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Dan Connolly: How Orioles Management Failed to Construct a Winning Roster


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http://www.baltimoresun.com/sports/orioles/bs-sp-orioles-what-went-wrong-management-1004-20151003-story.html

In early December, three key 2014 Orioles officially signed lucrative four-year deals with other teams. In each instance, executive vice president Dan Duquette had an explanation for letting the player walk.

The club wasn't giving left-handed reliever Andrew Miller closer-type money when it already had Zach Britton in that role. It wasn't extending a fourth year to slugger Nelson Cruz because he'd be 38 in the deal's final season. And it pulled its four-year offer away from outfielder Nick Markakis because of concerns about a neck condition that ultimately required surgery.

Analyzing through a one-year prism, each decision was foolhardy. Miller excelled for the playoff-bound New York Yankees, Cruz put up huge power numbers for the Seattle Mariners and Markakis played in nearly every game with a .370 on-base clip for the Atlanta Braves.

The moves also blew a hole in the Orioles' carefully constructed clubhouse chemistry

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The margin for error was minuscule.

When a roster logjam occurred, there was a head-scratching reluctance to risk losing mediocre players to waivers or to send optionable pieces, such as utility infielder and Showalter favorite Ryan Flaherty, temporarily to the minors. The result was that the Orioles rarely had the best players available on their 25-man roster.

The Orioles also had their share of injuries: Catcher Matt Wieters, second baseman Jonathan Schoop, Hardy, Pearce and Gonzalez spent a chunk of time on the disabled list while club leader Adam Jones was banged up throughout the season.

Absent a true No. 1, the rotation regressed after a surprisingly strong 2014, posting the second-worst starting ERA in the American League. Meanwhile, the offense tied for the fifth-lowest on-base percentage and had the fourth-most strikeouts in the majors through 160 games.

But what was perhaps the most startling development this year was that a Showalter-led team just wasn't as fundamentally sound as it had been in the past.

I had many discussions with Dan this year and he is no Johnny-Come-Lately to this posture. In fact, he had Toronto winning the East and predicted a World Series win for them as well.

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One misperception is that the Orioles didn't spend money on the 2015 team. In reality, their $119 million estimated payroll to begin the year was the highest in team history and ranked 13th of 30 teams in the majors, according to USA Today's salary database.

It's just that the money, in retrospect, wasn't spent wisely. There was talk that the Orioles might trade Norris before he received $8.8 million in an arbitration settlement, or might nontender De Aza, who made $5 million after losing his arbitration hearing. They kept both and had to deal with sunk costs with each.

That was nailed on the head.

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Well, we could have signed all three and that would have added about 33M to this year's payroll. How does Dan answer that?

He says that we could not afford to spend that. He says that the 120 million dollar number was where the club probably should have been.

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I can nail lots of things in hindsight. Did Dan Conolly come out for trading Norris, non-tendering De Aza, Hunter, and Matusz, and signing Cruz, Miller, and Markakis? You know, like sometime before the season and not after the season?

Some of us here did.

I don't remember him doing it.

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I can nail lots of things in hindsight. Did Dan Conolly come out for trading Norris, non-tendering De Aza, Hunter, and Matusz, and signing Cruz, Miller, and Markakis? You know, like sometime before the season and not after the season?

Clapdiddy and I were at an event where he criticized not bringing Cruz and Nick back and was against returning Matusz and DeAza. I forget about what he said on Mille, Hunter, or Norris. Maybe Clapdiddy remembers?

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Analyzing through a one-year prism, each decision was foolhardy. Interesting way to put it.

Exactly. You don't judge a four-year decision based on what happens in the first year. However, I will say this: if I had known Cruz would hit 40 bombs and post a .930+ OPS in 2015, I would have signed him and taken my chances on what would happen over the final three years.

The biggest burn is that of the many corner outfield candidates we brought in, none of them stepped up at all. As it is, we have scored about the same number of runs and hit few more homers than last year, though we lost a little ground relative to the league as a whole (which is averaging about .2 runs/game more than in 2014). We could have held our position relative to the league if the corner OF guys Da brought in had performed to reasonable expectations.

Also, it must be said that the biggest factor in our disappointing season was the starting pitching, and that had nothing to do with Cruz, Markakis and Miller. They've allowed 80 more runs and will have pitched about 35 fewer innings than last year.

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Also, it must be said that the biggest factor in our disappointing season was the starting pitching, and that had nothing to do with Cruz, Markakis and Miller. They've allowed 80 more runs and will have pitched about 35 fewer innings than last year.

Trading Norris alone would have improved that. Remember, I was a strong Norris supporter. So this is not me revising history.

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Trading Norris alone would have improved that. Remember, I was a strong Norris supporter. So this is not me revising history.

I did not think it was a bad strategy to come to camp with six good candidates for the starting rotation, as we did in 2014. There was every likelihood that someone would get hurt or underperform, as Jimenez did in 2014. We just didn't know who it would be, and at the end of the day, 4 of the 6 did appreciably worse than last year.

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I had many discussions with Dan this year and he is no Johnny-Come-Lately to this posture. In fact, he had Toronto winning the East and predicted a World Series win for them as well.

Still, he loses credibility when he harps on Markakis. He's just an average player - paying him would have been a stupid decision - knowing he needed surgery on his neck.

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If you read the whole piece he devotes a paragraph to every possible hypothesis, ranging from the weak starting rotation to a very indirect implication that the team didn't perform crisply because Buck's touch was lacking for the first time during his tenure with the O's.

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I thought this point at the close of the article was interesting:

But what was perhaps the most startling development this year was that a Showalter-led team just wasn't as fundamentally sound as it had been in the past. There were more mental miscues, more throwing to the wrong base and more examples of bad base-running. Simply put, the Orioles just weren't very crisp in 2015, no matter the extenuating circumstances.

"To be perfectly honest with yourself, myself, I would agree," Showalter said. "There are some things that haven't been [as sharp]. That's a good way to put it. And if you look at the level we performed at last year, it was such a high level.

"We have to do all those things right. We have to take advantage of every opportunity we get and we didn't," Showalter added. "But it wasn't from lack of effort."

I do think there's some truth here. 47 unearned runs vs. 36 last year, -5.2 fangraphs Defense vs. +41.9 last year, 47 outs on the bases vs. 38 last year. It is a point we haven't discussed much around here, especially the fact that the defense wasn't nearly as good (though we made fewer errors).

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I thought this point at the close of the article was interesting:

I do think there's some truth here. 47 unearned runs vs. 36 last year, -5.2 fangraphs Defense vs. +41.9 last year, 47 outs on the bases vs. 38 last year. It is a point we haven't discussed much around here, especially the fact that the defense wasn't nearly as good (though we made fewer errors).

After a while they start tuning them out.

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