Reflecting on the Orioles: November Brings Duquette Into Fold

Duquette was once able to bring in talent like Pedro when he was with the Red Sox. How will he do with Baltimore?

November was an eventful month for the Baltimore Orioles.  The team’s clumsy, haphazard search for a new General Manager concluded with Baltimore taking former Red Sox front man Dan Duquette out of mothballs.  Duquette built half a championship team in Boston before he was kicked to the curb to make way for whiz kid Theo Epstein nearly a decade ago.  Frankly, the Orioles are probably lucky to have landed someone with as much experience and past success as Duquette.  Most of the young up and comers around baseball’s front offices turn downed the Orioles with Toronto Assistant GM Tony LaCava apparently leaving Baltimore at the altar.

Now that Duquette has the job he has the unenviable task of fixing the Orioles two biggest ongoing problems: lack of pitching depth and a chronically broken player development system.  Actual, the Orioles biggest problem sits in the owner’s box and signs Duquette’s checks, but that’s another concern in itself.  Time will tell if Duquette has the authority to truly fix the Orioles.  His predecessors all spoke of returning the Orioles to glory and we’ve seen how those efforts have turned out.

Duquette’s first move as GM was a bit of a head scratcher.  He signed minor league infielder Matt Antonelli to a major league contract.  Antonelli was once a top prospect in the Padres system before injuries derailed his career.  He has only 65 Major League plate appearances, all with the 2008 Padres, to his credit.  He missed most of the 2009 and 2010 seasons due to injury before bouncing back to post a .853 OPS for Syracuse of the International League last season.  While the major league deal for a 26 year old career minor league seems rather odd, Antonelli does give the Orioles another option at second base to go along with the oft-injured Brian Roberts, Robert Andino and prospect Ryan Adams.  He also reportedly could be in consideration for playing time at third base.

For years the Orioles have been criticized for their lack of activity in acquiring talent from the International market.  Duquette has moved quickly to rectify that problem as the Orioles are reportedly close to a deal with Korean pitcher Chong Tae-Hyon.  He is reportedly a submarine style right hander who could help bolster the Orioles beleaguered bullpen.  He would probably be the fourth righty in the pen after Kevin Gregg, Jim Johnson and Pedro Strop.  There is speculation that Johnson could be moved to the rotation placing even more importance on Chong’s potential addition.

The Orioles have also reportedly signed 17 year old Venezuelan right hander Yeizer Marrugo to a contract with a $120k bonus.  Marrugo may not help the Orioles at the Major League level for years, if at all, but the fact that Baltimore is actively signing International talent in the first few weeks of Duquette’s reign is a significant shift in philosophy from the Andy MacPhail era.

I don’t expect the Orioles to be particularly active in the free agent market.  Duquette has essentially said that fans shouldn’t expect any major free agent additions.  It is more likely that Duquette will approach building the team’s depth through trades, minor league free agents, perhaps some additional Asian imports, and repairing the farm system.  All of that probably means another disappointing season in 2012, but hopefully a deeper farm system and improved long term prospects.  When you’ve been terrible for over a decade there are simply no quick fixes.

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