Boston Red Sox Executive Vice President and General Manager Dan Duquette announces the naming of a new manager at a press conference in Boston, Massachusetts. Pitching coach Joe Kerrigan was named as the replacement for fired manager Jimy Williams. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
Dan Duquette has had a long and varied career in the game, but this latest challenge might be his greatest.
Back in the 1990s, Dan Duquette was something of a proto-Billy Beane insofar as his adoration for on-base percentage and cost-effective scrap heap acquisitions goes, and that served his clubs well for a decade. That wasn't enough, though, and Duquette was let go by the current (but then new) Red Sox ownership group before the 2002 season, a move that kept Duke out of baseball until today, when he was introduced as the Baltimore Orioles' new GM.
Duquette's background was in player development. He started out as a scouting assistant with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1980 when he was 22 years old, and became the director of player development in Montreal just seven years later. He was successful there -- the core of the team he was general manager of in Montreal was drafted under his watch, as well as some of the key players from the last Expos' teams. Duquette drafted players like Marquis Grissom (third round, 1988), Charles Johnson (#10 pick in the 1989 draft), Rondell White (#24 pick, 1990), Cliff Floyd (#14 pick, 1991), Mark Grudzielanek (11th-round selection in 1991), and Kirk Rueter (18th rounder from 1991). He also succeeded with his international signings, stockpiling talent like Vladimir Guerrero and Orlando Cabrera, using the money Montreal did have through means other than pure free agency, relying on their excellent scouting staff to make up for their inability to go head-to-head financially with other teams.
Duquette took over for Dave Dombrowski as the Expos' GM before the 1992 season. Montreal was coming off of a sixth-place finish, but much of the team's young talent -- in the form of Delino DeShields, Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom, and others -- was starting to produce in the bigs. The oldest position player in the lineup in 1993 was 27-year-old Sean Berry, and the average age of it was just under 25 years old. This was a team waiting to break out, and it did, finishing the 1993 season with a record of 94-68, good for second in the NL East.
In those pre-Wild Card days, the Expos' season was over without a trip to the postseason. Duquette set about adding a few more pieces to the Expos in order to take the division the next year, the most famous of which was dealing starting second baseman DeShields for a Dodgers reliever named Pedro Martinez. Combined with the other moves Duquette had made during his time as GM -- acquiring starter Ken Hill, relievers John Wetteland and Jeff Shaw via trades, calling up the kids he had a hand in drafting a few years before -- it's no wonder the Expos finished first in the strike-shortened 1994 season.
The Expos were below-average in terms of homers hit, but they were second in doubles and third in on-base percentage, so there was plenty of offense to be had. Homers were an expensive commodity unless they came from within, and the Expos couldn't do expensive. They were also first in the NL in team ERA, finishing 0.01 ahead of an Atlanta Braves' staff that featured Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz, and accomplished this with a staff made-up of players acquired through the draft and via trades, as well as Jeff Fassero, a reliever they converted to starter and signed as a minor league free agent.
Duquette wasn't there for the 1994 campaign, though, as he became GM of the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox had not been as successful from a player development standpoint as the Expos, but, unlike Montreal, money was not as much of a concern. Here, Duquette could have both a budget and player development in order to succeed. In theory, anyway.
The first draft under Duquette produced Nomar Garciaparra, who ended up having a career with Hall of Fame potential -- if not for the injuries, anyway -- but other than that, there was little that reminded you of Montreal's glory days. The 1995 draft was a complete bust, and 1996 (Justin Duchscherer, Shea Hillenbrand) wasn't much better. David Eckstein turned out to be Duquette's best pick since Nomar in 1997, as the others with a legit major league career never signed (Pat Burrell, Aaron Harang, Mark Teixeira). After Eckstein, it's likely Freddy Sanchez (11th-round, 2000 draft).
That was about it until Kevin Youkilis. In 2001, Youkilis was selected in the eighth round out of the University of Cincinnati, and he has gone on to have a career better than anyone drafted and signed by Duquette outside of Nomar. Part of the significant difference in results might sit with the difference of the quality of the Expos' and Sox' scouting, as the Expos were famed for their scouting department and front office, a group that was poached by other teams in the majors year after year, whereas the first thing Theo Epstein did upon taking over as GM in Boston one year after Duquette was talk about how they needed to revamp the entire player development focus in order to succeed in the future.
Duquette was successful in other areas, though, and that kept Boston competitive throughout his tenure. Scrap heap acquisitions like Tim Wakefield, Troy O'Leary, and Jamie Moyer showed he still had that scouting eye, and he was able to replace Mo Vaughn's production at first base on the cheap for years with a combination of Mike Stanley, Brian Daubach, and others. He pulled off some shrewd trades, too, such as his second deal for Pedro Martinez, where he gave up Tomokazu Okha and Carl Pavano, as well as his swap of Heathcliff Slocumb for 24-year-old Derek Lowe and 25-year-old Jason Varitek.
He also had some success with a large checkbook, inking Martinez to the extension the Expos never would have been able to offer, as well as bringing players like Manny Ramirez (eight years, $160 million) and Johnny Damon (four years, $31 million) to town. None of this added up to a championship under Duquette's tenure, but, just like with the first place Expos under Kevin Malone in 1994, a significant part of the 2004 Red Sox were the Duke's doing.
It's tough to say how good Duquette will be in today's game. The kinds of things that led to success for him in the 90s are more prevalent now -- on-base percentage is valued much more, and the rich teams are even richer than they were 10 years ago. What we do know, though, is that the Orioles need Montreal's Dan Duquette more than Boston's, given the sorry state of their player development has led them to where they are, and strong drafting and trades are the only way to climb back out of that hole.