Dan Duquette was re-introduced to the MLB world yesterday as the new Executive Vice – President of Baseball Operations of the Baltimore Orioles, his third such post after running the baseball operations departments of the Montreal Expos from 1991-1993 and the Boston Red Sox from 1994- 2001. He takes over an Orioles organization that has not enjoyed a winning season since 1997, and he will be charged with overhauling a pitching staff that finished with a 4.92 ERA in 2011, good for last place in MLB.
While molding the Baltimore staff back to respectability will be Duquette’s main challenge, his record in putting together a pitching staff is fairly impressive. In 11 years as GM, only twice have his pitching staffs finished with an ERA above the league average (1994 Boston – team ERA 4.93, league average 4.80; 1997 Boston – team ERA 4.85, league average 4.56). From 1998 through 2001, the Red Sox pitching staff finished 2nd, 1st, 1st, and 4th in the American League in ERA.
Of course, Pedro Martinez was the ace of those staffs, but Duquette deserves credit for acquiring him from Montreal for Carl Pavano and Tony Armas Jr. While Martinez was his major coup in rebuilding the pitching staff in Boston after Roger Clemens left for Toronto, he was also very creative in adding complementary pieces to Martinez.
The Red Sox resurrected Tom Gordon’s career by turning him into a reliever and dominant closer – in 1998, his first year used exclusively out of the bullpen, Gordon was a 3.0 WAR reliever with a 2.45 FIP and 46 Saves. In 1999, 36 year-old Bret Saberhagen (signed in December of 1996 after a disastrous stint in the thin-air of Colorado) posted a 7.36 K/BB ratio on his way to a 2.95 ERA (3.30 FIP) to complement Martinez at the top of the Red Sox rotation.
Duquette and Co. were especially creative in assigning bullpen roles that year – knuckleballer Tim Wakefield and an emerging Derek Lowe (famously acquired with Jason Varitek for Heathcliff Slocumb) split the closer duties with Tom Gordon out with injuries.
The 2000 Red Sox staff that finished first in the AL in ERA was bolstered by Japanese rookie Tomo Ohka. Duquette has been lauded for his connections in the Far East and he will have to put those connections to use in his efforts to rebuild the Orioles.
From 1991 through 1993, the Montreal Expos finished 6th, 4th, and 2nd in the NL in ERA with Duquette using a savvy combination of older veterans, acquisitions, and homegrown talent towards building a solid staff in a small market. Joining Dennis Martinez at the top of the Expos rotation was Ken Hill, acquired when Duquette made his first blockbuster trade as a GM as Hill was brought to Montreal from St. Louis for Andres Galarraga after the 1991 season. Hill, 26 at the time of the trade, posted ERA lines of 2.68, 3.23, and 3.32 in his three years in Montreal. Duquette also strengthened the Expos bullpen prior to the 1992 season by trading for John Wetteland, who was coming off a 1991 campaign that saw him throw just nine Major League innings. Wetteland would become a premier closer both with the Expos and later the Yankees.
Duquette was able to add depth to the Expos pitching staff in the early 199Os by drafting and developing leftys Chris Nabholz and Kirk Rueter. Duquette’s eye for identifying talented pitching was on display when he made his last trade as the Expos GM – Delino Deshields to the Dodgers for Pedro Martinez.
Duquette will have to call on these past successes as he rebuilds the pitching staff. He has shown to be both a creative and keen observer of undervalued pitching talent.