John Perrotto at the Beaver County Times revealed in an article this morning that Dan Duquette is one of the candidates for the Pirates' vacant CEO position. I've seen some negative visceral reaction to the idea out there, which was interesting to me because my initial take on the situation was fairly positive, and I thought I might take a minute and share my analysis on his candidacy.
There's a lot of history here, so I'm going to try to be concise. Duquette got started as a scout for the Milwaukee Brewers, and he first came to real prominence as their scouting director in 1986 and 1987. The Brewers enjoyed unusually productive drafts in both seasons, bagging Gary Sheffield, Greg Vaughn, Darryl Hamilton, Bill Spiers, Steve W. Sparks, Jaime Navarro and Troy O'Leary, as well as various relief pitchers and short-timers. Duquette then moved on to the Montreal Expos as director of player development, and the Expos quickly established a reputation for developing top talent at low prices. He became Montreal's general manager after the 1991 season, and he completely revamped the roster with an uncanny series of trades. Andres Galarraga for Ken Hill. Barry Jones for Darren Fletcher. Dave Martinez, Scott Ruskin, and Willie Greene for John Wetteland. Bill Sampen and Chris Haney for Sean Berry. Ivan Calderon (and stuff) for Jeff Shaw (and other stuff). And the best of them all, Delino DeShields for Pedro Martinez. The 1991 Expos were a 71-win team going nowhere. The 1993 Expos finished in second place with 94 wins, and didn't have a starting position player over the age of 27. Duquette left the next spring, and the 1994 Expos had the best record in baseball when the strike killed the season for good.
In 1994, Duquette was as hot a property as you're likely to find in baseball. He was the Billy Beane of the early '90s, but then he got into bad habits in Boston, throwing money at problems instad of employing the same kind of solutions that had worked for him in Montreal. He did make the playoffs three times in seven years, and he did have a few transactional high points: acquiring Pedro Martinez (again) for Carl Pavano and Tony Armas, Jr., flipping Heathcliff Slocumb for Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe, adding guys like Troy O'Leary and Tim Wakefield on the cheap, etc. The Red Sox fired Duquette after a disappointing 2001 season, and he went outside of MLB, founding a training academy and then becoming Director of Operations for the new Israel Baseball League.
I'm willing to cut Duquette some slack for his Boston performance. I know that GMs sometimes become stale as they age, but Duquette is still fairly young (born in 1958), so I don't think that's the cause of his trouble. Rather, I think that his skills were minimized and his weaknesses were magnified by the nature of that position. Fortunately for us, our situation has a lot more in common with Milwaukee and Montreal than it does with Boston. He won't have the opportunity to push for ill-advised big-money contracts, since the Nuttings are too cheap to authorize that kind of expense and no elite free agent would want to come here right now anyway. He won't have the opportunity to develop a blood feud with an aggressive and hungry press corps, since our media market doesn't have any Dan Shaughnessys to attack and torment him, and a little straight talk will probably be welcome after Littlefield's oozy pandering.
Duquette will be free to apply the formula that worked for him in his earlier positions: acquire and develop top young players by whatever means necessary, promote them to the majors as part of a wave, then restock periodically as they age and become expensive. He might have some useful international connections from his Israeli work that he can leverage to that end, and who knows, he might even have learned something from his failure in Boston.
Anyway, that's my take on Duquette. I think he's an intriguing option for the position, and a definite improvement on other candidates like Joe Garagiola. What's your opinion?