Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette peers out his B&O Warehouse office window, which has to have one of the best views in baseball — down into the right-field flag court of Camden Yards and the seating bowl.
He marvels at how perfectly green the grass on the field is — seemingly ready for Opening Day — especially considering this has been the coldest week of winter in Baltimore.
It's almost two months to the day that Duquette was introduced as the Orioles’ new front office chief and reintroduced to major league baseball after nine years away.
In the past week, he has been concentrating on the club's international scouting efforts. A print-out map of the world sits on his desk, arrows pointing to countries he sees as targets from which to draw players. Duquette realizes it’s just one component, albeit an important one, of turning the Orioles' fortunes around after 14 straight losing seasons.
This week, Duquette took some time out to talk to the Sun about his first offseason at Camden Yards, his philosophies and rebuilding the Orioles.
Now that you've been in this job for a couple of months, is there anything you've realized you missed about being in the majors?
Being around people who are passionate about baseball. I've worked in youth baseball and youth sports and I've also worked with college kids, but I've really enjoyed being around veteran baseball people. At the winter meetings, I got to see Felipe Alou [the Expos’ manager when Duquette was in Montreal]. I haven't seen him in a long time. We had a great time in Montreal. I got to see [former Los Angeles Dodgers manager] Tommy Lasorda, who was always a good friend of mine. They've given their lives to the game, and it's great to see them again. I kind of really missed that part of it.
What do you think has been the biggest adjustment for you after being away?
The speed of the media. Things are agreed to, and they're out there. They're out there all over the world.
Is there one part of your career that you can look back on to help you in rebuilding this club?
My time in Montreal is a lot like this. You've got to build the infrastructure to build a top-notch organization. But Milwaukee's a pretty good one too. My vision for this franchise is to run it like the way Doug Melvin turned the Brewers around, right? They were at 1.7 million [fans] a few years ago. They put a good club on the field, and he got them back to where they were drawing 3 million. That's my vision for this club. I worked in Milwaukee. I know what it takes to turn around a team.
What motivates you deep inside, especially facing the uphill climb you have here?
Who wouldn’t want to come to the ballpark everyday? Who wouldn’t want to come to a place that’s 1,000 feet from where Babe Ruth grew up and you have a view down the right-field foul line. That motivates me every day. Besides that, I'm a builder. I have a passion for building teams.
When you were introduced, you mentioned that you wanted this team to be a .500 team in 2012.
Well, we want to get back to winning. We want to break out of the rut. We want to be back to winning more than we lose. That's the first step.
Do you think you've made enough moves here to make a .500 team?
Not yet. We're still working on it. We've still got some work to do. But I think some of the additions we've made are incrementally additive.
You made it clear you wanted to delve into the international market, and you've already made some strides in the Asian market. This is a club that has traditionally been behind in Latin American scouting. Are there still untapped markets in Latin America?
Well, there are good baseball players all over the world. We're going to be more active in a lot of markets internationally. Aggressive scouting builds winning clubs. Baseball is played all over the globe. We need people who can recognize those players. We're making good progress. We just had our worldwide meeting here. We've been working on our international recruiting this week.
When it comes to the closer role, are you comfortable with the pitchers you have right now for that spot, or is it a place where you see that an upgrade is necessary?
We need to build our pitching staff, but we need to build the innings with our starting pitching first. Once we do that reasonably well, I think we'll look at a closer. We have a little more depth to our staff, but like any good pitching staff, you need to have a thousand innings going into the season. If you look at the left-handers we've picked up, they've pitched closed to 200 innings. [Tsuyoshi] Wada pitched 205 innings [in Japan], counting the playoffs. [Dana] Eveland pitched 185. We're working on conditioning programs for the other pitchers so they can withstand the stresses of major league pitching. We're working on that but have some options at closer that I think Buck [Showalter] can figure out in spring training.
Like you mentioned, some of those young pitchers have struggled to stay healthy. Is as simple as conditioning?
I think it's a part of it. It's managing the pitching staff very concisely. Part of it is the recovery between starts, the throwing program, the maintenance. I think those are all factors. We're addressing all those things. If we're going to stabilize the team, we've got to stabilize the pitching staff.
Even though a lot of the fans would rather have Prince Fielder, right?
Well, who doesn't, right? (Laughs)
What about the situation at second base? Right now, you really don't know what you're going to get out of Brian Roberts.
If he's ready, that's great. If Roberts is not ready, we've got some other guys who are professionals who can do a good job. We've got [Robert] Andino, the kid [Ryan] Flaherty we picked up, we have [Matt] Antonelli. We have this other kid, Ryan Adams, who is a pretty good hitter. So we have four potential options there. There's a little bit of depth there.
A blast from your past, Manny Ramirez, is supposed to work out for teams this month. Can we expect the Orioles to be at that workout?
Manny? Manny is an interesting guy. He's trying hard to make a comeback.
But would you be interested in seeing his workout?
Manny's an interesting guy. He's interesting to the fans. And he can hit. Or he could hit. I don't know if he still can. But he's working hard on getting a second chance. [According to a report by ESPNDeportes.com, the Orioles recently watched Ramirez hit in a batting cage.]
What has been your take on the fans so far?