Novem­ber crit­i­cal for Ori­oles

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS -

reshuf­fle since the sons of man­ag­ing part­ner Peter An­ge­los took over the day-to-day re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of own­er­ship, and — an un­der­stand­able lack of ur­gency to par­tic­i­pate in the free agent mar­ket not­with­stand­ing — there is a lot on their plates.

The ex­ec­u­tive search would be daunt­ing enough, but an­other round of ar­bi­tra­tion in the long-run­ning Mid-At­lantic Sports Net­work rights dis­pute with the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als also is a ma­jor source of con­cern for the or­ga­ni­za­tion. Both sit­u­a­tions could come to a head this month. Though nei­ther John nor Louis An­ge­los have com­mented on ei­ther front, they have to be feel­ing pres­sure to get it all right. The out­come of the MASN dis­pute is largely in the hands of their le­gal team, but the choice of a new front-of­fice brain­trust is just as im­por­tant to the fu­ture of the fran­chise.

Would it be bet­ter if they were fur­ther along at this point? Maybe.

The early weeks of the off­sea­son ob­vi­ously present the most fer­tile en­vi­ron­ment for hir­ing out­side front-of­fice tal­ent, but there aren’t many teams search­ing for top-floor lead­er­ship this year and the Ori­oles present a fairly unique sit­u­a­tion. The scope of the chal­lenge fac­ing the per­son who takes over the base­ball oper­a­tion has no real prece­dent in club his­tory. The Ori­oles are com­ing off their worst sea­son ever and the ros­ter has been stripped of al­most all of the team’s star play­ers.

When Du­quette traded away Manny Machado, Zach Brit­ton, Kevin Gaus­man, Jonathan Schoop, Brad Brach and Darren O’Day at mid­sea­son, the club ba­si­cally con­ceded the team would not be com­pet­i­tive for at least the next year or two.

Maybe a new base­ball op­er­a­tions chief will de­cide to use some of the pay­roll those moves saved to sign a few mid-level free agents and hope­fully avoid an­other record-set­ting loss to­tal in 2019. But even that strat­egy would likely in­volve latewin­ter bar­gain hunt­ing rather than a pre-Christ­mas shop­ping spree.

Re­mem­ber, Du­quette wasn’t hired un­til Novem­ber 2011 and he still was able to make enough solid ac­qui­si­tions to help the Ori­oles reach the play­offs in his first year with the club.

The most im­por­tant thing is to put the right peo­ple in place and let them get to work restructuring the player de­vel­op­ment sys­tem, up­grad­ing the scout­ing depart­ment and — maybe most im­por­tant — re­gain­ing the con­fi­dence of the fan base.

The Ori­oles have suf­fered at­ten­dance de­clines for four straight years and their 2018 to­tal (1.56 mil­lion) was the club’s worst for a full sea­son since 1978.

Get­ting fans to show up next sea­son to watch a bunch of un­proven prospects fin­ish at or near the bot­tom of the Amer­i­can League East is go­ing to be a tough sell, but the new lead­er­ship is go­ing to have to make the pitch that the fu­ture is bright and it’s time to get back on board.

For that mat­ter, it might be dif­fi­cult to con­vince a dy­namic, 21st-cen­tury base­ball ex­ec­u­tive to em­brace that chal­lenge. There are only 30 gen­eral man­ager jobs in base­ball and only a hand­ful of them are open in any given year, so there will be a lot of peo­ple will­ing to ac­cept the big salary and take their chances. But the Ori­oles prob­a­bly have al­ready had to strike a name or two from the top of their wish list.

Nev­er­the­less, the next few weeks are go­ing to be crit­i­cal to the long-term suc­cess of the fran­chise and the de­ci­sions that are made will — for bet­ter or worse — de­ter­mine how the new two-headed own­er­ship hi­er­ar­chy is per­ceived by the fans.

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