves he’s made so far in the rebuild of the Orioles, but no one knows if he will stay with Baltimore beyond 2018 to continue his work. In late July Duquette told reporters that his ‘heart is in Baltimore’, but Orioles ownership has not moved the meter at all in determining who will sign and trade players beyond Sept. 30.
The same situation applies to Showalter. Showalter was a beacon of light for the Orioles when he arrived in 2010, turning around a franchise that suffered 14 straight losing seasons into an American League powerhouse. Under Showalter’s tenure, 648-626 overall, the Orioles won the American League East in 2014 and made the playoffs three times in five years.
Without question, much of the Orioles’ recent success can be attributed to Showalter. He gave a much-maligned ball-club some much-needed confidence, masterfully managed a bullpen that dominated the major leagues for multiple seasons, and turned no-names like Nate McClouth and Steve Pearce into key contributors. No one can take away anything that Showalter did for the Orioles, but the honeymoon appears to almost be over.
On May 9, 2017, the Orioles held a 22-10 record, good for first place in the AL East. Since then, they have gone 89-163. The lineup full of do-or-die power hitters has aged, the bullpen is depleted to a group of minor league call-ups, and the once-great Orioles defense has failed to look major league-caliber on a regular basis. All of this turned the Orioles into a last-place team, resulting in the departure of numerous players controllable beyond the 2018 season. A rebuild was announced, and the Orioles shifted their focus to the future.
Whether Showalter remains a part of the Orioles’ continuing rebuild remains to be seen, but it’s easy to be skeptical on if he will return to Baltimore in 2019. Currently 62-years-old, Showalter ranks as the sixth-oldest manager in the major leagues. When Duquette announced plans for the Orioles’ rebuild last month, he elaborated on the team’s intention to invest in several new areas that they had previously been lacking in, including technology, analytics, and international scouting. Other teams – notably the Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros – have underwent similar rebuilds with proven success. Those teams did so with managers in their 40’s – much younger than Showalter – and they’re much more educated in the areas of technology and analytics.
Also in Duquette’s rebuilding remarks, he alluded to the Orioles’ intentions of going younger on the field.
“What I do know is that the club is going to start auditioning some young players for full-time jobs for the future,” Duquette said. “We’ll have to address those questions in the offseason.”
Could those offseason questions lead to more decisions pertaining to who’s leading these young players? Again, with Duquette’s status also in limbo, it’s impossible to predict the outcome. That’s why the questions surrounding the front office leadership need to be answered, and they need to be answered as soon as possible.
An idea that’s been tossed around involves Showalter replacing Duquette in the front office as general manager. While intriguing, there are some red flags with this idea. First off, Showalter has no actual experience as a general manager. Showalter has previously been involved with personnel decisions, but he’s never been given full control. Showalter has also never won a World Series. Although a three-time recipient of MLB’s Manager of the Year award, you have to wonder if there’s still an itch for Showalter to win a ring before he retires. Also, Showalter’s decision-making has been put under fire in recent memory. Along with not using Zach Britton in the 2016 Wild Card Game, Showalter continues to show an unrelenting loyalty to Chris Davis, still batting him fifth with with a .164 average. He never gave Chance Sisco consistent opportunities when the 23-yewr-old rookie was on the big league roster earlier this season, and guys like Craig Gentry and Jace Peterson are still on the team.
You’re telling me that there are no young players in the minor leagues who can provide more than what Gentry and Peterson are right now? You’re telling me that giving these young players big-league reps in one of the worst seasons ever by a major league team should not have already taken place? Sure, September call-ups are coming, but what’s the holdup?
If I’m the Orioles, I’m moving on from Showalter after the 2018 season ends. What Showalter has done for the organization should never be forgotten, and he should still be welcome at Camden Yards whenever he feels like showing up, but the marriage is over. Let him go somewhere else where a team has a chance of winning a World Series in the next five years, and give him one last opportunity to win a championship before he retires.
If I’m the Orioles, I’m going to keep Duquette. A few months ago this seemed highly unlikely, but Duquette’s body of work so far in the Orioles’ rebuild shows that he’s committed to the long-term plan of the ball-club. Duquette reportedly wanting to jump ship to Toronto in 2015 was concerning, but why would the Orioles announce a rebuild in July, allow Duquette to make these handful of moves, and then find a new general manager to continue the rebuild? That methodology does not make sense, but the Orioles have gone against the grain time and time again, and even interviewed former Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti in June.
With new faces potentially filling the Orioles’ manager and general manager positions, the future of the Baltimore Orioles could look much different in a few months. The general manager position is one thing, but if the Orioles are truly going to turn the page to a younger ball-club, hiring a younger manager who’s committed to using technology and analytics with his team seems logical. But with this being the Orioles, Baltimore baseball fans will continue to do what they’ve been doing for years, which is to wait and see.
Image Credit: Baltimore Sun