2008: The ‘O’verhaul

February 25, 2008 | Thyrl Nelson


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It’s tough to argue with the job that Andy MacPhail has done with the Orioles so far. Not only has he ridded the franchise of some excess baggage, he has also quickly replenished the farm system, overhauled management, and seemingly wrestled control of baseball affairs away from the uber tyrant. He has also gotten the fans of a team that hasn’t had a winning season in a decade excited about a season in which the expectation is that they’ll take a step back in the win column. And he hasn’t even been on the job for an entire year.

In Machiavelli’s “The Prince”, a text essentially about effective leadership without regard for humanity, he suggests that when a leader has to take rights, freedoms or privileges away from his subjects, he do so all at once and then give back little by little. That way the pain of losing what you once enjoyed is all endured at once, and the enjoyment in getting things back is spread out making the leader appear generous and benevolent.
Even though the O’s brass seemed to employ the opposite tact in driving the fans away for the past 7 or 8 years, MacPhail is slowly winning back the masses by slowly giving them what they have been asking for. The “O”verhaul is not over by any means, and MacPhail still clearly has his work cut out for him. He still has the two 800-pound gorillas at the top of the division, and many think it’s just a matter of time before Angelos heavy thumb starts getting itchy again.
Fans will have to be patient though. That’s redundant actually, with a decade of losing in the books, and a quarter century since their last World Series appearance, those fans that refuse to go away epitomize patience. Still, when the Erik Bedard trade took longer than expected, fans began to show their sense of urgency and need for this team to move forward. Even now as fans are resigned to losing in the short term, most aren’t looking beyond two years for the O’s to be competitive again. That’s still a pretty tall order.
There are still a bunch of players on this team that don’t seem to fit in that two-year window, but trading now becomes a little tougher. Every trade that the O’s have pulled off since MacPhail’s arrival has brought in more players to the 40-man roster than it cleared off of it. Trading Brian Roberts at this point for 3 players that would all likely be on the major league roster would require clearing 2 more spots to accommodate them. If you are resigned to losing in the short term, the lost likely candidates are your veterans.
This is where things get tricky. In addition to Roberts, Aubrey Huff, Kevin Millar, Melvin Mora, Jay Gibbons, Jay Payton, Chad Bradford, Jamie Walker and possibly George Sherrill are all guys that likely won’t be here in two years. Furthermore, the fact that this club has completely folded seemingly every August suggests that some of these veteran holdovers may be more trouble than they are worth. Mora and Roberts in particular have miserable August splits. There may be a couple of veteran influences that are worth keeping around to help mold this young clubhouse, but the rest have got to go.
It’s up MacPhail and Dave Trembley to decide whether holding onto any of these guys for too long is a good idea. There shouldn’t be much urgency to trade Roberts right away, especially if it means having to expose some of our young talent to the waiver wire. Ultimately the club may be wise to simply eat the contracts of guys like Gibbons and Payton and maybe even Mora who might have little trade value anyway. It’s reasonable to believe that Huff, Walker and Bradford could play well enough this season to draw interest from a contender that could possibly get something back in a trade. In Huff’s case, it might be better to simply part ways, but the O’s might even get a few extra ticket sales early in the season from fans who’ll go out just to give him an earful.
Clearly the O’s are on the right path, albeit the very beginning of it. And if things don’t work out quickly for them, in the Machiavellian spirit they’ll be able to throw the fans a few bones anyway. I fully believe that they’ll put Baltimore on the road jerseys, treat the fans like human beings at the ballpark and even step into the world of HDTV at some point, but why rush things? Fans are already excited about this year, along with the new video system at the ballpark, how much good publicity do they need at once? They might as well keep those things in reserve in case Weiters and Jones and Rowell somehow don’t work out.
Of all of the frustrating things about being an O’s fan for the past decade, and there have been a bunch, perhaps the biggest was the organization’s inability to commit to a plan. Fans have been sold on rebuilding for years, yet the club always seemed to go out and add just enough high priced vets to trick us into thinking that we might be close.
This time around they do seem committed to rebuilding, but there are still too many remnants of the past hanging around. In a season where we are touting the “Baby Birds” and are looking at a young and exciting outfield and pitching staff, we are still likely to see an infield consisting of Roberts, Millar and Mora with Ramon Hernandez behind the plate and Huff, Gibbons and Payton clouding up the mix too.
Pigs get fat but hogs get slaughtered. Not every trade has to be a blockbuster. It’s time to get the rest of the losing culture out of here, even if you have to eat a couple of contracts. A few bad apples can easily spoil the bunch; we’ve seen it around here before. There is little to be gained by keeping these vets around, but possibly much to lose. At first glance the house looks a little cleaner, but for now it still has that same old familiar smell.


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