Duquette fits right in Baltimore's land of opportunities

VP has made most of another chance in Majors, orchestrating renaissance with O's

Duquette fits right in Baltimore's land of opportunities

BALTIMORE -- Over the course of 10 long baseball seasons, from 2002-11, Major League Baseball teams combined to fill a total of 47 vacancies for a general manager. And every candidate hired had at least one thing in common. None was named Dan Duquette.

Now, that might seem kind of strange, since this was a young guy with an impressive track record. Duquette was in charge when the Montreal Expos assembled the best team in franchise history prior to the 1994 season. He then went to the Red Sox and turned around Boston's sagging fortunes. But for whatever reason, nearly four dozen positions opened and closed while Duquette busied himself by starting a sports academy in Massachusetts, founding the Israel Baseball League and running franchises in the Northeast Collegiate Baseball League and the Can-Am League.

Duquette's exile ended on Nov. 8, 2011, when the Orioles hired him as their executive vice president of baseball operations.

"I thought I would get another chance," he said. "I believed I would. So I'm thankful for that."

Duquette didn't just get another chance. He once again hit it out of the park. Three winning records in three seasons after 14 consecutive years of losing. The O's currently have the second-best record in baseball and the biggest cushion of any division leader. And while it's true that some of the pieces for this renaissance were in place before Duquette arrived, he also quickly put his stamp on the organization.

"I'm telling you, this guy is 24-7. I don't know when he sleeps," said former Phillies general manager Lee Thomas, who has worked with Duquette in both Boston and Baltimore. "He's always looking at video, looking at international [players]. He uses the analytics the way they should be used. He's always been pretty much that way. He's done a fantastic job."

Duquette, 56, inherited a strong-up-the-middle trio -- American League Gold Glove Award winners in catcher Matt Wieters, shortstop J.J. Hardy and center fielder Adam Jones -- plus right fielder Nick Markakis, who became the nucleus around which the rest of the roster would be reconstructed. Starting pitching, specifically, was a concern.

"Improving the pitching, improving the pitching and improving the pitching was what we were trying to do," Duquette said. "We were trying to improve the pitching in all areas of the organization: the drafting at the amateur level, the scouting, the player development and the acquisition of pitchers to help the Major League team.

"Because we didn't have a core. It's taken a while, because we didn't have a core group of pitchers to staff the Major League team to give us a chance to contend. So that's where we focused our work. And that means in all those areas."

The only holdover in the rotation is right-hander Chris Tillman. The other starters are left-hander Wei-Yin Chen (signed as an international free agent in January 2012) and right-handers Kevin Gausman (first-round pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft), Miguel Gonzalez (signed to a Minor League contract in March 2012 after he was released by the Red Sox) and Bud Norris (acquired from the Astros on July 31, 2013).

Last winter, Duquette traded Jim Johnson to Oakland, even though the closer had saved 101 games the previous two seasons. Johnson, who has since been flipped to Detroit, has struggled all season. Meanwhile, Zach Britton is 32-for-35 in save opportunities since claiming the role in mid-May. He was a starter until this season.

That's a pretty succinct illustration of the fact that the Orioles have traveled many roads to assemble a pitching staff that went into Thursday night with a 3.56 ERA. That would be their lowest in a full season since 1979 (3.26).

In turn, Duquette deflects credit to international scouting director Fred Ferreira, player development director Brian Graham, scouting director Gary Rajsich and pitching development director Rick Peterson. Only Graham was with the organization when Duquette arrived.

The O's have made over 120 roster moves this season, constantly seeking any edge they can get.

"We try to put our best team out there every night," Duquette said. "And sometimes that demands looking at the matchups for tomorrow's game and giving players that we have in Triple-A opportunities. But the good thing about that is that when players sign with us, whether it's Triple-A or the big leagues, they know they're going to get an opportunity. And I believe that energizes them and encourages them to do their best when they come up to help the team."

Still, if Duquette feels in any way vindicated by all he's been able to achieve after his decade in the baseball wilderness, he keeps it to himself. Instead, he talks about how happy he is for others: owner Peter Angelos (who hired him), the organization and Baltimore's terrific fan base.

"I was thankful to get another opportunity after being away from baseball for a while. I appreciated the opportunity I got from Mr. Angelos," Duquette explained. "I really get a kick out of working with the people here. We have some really good, hard-working veteran baseball people, and there's a common theme. And that's a thrill, because every day you come to the ballpark, people are doing their best to try to help the team win today's game."

This is the first time since 1982-85 that Baltimore has had at least three straight winning full seasons. That's reflected in the attendance, which projects to be the highest since 2005. But it's more than just numbers.

"The people in Baltimore are proud of their baseball team," Duquette explained. "We've given them hope and we've shown them we can provide a competitive team after a hiatus. To have the fans come out and support us, that's great. But to see them take pride in the Orioles and the great tradition of Oriole teams, we're reclaiming that tradition."

From 1966-83, the Orioles went to the playoffs eight times, made it to the World Series six times and won it all three times.

Today, the fans identify with Jones and Manny Machado and the other stars. But also with the blue-collar work ethic of players like Caleb Joseph, who spent seven years in the Minors before stepping in this season when Wieters was injured, and Steve Pearce, who was released this year then rejected a waiver claim to re-sign with the O's.

The Orioles have become known as a land of opportunities. And while that usually refers to players, it's just as true for Duquette -- the man in the middle of it all, directing traffic, orchestrating what has so far been a symphony of a season.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.