DETROIT - Pitching coach Rick Adair #41 of the Baltimore Orioles talks with Craig Tatum #15 and Brian Matusz #17 in the fourth inning during the game against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
The Baltimore Orioles have more talent than they often get credit for, but new GM Dan Duquette will have the unenviable task of figuring out what's going on with the team's young pitchers.
Dan Duquette took over the Montreal Expos after the team lost 90 games in the 1991 season. He turned the team around quickly, building two straight second-place teams. But his greatest accomplishment might have been the '94 Expos, who lost the NL East by just 2.5 negotiations.
After the '94 season, Duquette went to the Boston Red Sox, who were three seasons removed from a winning season. He again turned the team around quickly, using waiver claims (Troy O'Leary), lopsided trades (Jose Canseco), and unwanted free agents (Tim Wakefield) to win the AL East.
The last two times Duquette took over a team, they went from under .500 to a contender. Can he do the same for the Orioles? It's possible. All he would need is to sign Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Aramis Ramirez, Mark Buehrle, C.J. Wilson, Edwin Jackson, and Roy Oswalt. None of those players have committed to another team yet.
But it's pretty unlikely. The '12 Orioles aren't comparable to the '92 Expos, who turned around because of the farm system that Duquette built as the farm director over the previous three seasons. And they aren't quite comparable to the '95 Red Sox, who already had Roger Clemens and Mo Vaughn to build a team around. The biggest difference between his previous two turnarounds and his new situation with the Orioles, though, is his competition. The Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays will start the offseason with more returning talent than just about any other team in the league, and the Blue Jays are a good bet to improve.
Also, Duquette's patented organizational strategy -- Acquire-A-Pedro™ -- probably isn't going to be as effective if he tries it again. The Orioles are pretty hosed compared to the rest of the AL East, actually.
Duquette did inherit a core of talented young players, though. Six players in the Orioles' lineup were under 30 with an OPS+ over 100. They didn't get that kind of production from the 30-somethings at 1B and DH, which should be the easiest positions to fill with hitters, in theory. They could make a jump from a league-average offense to something more. It's not like he's taking over the Astros.
His first job, then, is to figure out the pitching. The Orioles started the 2011 season with a handful of promising young pitchers. They ended the season with a couple of burned husks and a couple of pitchers who were still enigmatic, even by young-pitcher standards.
If you know which of Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman, or Brian Matusz are going to develop into worthwhile starters, feel free to jot down your thoughts and mail them to Duquette. The Orioles were the worst pitching team in baseball last season, and it wasn't especially close. When it comes to the starting rotation, he might wish he were taking over the Astros. At least the decisions there wouldn't hurt your brain.
Matusz looks broken just a year after he was the obvious leader of a young rotation. Arrieta and Tillman looked good only in comparison to Matusz. Britton had the best year of the four when it came to run prevention, but his walk and strikeout rates are a little scary, even by sinkerballer standards. They could all be a part of the Great Orioles Turnaround. They could all be in the dustbin of history a couple of years from now, flaming out so quickly that even Bill Pulsipher and Paul Wilson feel bad for them.
It's Duquette's job to sift through all the possibilities before he can build a contender. He's not going to beat his turnaround timetables from his first two tours as a GM, but if he can find some pitching from inside or outside the organization, the Orioles could contend sooner than you might think. You were thinking "2019," so that's not saying much.
Also, Peter Angelos probably just vetoed a Duquette proposal to trade Chris Jakubauskas for Robinson Cano because he likes saying Chris Jakubauskas, so there are other obstacles as well. But Duquette has an impressive history of turning sub-.500 teams into contenders. This is certainly his biggest challenge yet.