Friday, January 23, 2015

Hoffman for Duquette? Uh, No, Thanks.

   The Toronto Blue Jays as a franchise are at a bit of a cross roads.  With a stadium badly in need of upgrading or replacement, and with long time President and CEO Paul Beeston being nudged or pushed (depending on what you believe) out the door, there is a need for a high profile name to come in to become the new face of the franchise, at least from an executive point of view.

   Dan Duquette would appear to fit the bill perfectly.  He has helped to rebuild the Orioles, put together the core of a team that won the Red Sox their first World Series in roughly a millenia, and has run a team in Canada before, at a time when the Canadian dollar was trading at values it has stumbled down to again.

  Word is from various columnists south of the border that Orioles owner Peter Angelos insisted that Duquette serve out the remaineder (until 2018) of his contract.  Angelos himself will only relinquish leadership of the franchise upon his death, and he would prefer that it stay within the family after he is gone.  Angelos, by the way, is a very complex man - this article by Bruce Schoenfeld of Street & Smith's Sports Business Journal paints a thorough picture of a workaholic lawyer who trusts no one, least of all his GMs. 

   So, for Duquette, he is bumping his head against the O's glass ceiling. And this isn't the first time he's wanted out.   Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star believes that he was interested in the Blue Jays top job before Paul Beeston undertook an exhaustive search for a new CEO for the club, only to find himself the most qualified candidate.  Asking for to get out of his contract is nothing new for baseball executives, and the tradition usually has been for ownership to allow the exec to leave as a courtesy if the position they are leaving for is a promotion, with some minor compensation in return as a consideration.

  When you're dealing with Peter Angelos, there is no courtesy in his black and white world.
Angelos has always marched to the beat of his own drummer, and this case is no exception.  Angelos has made a fortune as a personal injury lawyer, which allowed him to buy his beloved hometown club (after a failed attempt at municipal politics) at a bargain when the franchise was at its rock-bottom value in 1992 in a bankruptcy court action.  Angelos went through a succession of GMs and Managers before landing Duquette and Buck Showalter, who led the O's to their first post season birth in 14 years in 2011.

   That it is rumoured that the Orioles are demanding P Jeff Hoffman, the Blue Jays top pick in last June's draft and a projected front of the rotation starter, and possibly another top prospect goes against traditional compensation in these cases.  Granted, there have been few cases where an executive has gone to work for a division rival, and even fewer where the exec in question has more than three years remaining on his contract, but in the legal world, precedent is just that.  If the Blue Jays agree to the Orioles' excessive demands, that sets the cause of mobility for MLB executives back considerably, because it's hard to believe that other organizations would agree to the new bar for compensation this deal would set.

   And it's hard to see the Blue Jays baseball operations people agreeing to this deal.  The club followed Hoffman extensively prior to the draft, and had done sufficient homework on him to feel that he had the physical and emotional capacity to recover from Tommy John surgery last spring to become the front of the rotation starter he was projected to be.  At the same time, there are no guarantees, and because of MLB rules preventing the trading of draft picks, Hoffman could not join the O's until mid-June.
  Hoffman was projected as a top 3 pick before injuring his elbow last spring, but fell to the Blue Jays at 9th because up to 8 other teams picking before them were scared off by his injury.  Most teams would be frightened off further by the fact that they couldn't get Hoffman under the supervision of their medical and rehab people until part way through the season. Despite Hoffman's projected ceiling, he would still be a huge risk for another organization.

   Baseball execs know that ultimately they serve their corporate masters at the ownership level, but if I am anyone in the Blue Jays front office, I would be beyond angered if the club gave up Hoffman at this point.  Surrendering a  top prospect like Franklin Barreto in a trade to improve the on-field product is one thing, agreeing to give up a front of the rotation starter (a projected one, granted) who could anchor the starting staff for years is completely another.  And with R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle not likely to be Blue Jays in the long run, agreeing to give up a pitcher who could step in as early as next season to take one of those spots doesn't make a lot of sense, especially when you factor in the $3 million signing bonus they invested in him.

   The Orioles are likely very displeased with Duquette, who wasn't having the greatest off season in baseball anyway, with the O's losing free agents Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller, and missing out on Blue Jays free agent OF Colby Rasmus.  That they are insisting he honour his contract while at the same time supposedly demanding excessive (by current standards) compensation.  It's hard to understand Angelos' stubbornness in this situation.  He has a pair of highly competent baseball men in Showalter and VP Brady Anderson who could assume Duquette's duties without the organization missing a beat.  As a self-made man, Angelos follows his own rules.

   Obviously, the pursuit of Duquette from the Blue Jays is coming from the ownership level, and we're looking at you, Edward Rogers.  With Paul Beeston under contract for another year, it makes no sense for the Blue Jays to push the envelope on this.  The price on Duquette will likely come down as time progresses.  As Griffin says, it may be time for the Jays to walk away from this and end the speculation, at least for now.

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