by Patrick Smith
There's a certain charm to Orioles general manager Dan Duquette's thrift-store approach to assembling an opening day roster.
Any fool with a wallet full of money can walk into Brooks Brothers and walk out looking sharp. But it takes ridiculous patience and a nose for bargains to pull together a good look on a Gabriel Brothers budget.
Of course, the latter approach is torture to watch. We all know people who spend four hours at Marshall's digging through mountains of single socks and irregular undershirts. You and I would sooner die a painful death than search the racks and tables full of snagged sweaters and flimsy neckties for the one item of clothing worth paying for. You win, already. I'll pay too much for something just so I'm not up to my elbows in scratchy boxers all afternoon. But hats off to the guy at the Red Shed on Greenmount Avenue, who can unearth a pair of pants so perfect you'd swear he was born in them.
That's Duquette. Only suckers pay full-price and Dan's no sucker. You go ahead and pay top dollar for that sticky Hawaiian bud with little red spots in it. Dan'll do just fine with a lid of Canadian seeds and stems.
The O's were on their way out of the crapper when Duquette took over the team. Andy MacPhail engineered the deals and the draft picks that poured the foundation for today's pretty good O's team. When MacPhail left, Duquette took the GM job after half a dozen other whiz-kid moneyball-mathletes turned it down. And he futzed constantly with the dials and settings, shuttling guys back and forth between the minors and the big leagues. He signed other teams' cast-off detritus. But damned if the O's didn't make the playoffs in 2012, after a million years of stench. Even in the postseason, toe-to-toe with the Yankees, Duquette's bargain hunting showed. When your team hosts its first postseason game in 15 years and your DH is Lew Ford, you have a frugal GM.
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When the thrifty shopper is right, it's magical. "You got that for 12 bucks?" The guy's a legend. But when he's wrong, it's embarrassing. Visible zippers. Wide lapels. Epaulets.
The worst mistake a thrifty shopper can make is to try and convince the rest of us that his new shirt doesn't look stupid and out-of-date. When the rest of the world points and laughs at him, the thrifty shopper doubles down and insists you're the one who's out of step.
Duquette won't stop talking about David Lough, the fourth outfielder he got from Kansas City in exchange for Danny Valencia. He's also borderline obsessed with Francisco Peguero, who bounced up and down with San Francisco last year.
This time of year, fans of other teams get excited about the big-name free agents they signed over the winter. Orioles fans have to make do with really tall relief pitcher Ryan Webb.
At second base and starting pitcher, the Baltimores have real need around the two biggest free agents of this offseason -- Robinson Cano and Masahiro Tanaka. But the O's weren't mentioned as a serious contender for either player.
Seattle gave the 31-year-old Cano $240 million and a 10-year deal. And before the Yankees paid $155 million for Tanaka, they ponied up $20 million to Tanaka's old Japanese team just for the privilege of negotiating with the pitcher.
The day that kind of deal happens around here is the day Edgar Allan Poe rises from his Westminster Hall grave and dances down Greene Street to Camden Yards.
So we'll all keep waiting for the free agent pitcher Duquette keeps promising. Meanwhile, one leaky, past-his-prime starter after another gets picked up by teams who'd rather drop a few million dollars than push around a cart full of red-tag bargains, hoping for a few cheap gems.