After the miserable 2001 season (one can make a legitimate case that this team was even more unlikable than the one we saw last season), the Boston Red Sox desperately needed new blood. The beginning of the makeover was the club’s sale from the Yawkey Trust to John Henry and Co. Shortly thereafter, general manager Dan Duquette was dismissed from his post to complete the front office makeover.
At the time it was a welcome move. A tenure that began with so much promise had long since grown sour. Duquette came to Boston to be the GM after holding the same job with the Montreal Expos. Though he was in his first season as Red Sox GM in 1994, much of that Montreal Expos club he had left behind had been assembled by him. That 1994 Expos club of course never got to make a World Series run thanks to an infamous players strike. But knowing that their new GM played a big part in making the Expos a model franchise left Red Sox fans with optimism.
Unfortunately, he was never quite able to replicate that success in Boston.
In eight seasons Duquette went through four different managers (Butch Hobson, Kevin Kennedy, Jimy Williams, Joe Kerrigan) which showed a sign that there was never really that intangible, but necessary GM/manager stable working relationship. The fact that Duquette never endeared himself to the Boston media strengthened the belief that Duquette was a difficult man to work with. This very likely was a big reason why Duquette didn’t hold a single front office job from the time he was fired by the Red Sox to the time the Orioles hired him after 2011.
Duquette’s record of producing quality home grown talent never really materialized. After Nomar Garciaparra, the only other top picks by Duquette who made the majors were Adam Everett and Kelly Shoppach. Though both guys were serviceable for a while (the former was a good fielding/bad hitting shortstop and latter was a decent backup catcher), they also left a lot to be desired as far as top draft picks go. The way he handled negotiations with non-top picks is also questionable. Mark Teixeira felt the club showed little interest in signing him after being drafted by them in the ninth round. By the time of his dismissal, the farm system appeared to be in the same lackluster condition it had been at the time Duquette had inherited it.
Based on the time he was terminated, Duquette’s fatal decision may have been letting Roger Clemens walk after the 1996 season. Clemens had been making then-record money from 1993-1996 and had pitched like a shell of his former self. Clemens would claim that Duquette had told him that he (Clemens) was in the twilight of his career. Clemens would suddenly reemerge as the pitcher he had been from 1984-1992 in the five seasons that followed. From the time Duquette let him walk to his final season as GM, Clemens would go 88-34 while winning three Cy Youngs and two World Series titles with the Blue Jays and Yankees. Those numbers and the alleged “Twilight of his career” comments would stay with Duquette until finally getting some vindication when the Mitchell Report was released. But the bottom line at the time: he let the franchise’s co-winningest pitcher walk and flourish elsewhere while getting nothing in return (no disrespect to 1997 supplemental pick Mark Fischer).
But with that final bad note, we can now move onto the good part of Duquette’s tenure.
The 1997 Red Sox were miserable in the starting pitching department. Their best overall starter was Tim Wakefield, who Duquette had signed following his release from the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1995. Wakefield would go on to pitch 17 seasons in Boston, becoming the franchise’s third winningest pitcher and winning two World Series titles.
But Wake was not an ace. Nobody on that staff was. Duquette knew he needed a frontline starter. So he went to his old club to get one. On November 18, 1997, Duquette traded Carl Pavano and a player to be named later (Tony Armas Jr.) to the Montreal Expos for Pedro Martinez. For the next seven seasons Martinez would go 117-37, win two Cy Young Awards, should’ve won the 1999 MVP, and played a part in the club’s 2004 World Series Championship team. Armas and Pavano never came close to being what Pedro was. The latter is probably more known for being an epic free agent bust for the New York Yankees, but at his best he was a decent back end of the rotation starter.
In 1998, Duquette sold high on struggling closer Heathcliff Slocumb. In return he received pitching prospect Derek Lowe and catching prospect Jason Varitek. Lowe would go onto win the clinching games in the 2004 ALDS, ALCS, and World Series. Varitek would play his entire MLB career in Boston, holding the title of team captain from 2005-2011.
Duquette made two of the best free agent signings in club history. He signed Manny Ramirez after the 2001 season. Despite the headaches Manny would give to the club, he did put up the numbers, making this one of the few megadeals that truly did work out. The other signing, Duquette’s last as GM, was the signing of Johnny Damon after the 2001 season. In his four seasons in Boston, Damon would play in no fewer than 145 games per season while providing an .803 OPS from the leadoff spot. Both players were both big parts of the 2004 World Series team (Manny would be the WS MVP and was also still around for the 2007 title three years later).
Despite the criticism he got for not having a productive farm system, many of the pieces Duquette acquired would go onto help the club on the field or through trades. The package to acquired Curt Schilling was built around Casey Fossum and Jorge DeLaRosa, both Duquette acquisitions (ironically the former’s gone on to have a better career despite the latter getting more hype at the time). Duquette also had a ripple effect on the 2007 championship team as well. He signed Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez who were dealt to the Florida Marlins for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell. Ramirez and Sanchez are both currently playing significant roles on contending teams.
Duquette drafted Kevin Youkilis in the eighth round of the 2001 draft. Youkilis would become a regular in 2006 and would have several productive seasons before injuries caught up with him.
Bottom line: Duquette had worn out his welcome at the time of his departure and the Sox should have no regrets in making a change. But for every blunder Duquette made, he also made some very good moves as well. Moves which would leave his fingerprints on two World Series Championship teams. He always deserved a second chance. Enough time has passed where he should’ve learned from past mistakes. But time will tell if he truly has. Right now he’s playing a role similar to what Theo Epstein did in 2003 and 2004 (tinkering with a roster he inherited from his predecessor). The O’s were a surprise team last season and are still in the mix this season. There appears to be a harmonious relationship between Duquette and his manager Buck Showalter. That’s a sign that Duquette’s become less difficult to get along with. Once again though, time will tell. Just like it has for his tenure as Red Sox GM, which looks better now than it did at the time of his departure.