John Harrington tried his best to downplay Dan Duquette’s immediate impact. He said the new Red Sox general manager would get to know his personnel and staff before taking action. He said Duquette would try to add the final pieces of the puzzle to the 1994 team.
Rest assured that it will not take Duquette long to get familiar with his new office on Yawkey Way. After all, he’s fulfilled his lifelong ambition of running the Red Sox, which became official yesterday when the Dalton native was introduced to the media at Fenway Park. Having just left as the Montreal Expos’ GM, he’s taking only a week off between jobs and will join the Sox next Friday.
Duquette, considered the most detail-oriented GM in the business, already has scoured mounds of scouting reports, has sought the scouts’ opinions on every player in the farm system and on the parent team, knows everything he needs to know about manager Butch Hobson and the coaching staff and probably has moves already outlined for transforming the Red Sox into the team he wants. In a nutshell, he wants youth, speed, power hitters and power pitchers.
“Over the next couple of years, we’re going to renew the roster with new life,” said Duquette, 35, who signed a five-year deal estimated at more than $2 million as vice president and GM. “We’re going to bring in younger ballplayers, more players in their prime years, between the ages of 27 and 32. We have a number of players on the downside of the curve. We have to bring in more players from our farm system.”
He is inheriting a team that is nearly the opposite of the one he had in Montreal. The Sox have 15 players aged 30 or older, and when their contracts run out, you can expect Duquette to let some go or try to make deals like he did in Montreal to rid himself of older players and big contracts. One of the attractions of Duquette, according to Harrington, was that “he did a great job of working within the confines of Montreal’s tight budget restrictions.” And with a salary cap likely to be a part of baseball within the immediate future, Duquette was Harrington’s No. 1 choice from the beginning.
Harrington said that when he began to reorganize the Red Sox front office in early November by elevating Lou Gorman from the hot seat into the role of executive vice president, Duquette was his top choice as GM.
When he initially approached Claude Brochu in early December, the Montreal owner told him Duquette would not be released from the final year of his Expos contract.
“So we had a cooling-off period and we began to discuss the matter again,” Harrington said. “Claude knew he would lose Dan after the 1994 season, anyway, and he knew of Dan’s desire to work for the Red Sox.”
Harrington then engaged in a series of weekly chats with Brouchu, and finally, the Montreal boss agreed to let him speak to Duquette. Harrington started negotiating with Duquette on New Year’s weekend even though he and Brochu had not agreed on a date for Duquette’s release. “I had to know whether my talks with Dan would reach an agreement over salary and length of contract. If we couldn’t agree, there was no point in going on.” But Harrington said talks were a breeze and Duquette agreed to a deal that would put him in the top quarter of GMs.
Harrington said Brochu originally wanted the Red Sox to wait the entire year for Duquette, but the Red Sox owner told his Montreal counterpart he would not wait that long, setting late June as the deadline.
Harrington claims there was no compensation given to the Expos to seal the deal.
“When that topic came up, Claude and I both agreed that it wasn’t an appropriate way to go,” said Harrington.
Then how was the deal sealed?
“Through prayers, persistence and patience,” said Harrington. “This was a heck of a dilemma for Claude because he needed to make sure he had the people in place to take over for Dan. It was a problem I was quite sympathetic to.”
Harrington and Brochu agreed that Duquette would not hire any Montreal personnel for two years or take an Expo player in the Rule V draft next December.
Though grateful for a larger budget to work with, Duquette said, “Money doesn’t win games, ballplayers do. We have to invest our money wisely, and in the future when we face salary caps, we will be held accountable for the money we spend.”
Duquette holds firm to the basic principles of building a team to suit the ballpark. But he also said, “Fenway Park is not the hitters’ ballpark it used to be.” Duquette’s Expos led the National League with 228 stolen bases, but he said, “You win by hitting the ball over the fence, with a balanced attack and by throwing the ball past people.”
He said the Red Sox had a strong pitching staff, with Paul Quantrill, Aaron Sele and Ken Ryan among the top young arms in the game. He believes the Sox should be a competitive team but said, “We have a couple of issues to address in the outfield and we need a healthy and productive designated hitter.”
While working in Montreal, he always felt he was part of the second game in town. Hockey ruled. So he finds it refreshing to come back to an area where baseball is king.
“One of the great things about this franchise is the knowledge of the fans and the knowledge of the press,” Duquette said. “People are interested in what you’re doing. They might not like what you’re doing if you trade one of their favorite players, but they understand it.
“One of the traps of a major-market team is the thought you have to have name players to drive your revenues. Sometimes you have to step back and rebuild. The Mets are doing it. The Pirates. The Expos started doing it two years ago. But it does take some time.”
It would seem Duquette is not afraid to trade anyone. While Gorman was afraid of being the man who traded Roger Clemens, Duquette would likely not give perception a thought if he could dramatically improve the Red Sox.
Harrington said Duquette would have tremendous latitude to make personnel moves if he thought they were necessary, but he didn’t believe Duquette would act drastically before completely assessing each situation.
Duquette said evaluating the manager will be far down his list of priorities. He’s talked to Hobson once, but the new GM didn’t offer any opinions.
He also said there were a “couple” of free agent players he was interested in obtaining and said he would speak to Gorman and assistant GM Mike Port in the next few days about them.
Dan Duquette isn’t going to need much of a breaking-in process. He’s been waiting for this moment all his life.