I think Tom Scocca’s initial reaction to the hiring of Dan Duquette was pretty typical:
In the end, the Orioles announced that their new general manager would be Dan Duquette. I believe I swore out loud when I heard the news. Dan fucking Duquette. Fired in the housecleaning that had swept decades of ghosts and self-loathing out of Fenway, as new owner John Henry set about reinventing the Red Sox as a 21st-century championship franchise. Duquette hadn’t had a job in a decade—a decade, coincidentally enough, in which the entire business of baseball operations had been transformed. In a world where boy geniuses analyze their way to the World Series, Peter Angelos had hired a witch doctor. If not a corpse reanimated by a witch doctor. Dan Duquette! Doom.
Whether Duquette will prove to be a good hire, despite the miracle season, is an open question — the Orioles owe their spot in their playoffs to Lady Luck and the previous management (and I would give Showalter some credit too.) But I’ll say this: Duquette was an excellent, very underrated GM, and it’s puzzling that he was out of MLB for a decade.
Let’s start with Montreal. First, when he was the Expo Director of Player Development, the Expos drafted or otherwise acquired Delino DeShields, John Vander Wal, Marquis Grissom, Charles Johnson, Rondell White, Cliff Floyd, Mark Grudzielanek, Kirk Reuter, Vlad Guerrero, Orlando Cabrera, and Javier Vazquez. That’s a lot of guys with long careers, topped off by a Hall of Famer and a couple minor stars, for 5 years while mostly drafting in the mid-first round or lower. He turned that talent base into a competitive team in 1992 and the best team in baseball in 1994 after taking over in late 1991 by making two exceptional and one good trade: getting Perdro Martinez, Ken Hill and John Wetteland for DeShields, Willie Greene, and a washed-up until that Coors Field meeting Andres Gallaragga. He also contributed significantly to the success of that team by cutting bait quickly on Tom Runnells — the ridiculously in-over-his-head manager Dombrowski hired in 1991, presumably while distracted trying to find people to sell the mineral water, airline tickets, and coolers he was charging to the team’s credit — and hiring Felipe Alou, who did a terrific job in his first three years. (Converting Fassero to the rotation alone was worth 2-4 wins a year.)
In Boston, he didn’t have the same stunning record of success, but he still did a good job and left the core of a championship team in place. Obviously, getting Pedro Martinez on the receiving end of a salary dump isn’t as impressive as getting him while dumping salary, but still — he wasn’t the only GM in the market for the guy who would have the greatest peak of any major league pitcher in history, and he gave up substantially less than
Epstein Epstein’s temporary replacement gave up to get Josh Beckett. Signing Ramirez may have just required spending money, but as no Red Sox fan needs to be reminded not all elite money is spent on truly elite players that justify their contracts, and big money for a Hall of Famer at his peak is more than justified. He drafted Nomah. And while Garciaparra was gone by postseason 2004, several other key parts of that team were Duquette’s — Damon, Varitek and Lowe (acquired for human fireworks display Heathcliff Slocumb), Wakefield. Epstein did a very good job filling out that core after taking over, no question, but Duquette deserves a lot more credit for that team than he gets. And while Duquette mishandled Clemens and letting him walk was a bad decision, he also deserved credit for letting Mo Vaughn take his old player’s skills to Orange County. And it should be noted as well that when Theo Epstein put together a team without any of Duquette’s core, he ended up doing a bellyflop off the Prudential Tower.
The Orioles may have hired Duquette because they were desperate, but they may also get the last laugh. For a punchline he has a really terrific track record.