Fortunately, Buck Showalter gets it.
I’m not sure how he could show up in August and “get it” more than a lot of people in the Orioles organization who have been there for 3, 5 or 10 years, but Showalter, indeed, “gets it”.
When discussing the team’s upcoming off-season and the efforts that need to be made to improve his team, Showalter offered this comment about the fans: “We need to earn their trust that we’re going to do the right thing. I’m sure they’re not convinced that we’re going to make the right moves, so we have to earn their trust by going out and improving the club.”
Spoken like someone who gets it.
And he’s right, the fans – the majority of them, anyway – have heard the same song and dance too many times to actually believe that Andy MacPhail and Company are actually going to go out and spend money in the off-season in an effort to improve the team.
The Apologists in town enter every November with unbridled enthusiasm for the O’s off-season improvement-efforts, but they’re always let down when the club tries to shoestring it while the really good veteran free agents back up their Brinks truck in places like New York, Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, Seattle, Los Angeles and Detroit.
Take last winter, for example, where the Orioles showed their fan base just how serious they were about trying to win by adding Garrett Atkins, Miguel Tejada, Michael Gonzales and Julio Lugo. They also added Kevin Millwood via trade, but that’s only because Texas was willing to pick up a portion of his salary.
Summary: The Orioles didn’t REALLY try to improve their last off-season.
They just didn’t.
This off-season, though, is going to be different. Rather, it BETTER be different.
This November, for the first time in a long, long time, the Orioles can actually go out and say to available players, “we’re on the verge of something good, perhaps, and you could help get us back in contention.”
That comment, of course, also needs to be married with a check, as in “how much is it going to take to sign you?”, but one thing is for certain: the Orioles finished the year on their highest note since 1997 and teams and players around the league were forced to take notice.
Will Andy spend the money?
That’s the question.
Josh Bell isn’t ready yet. Not by a longshot. That leaves 3rd base open. Will the Orioles pay Adrian Beltre what he’s worth to come in and patrol the hot corner?
The Orioles don’t have a REAL first baseman on their major league roster right now. They used half-first-baseman-half-something-else guys like Ty Wigginton and Luke Scott in 2010, but neither of those two are qualified to man the position for 150 games a year.
So who plays first base in 2010? Paul Konerko? Adam Dunn? Victor Martinez?
It’s hopefully one of those three. But each of them will cost money. Real money.
Shortstop could be a position of need in the off-season as well, unless the club decides to re-employ Cesar Izturis.
And while the starting pitching – particularly the young arms – was very effective under Buck Showalter, there’s still a contention from most ardent fans that the club is in need of at least one veteran pitcher to compliment the baby-faces like Matusz, Arrieta, Tillman, Bergesen, etc. And who might that be? Ted Lilly? Jake Westbrook? Cliff Lee is probably out, because he will command gigantic money and the words “gigantic” and “money” don’t often collide in the same sentence at The Warehouse. Lilly, though, could be an interesting option, as the O’s could use another left-handed pitcher. Westbrook would be a “typical” Orioles signing, but he’s certainly a decent option.
Carl Crawford is the best “baseball player” on the open market this winter and if the O’s want to improve their team, that’s where they’d start. They’d bring Crawford on board, do something with either Pie or Jones (via trade) and the team would be better for it. His current Rays teammate Carlos Pena is also going to be available in 5 weeks.
Understand this: Every single free-agent on the market can have holes punched in his resume if you try hard enough. The last time there were two perfect free-agents available (Sabathia and Teixeira), the Orioles weren’t interested in paying the freight for either of them. You can poke holes in a player by using the “too much money” excuse, the “he’ll never be able to do that in the A.L. East excuse” or the “he had a good season last year because his contract was up” excuse.
You can punch holes in just about every free agent that could help the Orioles next season:
Konerko: Too old
Dunn: Strikes out too much
Beltre: Too hot and cold at the plate
Pena: Horrible batting average in 2010, plate discipline in question
Martinez: Not enough power
Westbrook: Will get lit up in the A.L. East
Lilly: See Westbrook above
Those are the excuses that COULD be used. Interestingly, though, there will be teams out there who DON’T make those excuses. Every single one of those players listed above will be employed by a major league team next April.
Trades are also a mechanism for improvement. To me, every player on the team is available for trade except Markakis, Wieters and Matusz. Every other player falls under the “make us a great offer” category.
And the only reason I have Markakis on the untouchable list is because of the obligation the Orioles made to him and he, to them, over the last couple of years. Markakis (and Melvin Mora, when he was here) is the one guy on the team who has made Baltimore his year-round home. He purchased a house here, is raising his family here and started a charity foundation a couple of years ago that benefits Baltimore and Maryland. For years, we’ve been demanding that Orioles players show some kind of community-commitment on a year-round basis. Markakis did just that. He’s untouchable, to me. Matusz and Wieters can’t be had, either. Other than that, if MacPhail can make a deal that improves the club and he has to include Jones, Pie, Scott, Roberts, Tillman or Arrieta, for example, then he should go ahead and make the deal.
This off-season is all about Andy MacPhail.
He’s been talking-the-talk for a year or two now, saying, basically, “once we think we’re on the verge of being competitive again, we’ll go out and spend the money or make the deals to bring in the players who can get us there.”
Well…that time has arrived, Andy.
You’re not knocking on the door, per-se, but you’re on the sidewalk, approaching the house.
This off-season is in Andy MacPhail’s hands.
He controls the money.
He controls the roster.
He controls the progress.
As Buck Showalter said recently, “we have to earn the fan’s trust”.
The fans probably don’t trust the Orioles to go out and do what’s necessary to improve the team.
And with good reason.
But MacPhail can change all of that in November.