Veteran leaders should be sought at Winter Meetings

Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette heads to the Winter Meetings this week with hopes of making “smart” moves. It appears “big” moves aren’t going to be the O’s thing this winter. Teams like the Nationals and Marlins are handling that department.

Side note: Am I the only one who thinks the Miami Marlins are way overestimating their 2012 revenues courtesy of the new stadium and new manager? Heath Bell, Jose Reyes and a plan to make a run at Albert Pujols? Newsflash, a new stadium doesn’t make a non-baseball town into a baseball town overnight. I can’t see attendance in South Florida being that great.

Back to the O’s: One of the biggest moves Duquette can make this week, in addition to signing talent, is acquiring veteran leaders. More specifically: veteran leaders who have won. It would be a smart move toward improving clubhouse culture.

The lack of veteran leadership over the last several years has been glaring to those who cover the Orioles.

How can players learn how to win in the big leagues if they have nobody in the clubhouse who understands how to do that? Someone needs to set the bar.

Talents like Adam Jones and Matt Wieters have forged their own paths to becoming All Stars without the luxury of veteran players with some clout to help shape them. They had nobody to latch onto. Meanwhile, the pressure was on to be “team leaders” when, according to their experience level at the time, that wasn’t a fair role to be thrust in to.

A big part of developing young talent has to do with accountability. Veteran players can help keep younger players accountable on the field. Watch winning clubs. You’ll see a player like Mark Teixeira stare down a younger player when he makes a mental error. I can’t remember the last time I saw an Oriole do that to another one. It’s healthy for players to hold each other accountable.

Baseball clubhouses are hierarchies based on MLB service time and track records. Players who have been in the “The Show” for longer get more respect. Players who have had success are even more elevated. Those players can be compasses for younger players. They also help keep young hot shots in check by limiting feelings of entitlement. It helps younger players live within reality and work harder.

I can remember the impact Kevin Millar had on the younger players when he was in Baltimore from 2006-2009. Millar was beyond his peak years, but he had won a World Series with the 2004 Red Sox and believed in that clubhouse hierarchy. Millar brought players together with his gregarious personality, but also was quick to call someone out when they deviated from the unwritten rules

The O’s young pitchers like Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton would have benefited greatly from more of a veteran pitching presence on the staff, especially one who came from a winning organization. You also have to wonder if Brian Matusz would have been more focused if he had a seasoned vet reminding him he has to earn his way into a big league rotation.

This week Duquette’s focus will obviously be on talent first, but if given the choice between a veteran player who’s a great clubhouse guy like David Ortiz or an unpredictable, selfish veteran like Manny Ramirez, I hope he chooses the former.

If the Birds want to get their young players who digressed in 2011 back on track, they need to give them teammates who can help set the bar.