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December 27, 2011

The BP Broadside

The Rudy Pemberton Project Goes to Baltimore

by Steven Goldman

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Dan Duquette is going to be good for the Baltimore Orioles. Sure, we all laughed when everyone who has been in baseball this century turned down the opportunity to serve as the most visible private in Peter Angelos’s imbecile army, leaving the owner with no choice but to hire Duquette, a man who had been out of baseball practically since the last century. The former general manager of the Expos and Red Sox had not commanded a front office since ending an eight-year stay in Boston in 2001. His version of the Sox had reached the playoffs three times but had won only one division title and, of course, failed to snap "The Curse". This guy was going to be the innovative, creative executive that would free the Orioles from years of ignominy?

I can’t tell you the answer to that question. What I can tell you is that the qualities that made Duquette a poor fit for Boston will make him helpful to the Orioles.

When we began work on the Boston Red Sox book that eventually became Mind Game, we internally referred to our work as “The Rudy Pemberton Project.” “How is Rudy going?” people would ask me each day. “Rudy Pemberton” was a reference to one of Duquette’s many projects. Perhaps because the Yawkey Trust was a very different kind of boss, with far shallower pockets, than John Henry was for Theo Epstein, or maybe because he just loved bargain-shopping, Duquette was seemingly obsessed with turning over rocks to find secret stars. Rather than compete with the Yankees for the big names, he’d try to fill out his roster by attempting Hail Mary passes on players like Pemberton, Morgan Burkhart, Izzy Alcantara, Tuffy Rhodes, Dwayne Hosey, Calvin Pickering, and, on the pitching side, Robinson Checo.

Not all of Duquette’s scrap drives were failures. Sorting through other teams’ refuse led him to Brian Daubach, Rich Garces, Troy O’Leary, Matt Stairs (who didn’t catch on in Boston), Tim Wakefield, and Reggie Jefferson. He also made two of the all-time great trades, getting Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek from Seattle for reliever Heathcliff Slocumb, and taking Pedro Martinez from the hapless Expos for Carl Pavano and Tony Armas—the former a product of the draft, the latter a gift from the Yankees in return for 28 games of a 34-year-old Mike Stanley.

The problem with this strategy when you’re running the Boston Red Sox is that you’re not going to beat the Yankees this way. It’s great to be creative, and you might somehow beat the 2011 Cardinals in a division race with this approach, but you’re not going to beat the 1998 Yankees this way. Duquette’s taste in established players wasn’t as wide-ranging as it was with journeymen. He didn’t get along with Mo Vaughn or Roger Clemens and gave out regrettable contracts to players such as Dante Bichette, Mike Lansing, Steve Avery, Jose Offerman, and Tony Clark.

Simultaneously, the farm system under Duquette had been quiet. Sure, drafts overseen by him resulted in Nomar Garciaparra, Pavano, Justin Duchscherer (dealt for Doug Mirabelli), Shea Hillenbrand, David Eckstein (Duquette put him on waivers, thus launching the infielder’s career with the Angels), Adam Everett (traded for Carl Everett), Mike Maroth (traded for Bryce Florie), and Lew Ford (traded for Hector Carrasco). Pre-Duquette drafts also produced Scott Hatteberg and Trot Nixon. It wasn’t enough, and Duquette’s restlessness didn’t help matters. If you pick a Duquette-Red Sox lineup based on the leading players at each position, you get something of a mess. Keep in mind, these games totals are out of a possible 1231 games:
 

Pos

Player

Games

C

Scott Hatteberg

454

1B

Mo Vaughn

707

2B

Jose Offerman

393

3B

John Valentin

789

SS

Nomar Garciaparra

616

LF

Troy O’Leary

962

CF

Darren Lewis

387

RF

Trot Nixon

410

DH

Mike Stanley

459

SP

Tim Wakefield

172

SP

Pedro Martinez

109

SP

Aaron Sele

90

SP

Roger Clemens

81

RP

Derek Lowe

266


Tim Naehring actually played the most games at third. Valentin played the second-most games at both shortstop and third and the second-most games under Duquette overall, so he gets listed here. Jeff Frye was close behind Offerman at second, Varitek close behind Hatteberg at catcher. Reggie Jefferson actually had more games at DH than did Mike Stanley, but Stanley played more games overall.

Did I mention that Duquette also had a bad relationship with the press? And yet, if he maintains his approach, he’s going to help the Orioles. They need a dumpster-diver. This is an organization that has lately developed something resembling pitching, or at least human beings who could at some point be effective pitchers. Position players have remained mostly out of reach. Brandon Snyder, anyone? Billy Rowell? Maybe Matt Wieters builds on his breakthrough season (he’s still not a star, kids!) and Adam Jones finds consistency. Perhaps J.J. Hardy pops another 30 home runs next year, or Nick Markakis remembers where his power went. Even if all those things happen, they still need more.

The Orioles aren’t competing with the Yankees; they’re competing with themselves. They need to get sorted at a basic level to reach basic, sustained competency before they can think about that. They can use a Rudy Pemberton more than any team on Earth. Duquette made his first gesture in this direction earlier this month when he selected Cubs infielder Ryan Flaherty in the Rule 5 draft. Called the 16th-best prospect in the Cubs organization this offseason by Kevin Goldstein, Flaherty is a left-handed hitter who carries .278/.346/.462 rates in the minors. Turning 25 this season, he’s a bit on the old side to be a true prospect, and he has no defensive home, profiling as a firstsecondthirdleftfielder. In short, he’s a Pemberton.

Maybe Flaherty sticks, maybe he doesn’t, but anyone who might prevent another attempt to ring Josh Bell can’t be all bad. F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said that there are no second acts in American lives. He was right when it came to his own alcohol-addled existence, but wrong about so many others. Some people are doomed to never grow, to never learn from their mistakes. Others who life has knocked down will analyze what went wrong and resolve never to be defeated in the same way again. They attack again, even if many years later, and thrive. I don’t know which group Duquette belongs to, or what he learned during his long exile, but for the Orioles’ sake let’s hope that he didn’t forget that the big metal container in the parking lot isn’t for trash, but for treasure.

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here

Related Content:  The Who,  Dan Duquette

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