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September 10, 2013

Painting the Black

Flipping the Birds

by R.J. Anderson


Over the past two years, I've been wrong about the Orioles no fewer than three times.

My faulty assessments began when Dan Duquette was hired as general manager, in November 2011. Though I praised Duquette—calling him bright, among other adjectives—I expressed doubt about the job's prospects. For good reason, too; other executives turned away Baltimore's advances, likely due to their perceptions about manager Buck Showalter's power and owner Peter Angelos' vision. Despite drafting and developing poorly for years, Angelos (reportedly) rejected one candidate's plan to clear house, further obscuring how much authority the new GM would wield.

Beyond the noise, other factors were working against the Orioles. Fourteen seasons had passed since Baltimore's last winning season, and no resolution appeared near. The short-term outlook was bleak due to the talent and resource differentials between the O's and the division's behemoths. To succeed, the Orioles GM needed patience, resolve, creativity, and a waterproof five-year plan—perfect to sob over when Angelos inevitably grew disillusioned following two poor seasons. Duquette had those things, including the waterproof plan—though its integrity was challenged by champagne, not tears.

The second time I misjudged the Orioles was last spring. I picked them to finish last, which they did not do. I did the same this spring and, barring a collapse, that too will prove incorrect. Erring three times on one team over a short period of time is cause for reflection: What is it about the Orioles that I missed, or otherwise undervalued? Andy MacPhail, for one.

Duquette's tinkerer reputation belies a fundamental truth about the O's: their core predates his time in Baltimore. On most nights, the Orioles start seven players who were with the team under MacPhail. (The exceptions being Nate McLouth and the team's DH.) This includes arguably the team's most important players. Under MacPhail, the Orioles traded for Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, and Chris Davis, deals that in retrospect are some of the most lopsided swaps in recent memory. Those three players rank first, third, and sixth this season among Baltimore's position players in WARP.

As well as those trades have worked out, MacPhail did stumble in other areas where Duquette has made the difference. The draft is one good example, as somehow the Orioles went through a lengthy down period and exited with precious few impact talents and worthwhile prospects, even with all those top picks. The O's popped Brian Matusz, Manny Machado, and Dylan Bundy in the first round under MacPhail's watch. They also selected Matt Hobgood ahead of Zack Wheeler during an otherwise fruitless 2009 draft. Comparatively, Duquette's first-round picks include Kevin Gausman and Hunter Harvey, two potential front-of-the-rotation arms. (Granted, both could bust for all we know.)

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Related Content:  Baltimore Orioles,  Trades,  Andy Macphail

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