Dropped in the order, Duquette opts for walk

October 06, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

In case you were wondering, Jim Duquette didn't lose 93 games this year or poke Erik Bedard in the ribs or, for that matter, do anything to warrant his departure from Baltimore other than show up here in the first place.

He resigned yesterday because he had become an extra part in a new machine and he didn't want to become even less important when club president Andy MacPhail brings in a new right-hand man later this month.

Give Duquette credit. He has never had trouble reading the writing on the clubhouse wall. It's always better to ask out before somebody asks you to leave, and it's a pretty good idea to jump back into the job market early in the baseball offseason before all the decisions are made elsewhere.

MacPhail arrived here in June with a mandate for change, but - true to his thorough and conservative nature - spent much of the past four months evaluating the organization at every level. He never publicly criticized anyone in his carryover administration, but it became obvious in the final weeks of the season that a significant front office shake-up was ahead.

"Clearly, where we are now, this is not working," MacPhail said Sunday.

Manager Dave Trembley's two-month competitive honeymoon had given way to a frightening late-season collapse that fully exposed the franchise's lack of depth at every level.

If you want to play the blame game, it would be easy enough to point to last winter's failed $42 million bullpen renovation and justify a pound of flesh from both Duquette and Mike Flanagan, but - all things considered - it seemed like a good idea at the time.

MacPhail also could look at some of the ill-advised long-term contracts that are weighing down the roster and wonder, hindsight being as accurate as a Bedard curveball, whether any part of the decision-making apparatus in the front office ought to be left in place.

We'll find out soon enough. The Orioles begin their annual organizational meetings Monday in Sarasota, Fla., where MacPhail presumably will complete his lengthy evaluation of the club. He is expected to bring in a new assistant soon thereafter and continue to streamline the organizational hierarchy.

Duquette chose to walk away rather than move down the organizational chart, if he even had that option. Flanagan might face the same decision, with an unhappy public looking for proof of MacPhail's supposed autonomy.

Flanagan originally was hired as executive vice president of baseball operations because of his close relationship with owner Peter Angelos. In theory, his credibility with the owner - combined with the nuts-and-bolts expertise of co-general manager Jim Beattie and later Duquette - was supposed to help the baseball operation run more smoothly.

That seemed logical enough at the time, but Angelos never really gave up any authority. That was obvious as recently as last year, when he vetoed a deal that would have sent Brian Roberts to the Atlanta Braves because of his personal affinity for the young second baseman.

MacPhail has indicated on more than one occasion since he joined the organization that he would not have moved his family to Baltimore if he did not have full authority to rebuild the franchise. Now, rightly or wrongly, the fans are going to view Flanagan as the litmus test that indicates whether a new day really has dawned in the Orioles organization.

If Flanagan retains his title, it's going to look as if MacPhail was ordered to make room for him in the new pecking order. If he is forced out or moved into a different role, it would - perhaps temporarily - validate the notion that Angelos finally has recognized the need to step aside and place control of the team in entirely new hands.

There's a lot more to it than that, as we're going to find out over the next few weeks, but the dominoes have started to fall.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays and Sundays.

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