Duquette’s Tinkering Around the Margins

July 23, 2012 | Mark Brown

It seems that Duquette’s first choice was to give the young pitchers a chance to succeed, but that he was prepared in case they didn’t. For one, he had things set up in two waves, so now Arrieta and Matusz have given way to Tillman and Britton. If the latter two end up performing as poorly as the former two, we can forget about the playoffs anyway. The jury is still out.

Duquette scraped together players from anywhere and everywhere for the Norfolk roster, so in the event of calamity, he could call them up, use them while he needed them and then jettison them. You can ask Bill Hall. Thankfully, he hasn’t needed that worst case scenario. Did you really want to see Jamie Moyer pitching in the AL East? Instead, he unearthed Miguel Gonzalez in the Mexican League.

Not all of Duquette’s marginal moves have been a success, but he’s hit on enough of them that this collection of misfit toys – many of which he inherited from Andy MacPhail, a few of which came from the two-headed monster GM days – is somehow in contention, against anyone’s expectations, as the trade deadline approaches. And, surprise: without having to add a “big name” – like an overpaid slugger or a reliever whose sole recommendation is he got a few saves once – the fans are coming out to support this motley assortment of players that constitute an exciting, winning team.

To the extent that he’s made some bigger, multi-million dollar moves – acquiring Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom, signing Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada – he’s hit on two out of three, and as anyone who’s ever listened to Meat Loaf knows, two out of three ain’t bad. A baseball team that regularly wins two out of three games ends up with 108 wins, in fact. Not bad at all.

With the trade deadline coming up, let’s be real: there’s not one or two trades the team can make that’s going to turn them into the Yankees or the Rangers on paper. Trading Dylan Bundy for Cole Hamels and Manny Machado for Zach Greinke, or whatever, still leaves an offense full of holes and a bullpen that may be playing over its head. All of this to chase a one-game wild card playoff – a scenario which a great baseball writer, Dave Cameron of Fangraphs, today described as “likely a one game, winner-take-all affair against Jered Weaver in Anaheim.” Do you want to mortgage the future for that?

What Duquette can do is continue what he’s been doing: upgrading at the margins when the right move is there. At least, he can try to do so. When Jim Thome became available for a couple of (we hope) minor leaguers who don’t matter, he pounced. He fits in the mold that frustrates fans like me, an aging slugger whose best years are behind him, but the key difference is that the O’s will pay him about $600,000.

Omar Quintanilla for cash considerations? Sure. Now there’s a late-inning defensive replacement at second base while Robert Andino is on the disabled list.

None of these will get three nights of SportsCenter headlines, but they were inexpensive moves aimed at improving a specific area of the team. If they work out, great; if they don’t, at least they were cheap.

What’s going to happen with the Orioles as the rest of the season plays out? I have no idea. But if the first four months are any indication, it’ll be fun to watch, win or lose. That’s a lot more than we’ve been able to say for the last 14 years.