Trying to Make Sense of the Duquette/Toronto Saga

I am beyond over the entire Dan Duquette and Toronto Blue Jays saga.  I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that I hope the situation comes to an immediate and definitive conclusion.

The entire ordeal has been nothing short of bizarre.  A brief time line/fact pattern as I understand it:

·         December 7, 2014 – On the eve of baseball’s winter meetings, Ken Rosenthal and Buster Olney both mention on Twitter (and later report) that the Blue Jays would like Dan Duquette to take over as the President/CEO or the organization.  Along with reports of their interest in Duquette, it is revealed that the Jays also are interested in White Sox President Kenny Williams for the same position.

·         Rather quickly – within a day or two – it is reported and verified that the White Sox denied Toronto permission to interview Williams.  Williams publicly stated that he looked for other alternatives but now considers it a dead issue (indicating that Toronto reached out to him well before new broke).

·         It is reported that Duquette would like to take the position.  The Orioles – through a rare public statement from Peter Angelos – deny that Toronto has sought permission to interview Duquette, who still has four years remaining on the contract extension he signed with Baltimore.

·         Duquette declines comment at the Winter Meetings, only stating that he is at the meetings serving in the capacity of Orioles GM and his goal is to improve the team.

·         Jays President Paul Beeston is reported as staying through the 2015 season in his current position, yet rumors of Duquette to Toronto persist.

·         Some baseball writers opine that the Orioles should not hold Duquette back from a promotion, since standard practice is usually to allow a front office employee out of his contract to seek a promotion.

·         Reports surface that Major League Baseball wants Duquette in as president of the Blue Jays given his past association with baseball in Canada (as a front office employee and later on GM of the Montreal Expos in the late 1980’s/early 90’s.

·         The issue lays low for a while before popping back up in recent weeks with word that Toronto still wants Duquette and that they have discussed compensation with the Orioles.  Angelos denies that compensation has been discussed.  Based on reports that surface from local Baltimore beat reporters and doing some reading between the lines, it seems that compensation likely had been discussed informally but not to the level where Angelos would know about it and/or consider the discussions formal.

·         Reports surface that members of the Blue Jay organization contacted Kenny Williams before seeking permission from the White Sox which would constitute tampering.

·         There are reports that the uncertainty surrounding Duqette is causing issues within the O’s organization.

·         Buster Olney – who has maintained throughout the situation that the O’s could and should demand a high level of compensation in return – reports that the Orioles are looking at doing just that.  Names surface that include Toronto 2014 first round pick Jeff Hoffman.  Local reports indicate the O’s would seek two prospects in return for Duquette. 

·         Around the same time, Jim Bowden reports that a deal is imminent.  Local reports have a deal as being more likely than before but not imminent.  Reports out of Toronto at several junctions say the Jays are moving on from Duquette.  Regardless of what was true and what wasn’t, nothing has happened one way or the other.

·         Unconfirmed reports out of Toronto that Beeston is staying another year.

·         There are reports out of Baltimore that the O’s might seek legal action for the Blue Jays tampering with a contracted employee.  Presumably, these threats are also used as leverage to get the Jays to give up what they want in return.

·         Major League Baseball is apparently pressuring the Orioles to close the issue one way or another and is angry at them for the way the entire thing has played out.

That’s a lot and I left out a couple of ancillary details (ie. the story about Blue Jay officials meeting with Yankee officials to seek advice on their next President) but I think that hits the big stuff.

Reading through that, I see it as highly unlikely that the Jays did not circumvent normal procedures in their search for a new President even if tampering is ultimately never proved.  It seems highly likely based on what we know that tampering could be proved in the White Sox/Williams situation.  There is not much reason to doubt the reports that Duquette is and was interested in the position.  If he was interested in the position and wanted out before the Jays actually sought permission for an interview, how did Toronto  go about letting Duquette know they were interested?  These tampering situations are fine-line ordeals so maybe Toronto kept things to the appropriate back channels but we do not know for sure.

Whatever the case is, Toronto or MLB decided to publicly throw Duquette’s hat in the ring at a crucial part of the offseason when the Orioles were under no obligation to let him go.  The situation has no doubt made day to day operations in the Oriole organization much more complicated.  Yet, at the same time, MLB is now positioning the Orioles as the bad guy in this.  Why?  Because they didn’t want to let a valuable employee go to a division rival at an inopportune time?  That is completely kosher as far as I am concerned.  How can the bad guy be the organization that simply wanted to keep their current, contracted GM?

MLB’s involvement in this case has been really, really questionable, yet very few are actually questioning it.  They reportedly want Duquette to go to Toronto but that is not their decision.  It is a slippery slope for MLB to get involved in situations that involve valid contracts between a team and their own personnel.  If no rules were broken, MLB should not apply pressure to any team to allow an employee out of a valid contract.  It is a total conflict of interest and a shady business practice.  It is – to quote Andy MacPhail – “repugnant” that MLB would act in such a manner.

As poorly as the situation has been handled by Toronto and MLB, the Orioles are at least handling it with a bit more tact and professionalism.  Angelos’ statements were classy and well thought out.  He praised Duquette and questioned why they would want to allow such a good employee to leave.  That statement helped deflect the attention off of the propaganda that the Orioles were unfairly holding Duquette back from a promotion and putting the focus on the fact that the Orioles want him to stay because they value his services.  It seems likely that if Toronto walked away back in December, this would be a moot issue, but they keep pressing on.  Only now – with the potential distraction looming larger – have Angelos and the Orioles given serious consideration to letting Duquette out of his contract.

Now the Orioles are acting in their own best interests in seeking the highest possible compensation for their current General Manage, which is totally justifiable.  If MLB and the Blue Jays want Duquette in Toronto as much as they say they do, then they should be willing to pay an unprecedented price.  The Orioles need to weigh the cost of Duquette being a potential distraction with the cost of letting him go.  By all accounts, they have assigned a substantial cost to letting him go and are asking to be compensated appropriately.  Right or wrong, Angelos would seem to believe that the organization can function adequately if Duquette stays.

At this point, my gut says Duquette is gone around or before the start of Spring Training.  The Jays and MLB have pursued him too hard for too long to back off at this stage in the game.  There are also the tampering threats that loom large and I am not sure that either MLB (who is already fighting Angelos in court) nor the Blue Jays want to get into a legal battle with that stubborn lawyer.  If the deal does go through, significant compensation is all but guaranteed.

According to Nick Carfardo, only minor league players can be included in trades for team executives (managers can be traded for major league players).  If true, that takes some attractive options like Daniel Norris and Marcus Stroman off of the negotiating table.  However, it does leave Hoffman, although he would need to be a player to be named later as a result of MLB’s antiquated rules concerning trading first year players.  Devon Travis is an intriguing name to me.  The 24 year old 2B has strong minor league numbers and after a full season in AA, he is nearly major league ready.  The Jays might also not value Travis all that highly, considering he hasn’t even played for the organization after coming over from Detroit in a late season trade.  Travis might be a nice second piece to compliment a high upside player like Hoffman.

(In addition to having the drawback of having to stay with Toronto until after the June draft, another strike against Hoffman is that he is coming off of Tommy John surgery.  Although with that surgery’s success rate being what it is, perhaps it is a positive he got it out of the way at this point in his career.)

Regardless of what happens, I just hope it happens soon.  I think all sides and those of us watching from the outside can agree on that.