Standing alone at a podium in the sixth-floor conference room at Camden Yards on Tuesday morning, new Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette proclaimed why he is the right man for such a challenging — some might say perilous — job.
"I'm a builder," said Duquette, 53, who helped turn around the Montreal Expos and Boston Red Sox franchises but hasn't been in major league baseball since being fired by the Red Sox in 2002.
"This is right up my alley, frankly — turning around a ballclub and building a farm and scouting system. This is what I love to do," Duquette said. "This is a great opportunity. I'm thankful for it. I'm ready to go to work."
In a 30-minute conference, Duquette waxed poetic about the Orioles' past, his connections to people who created the Oriole Way and said he would emulate the great Orioles teams of the 1960s while playing Wiffle Ball in his backyard in Western Massachusetts.
Duquette also misspoke in a major way once during his opening statement — talking about his goals to "build a perennial contending club here in Boston."
Inadvertently, he highlighted the uphill battle facing his new club, one that has lost for 14 consecutive seasons and has been in the interminable shadow of American League East behemoths, the Red Sox and New York Yankees.
As the GM of a small-market team in Montreal (1991-1994) and a big market one in Boston (1994-2002), he said, he used the same philosophy: build the farm system through scouting and player development.
"When you don't have resources that the top two clubs have, you have to work harder and you have to work smarter, and you have to do a better job in scouting and you've got to do a better job in player development," Duquette said. "If you can build up the inventory of your farm system and you've got core players coming to your major league team, you've got something to talk about. The team that has the best farm system is the team that competes year in and year out. So irrespective of your market size, it all starts with signing good players and bringing them up to your team. … My philosophy is that aggressive scouting will build you winning ballclubs."
Duquette was the sixth and final candidate to interview for the club's top executive spot, vacated last month by former club president Andy MacPhail. Two of those candidates took their names out of consideration, and a third turned down the position.
That left Duquette, who said his nine-year absence from big league baseball was mainly because he tended to other priorities, including family and upstart baseball ventures, as the unquestioned favorite in the shrinking field of candidates.
Within one weekend, he had met three times with various members of the search committee before landing a three-year contract Sunday. The three primary members of the committee, manager Buck Showalter, general counsel H. Russell Smouse and Louis Angelos, son of club managing partner Peter Angelos, attended Tuesday's conference, though only Showalter spoke publicly.
Peter Angelos, who typically does not make appearances during such announcements, issued the following statement: "I am pleased to welcome Dan Duquette to the Orioles' organization. With an emphasis on developing players from within as well as acquiring players through the international and trade markets, Dan built the Red Sox and Expos into formidable franchises during his tenures. His record of success, extensive baseball operations leadership and strong scouting background give Dan the experience and skills essential for this position."
Duquette becomes the 14th top executive in Orioles history and the eighth under Angelos' ownership.
On Tuesday, though, the spotlight was strictly on Duquette, who wore a fiery orange tie and spoke glowingly about working in concert with Showalter to turn around the club. He didn't outline his plans for free agency, which began Thursday, but it's obvious in his quotes that big-ticket items such as first baseman Prince Fielder and pitcher C.J. Wilson likely will take a back seat to improving the club's infrastructure. Although, he didn't specifically rule out anything.
"We will be active in a lot of markets, a lot of talent markets to field competitive and winning teams," Duquette said. "The major league free-agency market is probably the riskiest one, right? I'm much more comfortable operating with less risk."
One of his first moves will be filling personnel holes within the organization, which include amateur scouting director, minor league pitching coordinator and potentially player-development director, among others. He said he does not have a list of personnel he wants to bring to the Orioles but that he received hundreds of emails and messages this weekend.
"There are some good baseball people that I have worked with along the way that are interested in joining the team," said Duquette, the cousin of former Orioles vice president Jim Duquette. "I will have to filter through that the next couple of days and see if we can accommodate them. But we do have a number of spots open."
Duquette and baseball operations director Matt Klentak will head to Milwaukee next week for the general managers' meetings, which will be Duquette's re-introduction to the game's movers and shakers and the starting point for reshaping the team.
He has already had discussions with Showalter about the 25-man roster and Showalter's coaching staff. John Russell will return as bench coach, Showalter said Tuesday, but the club is looking to fill the third base/infield spot and bullpen coach (if Rick Adair remains pitching coach). The manager said he expects to have that wrapped up within the week.
Showalter likely will get the final say on his staff, but shaping the rosters is expected to be a joint effort between Duquette and Showalter.
"When I evaluated this job and I looked at all the strengths of the organization, one of the things I was really impressed with was the caliber of your manager, of Buck Showalter, who's a tried-and-true tactician, and he's a roll-up-your-sleeves, get-it-done baseball guy," Duquette said. "I'm looking forward to the opportunity to work alongside with Buck because he's one of the great men in the industry and I think we're going to make a dynamic team together."
In turn, Showalter might understand Duquette better than most. Like his new boss, Showalter was out of baseball for several years until the Orioles hired him in 2010. And like Duquette, Showalter has built teams only to see them win titles after he was fired. Showalter said both men have chips on their shoulders — and that's good thing.
"We all do. You better. It's a competitive place. It's not for the weak of knees and faint of heart. You've got to live it and breathe it," Showalter said. "We went down to the locker room [Monday] after everybody had left, around 6 o'clock, and stayed there until about 8 and just sat down there, and that environment was beautiful because it was baseball. You can tell, Dan, as soon as he got in that environment, there was a different feel. We picked everybody's brain who came through here about what they thought of us and the club and everything, and I think Dan had a real grasp on where we are as an organization."
Showalter said he can't imagine the two strong-willed men won't be able to coexist, especially if they can build a foundation of winning, something that has been elusive around Camden Yards for more than a decade.
And Duquette, who refused to put a number of years on his plan for success, predicts the wins will come as he builds on a core of talented players such as catcher Matt Wieters and center fielder Adam Jones, among others.
"Here in Baltimore, we've got to work smarter to invest our money so that we get a return, so we get better bang for our buck. We are going to have to work a little smarter," Duquette said. "But I've got the people that I can surround myself with to give us the chance to do that."
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