Duquette poised to get results from overhaul
O's exec has dramatically changed club's scouting, development
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette sat several rows behind home plate on Saturday afternoon, taking in the picturesque scene that is watching a baseball game at Ed Smith Stadium. Baltimore has a brand-new weight room, clubhouse and baseball operations center, the final stages of a multimillion-dollar renovation project in its Sarasota spring home.
The team's Spring Training facility is far from the only thing that has gotten a complete overhaul. Since taking over the position vacated by Andy MacPhail in November, Duquette has dramatically restructured the scouting and Minor League development operations, reassigning a large portion of professional scouts to the amateur side and rearranging those already in the organization in roles that best suited their strengths.
"I had a couple months to get to know the people in the organization and understand what's out there and what kind of personnel is out there," said Duquette, who brought in several colleagues from his Boston days and added Rick Peterson as director of pitching development.
"I think getting to know all the players in Spring Training is a big part of understanding the personnel and the organization and knowing what we have. Being together with the staffs in camp, we have a good idea of what we want to do."
Ideally, the Orioles would like to replenish an underwhelming farm system and continue to expand internationally -- an area they previously had next to no presence -- all the while hitting the .500 mark for the first time in 15 seasons. Duquette has already gone on record several times with his belief that the 2012 squad can post a winning record, a tall task for any rebuilding organization and one made tougher in the American League East.
"It's time for a number of players to get established as winning Major League pitchers," Duquette said. "Zach Britton, Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta, they've all had some success in the Major Leagues. Our interior defense is there, our outfield defense is good, our catcher is first rate. Those pitchers should have a good chance to really establish themselves as winning Major League pitchers.
"If we can get some stable starting pitching, we should be capable of that [better than .500 goal]."
Out of the game for a decade after he was dismissed as Boston's general manager, Duquette didn't make any splashy moves in his first few months on the job in Baltimore. Instead, he is hoping the signings of international arms Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada -- coupled with the trade for Rockies pitchers Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom -- will help stabilize what was statistically one of the worst pitching staffs in the Majors last season.
Manager Buck Showalter has praised Duquette for adding depth and improving the overall makeup of the 40-man roster, a necessity given the Orioles' lack of prospects in the upper echelon of the farm system. The signings, while hardly headline deals, should at least help the O's avoid scrambling to find starters who can go five innings, a problem that dogged them most of the year.
"I think that's obvious," pitching coach Rick Adair said of whether the Orioles' pitching staff has better options than it did a year ago. "You sit here, putting the rotation together and putting the bullpen together, there's several candidates for spots. We have options for if guys get injured or guys who are going to end up going to Triple-A, we feel good about them. So from that standpoint, we are much, much better."
"We are making good progress," Duquette said when asked to evaluate his efforts four months in. "If we are going to be a perennially contending team, we have to build a good farm system, good scouting, good international [scouting] and a good pitching staff. Those are the requirements, and that's where I've been spending all my time and energy. ... I think an organization has to have a philosophy and a stance for winning baseball. And we are in the process of doing that."
Still, there are certain constraints that come with taking over an organization like Baltimore. Beyond the obvious, that the Orioles' can't outspend teams like the Yankees and Red Sox, they also don't have the talent pipeline of Tampa Bay, or even Toronto. Instead, the O's have a camp full of players coming off injury or other factors that caused a dip in their performance, a gamble that comes with the caveat of having 10 players on the 40-man roster who are out of options.
Given that, the Orioles look poised to make one or two trades before heading north and Duquette didn't rule out adding another player via free agency at some point this spring, although nothing is in the offing.
"Right now, we are trying to figure out what we have in camp," he said. "Maybe later in camp. I think right now, most teams are focused on finding out what they have."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.