With spring training officially over and the 2011 regular season beginning for the Baltimore Orioles in a few hours, everything seems different. The attitude, the atmosphere, and the mind-set of the organization point towards a promising future with Buck Showalter commanding the ship.
Andy MacPhail, Orioles President of Baseball Operations sat down with Drew Forrester of “The Morning Reaction” during spring training in Sarasota to talk about the revamped Birds and the new skipper.
Though it was not Showalter’s idea to manage the Orioles for the remainder of the 2010 season, MacPhail realized the importance of bringing him in sooner rather than later.
“We felt like we did not want to be last in line. That moving more quickly would benefit us in our circumstances so we made our change relatively early on,” MacPhail told Forrester. “We were looking for someone that had credibility…had a great desire and reputation for getting his team as prepared as possible, and you know Buck [Showalter] really fit all of those definitions to a ‘T’… as far as him coming in in-season, I felt it was important that he get the opportunity to help us in our offseason quest in terms of what we will do. I think he was best situated to do that if he was going to spend a third of the year with the team… I was not expecting to go from a .300 winning percentage to a .600 winning percentage just by him walking through the door. That was an added plus. The real effort was to try to get him some familiarity with his team going forward.”
As the 2010 season ended, the Orioles essentially had three managers, but only one of them had a winning record. Forrester asked MacPhail how come the players only responded to Showalter.
“I think you look at it objectively as you can, the thing that made the greatest stride was our starting pitching. Our young starters had an ERA just over 5 ½ prior to August 2nd then Buck comes on August 3rd and they have an ERA just over 3, the second best in the American League,” MacPhail said. “They gave Dave [Trembley] and Juan [Samuel] good efforts as well and they certainly, as well, wanted the players to be accountable. It’s just sometimes the way our game works.”
Going forward, MacPhail has a recipe of success for the Orioles.
“In our view, the strategy this franchise needs to employ is the philosophy, growing the arms and you can find the bats, and you don’t have to look further back than this last off-season,” the O’s President said. “Derrek Lee was signed as a free agent, JJ Hardy was traded for, Mark Reynolds was traded for, and Vlad Guerrero was signed as a free agent. That’s almost half your lineup right there. And they are generally a commodity you can find in the off-season. That’s not the case with pitching. Pitching is expensive, it’s fragile, as unfortunately we learn every spring with other clubs circumstances.”
The Orioles are in a division with two of the highest payrolls in baseball with the New York Yankees ($206.7 million) and the Boston Red Sox ($160.9 million), and the only way for them to compete against the money are intelligent moves in the off-season. MacPhail was asked about the possibility of signing Albert Pujols when he is a free agent after the 2011 season.
“First off, you can’t talk about specific players who are under contract with other teams, that would be tampering and we certainly don’t want to do that,” MacPhail stated. “But I would remind you that we did make a 7 year-$20 million plus offer to Mark Teixeira because we thought… you had a local player, switch hitter, young, good defender at first, you could look at the seven year deal and reasonably think given his age and the position he played, that he could be productive throughout that entire contract.”
“Its got to be the perfect storm of the right player for a variety of reasons because if we are wrong and the player gets hurt and you have that percentage of your payroll tied up in one player, then you really are biting the problem for a long time.”
Baltimore yearns for a baseball team that can play a meaningful game in the month of September, and that has yet to happen since 1997. MacPhail pointed out that the folks here in Charm City will know when the Oriole Magic is back in Camden Yards.
“Fans aren’t stupid. They know improvement when they see it. They understand a lot, particularly, if they have the time and they want to read a lot, there’s a lot of information out available to them, more so then when I was a kid growing up. They’ll know when your making positive steps. You can’t really spin it. They’re going to understand when you are making progress,” MacPhail told Forrester.
“From our stand point, becoming .500 isn’t really the goal, we have different goals in mind.”
With one year left on his contract, MacPhail is not worried about an extension at this moment.
“I’m fine with the end of the season. Let’s see how we do. Everybody is sort of in a euphoric mode right now, things in our business may look differently in six months, I hope not. But you never know. I’m fine with waiting and just seeing how things play out.”