The 2015 season got off to a rousing start for the Baltimore Orioles. General manager Dan Duquette attempted to force his way out of Baltimore and into an executive role with the Toronto Blue Jays, Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis walked, and the additions to the roster included Wesley Wright, Everth Cabrera, Travis Snider, and Delmon Young. All have since been sent packing, as has Alejandro De Aza, another player re-signed through arbitration. Duquette had made a living in Baltimore the past three years salvaging players like Cabrera, Snider, and Young off the scrap heap and turning them into productive players. Not this year.
The tension between manager Buck Showalter and Duquette is building rapidly according to sources within the organization. Showalter wants more say in the decision-making process, and who could blame him. If the manager had his druthers, Cruz and Markakis would certainly have been wearing orange and black in 2015. With that pair holding down the corners of the outfield instead of some amorphous combination of Snider, De Aza, Young, Steve Pearce, and David Lough, it is highly likely the Orioles would be looking at a second consecutive playoff berth instead of fighting like hell to finish above .500.
The farm system has also been a mess under Duquette’s watchful eye. Players like Manny Machado, Matt Wieters, Jonathan Schoop, Brian Matusz, Caleb Joseph, and Zach Britton were all drafted or signed by another regime. There have been no stars drafted and developed during Duquette’s tenure in Baltimore. Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey have faced injury after injury since joining the Orioles’ organization. There are rumblings that Showalter has grown frustrated with Duquette’s director of pitcher development, Rick Peterson. After watching Kevin Gausman fail to progress as a Major League pitcher despite the talent oozing out of his pores, it’s easy to understand why Peterson might not be Showalter’s personal favorite.
Duquette and Showalter are both under contract through 2018. This coming offseason will be a massive test for their working relationship in Baltimore. This winter’s free agent class — Chris Davis, Wei-Yin Chen, Darren O’Day, Matt Wieters — was the oft-cited reason behind the Orioles’ unwillingness to spend big last winter. If very little action is taken to re-sign this bunch, whatever tension is already boiling between Showalter and Duquette could come to a head. Duquette has already publicly stated that bringing Davis back will be the team’s number one priority entering 2016. Adding another starting pitcher will also have to be high on the list. For that to happen, a massive paradigm shift will need to occur in the way the Orioles attack the offseason.
With another crop of GM jobs set to open this winter, it’s possible Duquette will attempt to make another push to exit Baltimore. If that happens, the Orioles should strongly consider letting him go on his merry way. Where would that leave Showalter? Buck clearly wants to be heavily involved in the decision-making process, but it is highly unlikely that he would be able to have a joint GM-manager role like many coaches in the NFL. The role of a GM in baseball is so far-reaching that it would be impossible for even a great baseball mind like Showalter to handle the day-to-day duties of running a team from the front office and the dugout. Would Showalter consider leaving the dugout to head upstairs?
Showalter is a three-time Manager of the Year and has guided three teams to the postseason. He has built two franchises into playoff contenders in Arizona and Baltimore. The New York Yankees dynasty of the late nineties was kicked off by Showalter. The 59-year-old Florida native has done it all in the dugout, and has always had a keen eye for evaluating players and putting them in the right spot to succeed. It is hardly a stretch to say that he could assemble a roster, and he may feel ready to take on a new challenge.
In recent history, Jack McKeon comes to mind as a manager who has successfully made the switch from the dugout to the front office (and back to the dugout). Trader Jack got the San Diego Padres to their first ever World Series in 1984 and earned a reputation for being willing to trade aggressively. Showalter would likely bring the same mentality to the front office. Understanding the needs of a team from a manager’s perspective would allow him to analyze roster construction through two lenses. Showalter has been around the game of baseball at every single level and in every role imaginable. Transitioning to an executive role seems the logical progression if he wants it.
Any chance of Showalter heading upstairs depends on what Duquette decides to do. Duquette could certainly attempt to make his way out of Baltimore again, and this time Peter Angelos will probably let him go. Showalter should be given the choice to take on the role in that case. With Showalter calling the shots, the Orioles could target a young, upstart manager who could still lean heavily on Showalter.
Change is imminent in Baltimore come the offseason. Whether that change includes a reshuffling of roles for Buck Showalter is yet to be determined. A move from the dugout to the front office would be unconventional, but the Orioles have gotten where they are by being unconventional. A move by Buck Showalter to the front office would shock many, but it’s not out of the question.