As the Baltimore Orioles close out their regular season as American League East Champions and prepare for what they hope will be a long playoff run, it’s worth taking a look at how exactly the team ended their streak of 14 consecutive losing seasons to become one of the better teams in all of baseball.
Dan Duquette, the Executive Vice-President of Baseball Operations for the Orioles, has made some smart, under-the-radar moves throughout his tenure. He’s gained a reputation for compiling talent through the major and minor leagues by acquiring low-risk, high-reward players.
Over the past few seasons Duquette has added to the core of the team with journeymen like Steve Pearce, Nate McLouth, Darren O’Day, and Delmon Young. These players were given a clear role and have enjoyed the most successful portions of their careers in orange and black.
The Orioles’ international market for players has expanded with Duquette acquiring effective pitchers Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez.
This offseason Duquette was given more financial freedom to operate, and signed starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year, $50 million contract. Jimenez has been a major disappointment and is in danger of being left off the postseason roster. However Duquette also signed outfielder/designated hitter Nelson Cruz to a team-friendly one-year, $8 million deal, and after hitting 40 home runs was named the 2014 Most Valuable Oriole.
In his three seasons pulling the strings Duquette has amassed over 270 wins. He’s receiving a lot of credit, and rightfully so, but what goes under the radar both nationally and locally is that the groundwork for success was laid long before Duquette arrived in Baltimore.
Andy MacPhail was the President of Baseball Operations of the Baltimore Orioles from June 2007 to October 2011. While his tenure was characterized by a continued run of losing on the field, his dramatic moves off the field shaped the Orioles into the team currently contending for a World Series title.
When MacPhail arrived he knew it was time for yet another rebuilding of the Orioles’ roster and decided to leverage the team’s major league players for minor league assets.
In February 2008, in one of the most one-sided trades in baseball history, MacPhail dealt starting pitcher Erik Bedard to the Seattle Mariners for five players. Bedard was coming off of a season in which he went 13-5 with a 3.19 ERA and over 200 strikeouts. His value was peaking and MacPhail knew it. In return the Orioles received most notably outfielder Adam Jones, now the team’s number three hitter, and pitcher Chris Tillman, the ace of the staff. Bedard only lasted two and a half seasons with Seattle and has since played for the Red Sox, Pirates, Astros, and Rays.
Almost a year after the Bedard trade, MacPhail signed pitcher Koji Uehara to a two-year deal, and gave outfielder Nick Markakis a six-year extension.
In July 2010 Buck Showalter was hired by MacPhail to become the 19th manager in Orioles history. Showalter, a fan favorite, has produced a winning season in three of his four years at the helm.
In late 2010 MacPhail acquired shortstop J.J. Hardy from the Minnesota Twins without giving up anything substantial. As an Oriole, Hardy has blossomed into an all-star capable of hitting over 20 home runs a season while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense.
The next season, at the trade deadline, MacPhail dealt Koji Uehara to the Texas Rangers for corner infielder Chris Davis and right-handed pitcher Tommy Hunter. Davis went on to finish third behind Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout in the 2013 AL MVP voting after hitting 53 home runs and collecting 138 RBI. Hunter has been a valuable addition to the Orioles bullpen.
MacPhail was also able to sign catcher Matt Wieters after Baltimore took him with the fourth overall pick in 2007, and he drafted third baseman Manny Machado in 2010. Unfortunately, because of injury, it won’t be until 2015 when these two suit up again for the Orioles, but needless to say, they’re invaluable members of the team acquired by the club’s previous GM.
Andy MacPhail’s contract expired after the 2011 season and he was unceremoniously replaced by Dan Duquette.
Year after year, MacPhail made the bold move to sacrifice the team’s short-term success for a sustainable long-term approach. The Orioles and its fan base are now reaping the benefits of his shrewd transactions as they gear up for the first round of the playoffs. It’s time the man gets the credit he deserves. It’s long overdue.
Scott DeWeese is a geographer from the Baltimore area. One of the final graduates of the University of Maryland from the ACC era, DeWeese is an avid sports writer and fan. When he’s not looking up remedies to counteract male pattern baldness, you can probably find him at Camden Yards or checking the fantasy football waiver wire. Follow him on Twitter @ScottDeWeese.