MacPhail makes Orioles better, but does that reward fans?

January 01, 2011 | Drew Forrester

It took four off-seasons and a bunch of whiffs on good players who wanted “real money”, but Andy MacPhail finally made good on his promise to “buy the bats”, even if it turned out to be an aging 35-year old Derrek Lee who couldn’t finagle a multi-year deal out of anyone and finally caved in for what’s likely to amount to a 6-month internship with the Orioles.

The Orioles got their first baseman yesterday when Lee agreed to a one-year contract worth roughly $8 million dollars.  And make no mistake about this:  While he’s nowhere near the offensive weapon of Adam Dunn or Adrian Gonzalez, Lee is a much better option than trying to do the square-peg-in-a-round-hole thing otherwise known as Luke Scott at first base.

That makes three new players in Orioles orange – at least – heading into spring training and there’s little argument from anyone that those three are more capable than those they’re replacing.

Mark Reynolds is better than Josh Bell.  Well, frankly, that’s like saying “The opera is better than you think it is…it has to be!”  Reynolds is better than Bell in the same way a steak from Ruth’s Chris is better than one from Golden Corral.  It just is.

And J.J. Hardy is an offensive upgrade over Cesar Izturis.  Period.  Don’t let those silly stats try and prove that Hardy is better defensively than Izzy, because he’s not.  But he’s much more adept at the plate, which is what Baltimore needs more than a slick fielder at that position who can’t hit hit his weight.

So, the team is better heading into 2011, right?

Yep.  It is.

One more time, for the knuckleheads who will read this and somehow take a negative message out of it:  This is Drew, saying, right here:  The Orioles are better heading into 2011.

But how much better ARE they and how much better COULD they have been, had they actually shelled out some real money in this off-season?

That’s the question.

Are they good enough to complete in the A.L. East with the team they have right now?  Most likely, no.  Only those willing to guzzle the Orange Kool-Aid out of a bucket would dream of the club playing a game next September that had any real importance attached to it.

Are the Orioles good enough to fight Tampa Bay and Toronto for 3rd place in the East?  Sure.

And if you’re able to selectively (and for the last 13 years, routinely) forget about the fact that finishing in 3rd place really doesn’t mean anything, the scrap to get out of the basement and at least finish with a respectable record where you look DOWN at a couple of teams instead of UP at all of them would be worth your attention this summer.

But as the Ravens prepare to embark on yet another playoff run this month, I’m reminded of something that goes hand-in-hand with the Orioles current plight.

There’s nothing like playoff football.  And playoff baseball.  And playoff hockey.

In other words: the only thing that distinguishes your season is a trip to the playoffs.

The Padres choked away a final month 7-game lead last September and missed the playoffs on the final day.  Think they look back on the 2010 season with fondness?  Of course not.

So while 3rd place would be nice, and a step in the right direction, it’s always fair to ask:  “Is that the best we can do?”

Well, it’s the best you can do when you don’t sign Adam Dunn.  It’s the best you can do when your concept of “buying the bats” is trading for a guy who averages 200 strike-outs a year in the National League and was available in a December trade for what amounted to a live arm (Hernandez) and the equivalent of a year-long VIP pass to Disney World (Mickolio).  3rd place might very well be