I’ll Stick With The O’s ….. If They Stick With THE PLAN

February 11, 2008 |

Forget “Groundhog Day” and the first flower sales at Home Depot ….. what happens this coming Thursday is always the first sign of spring’s impending arrival.

When the Baltimore Orioles open camp in Ft. Lauderdale ….. I finally start to arise outta my winter doldrums. Given the anticipation of a true commitment to rebuilding and youth, I’m actually looking forward to spring training, for the first time ….. in a long time.

Am I the only one who’s sensing a different product ….. and change in organizational direction? I’m not an unabashed “homer” and I’ve taken my collective swipes at the Orioles and their ownership ….. many times. That said, I honestly try to be objective about all things, including the Orioles.

With this past off-season’s moves ….. namely trading Miguel Tejada and Erik Bedard for ten prospects is a sign that this team is moving in the right direction. My delight is not vested in seeing players filling the immediate vacancies at shortstop and atop the starting rotation. I’m more excited by the replenishment of the minor league system, via these trades.

For me, seeing the birds stockpile young talent hints at the initial sign they’re trying to recommit the organization to this era’s version of the “Oriole Way.” Let’s be blunt ….. we’ll never recapture the true essence of the Oriole Way – economics and the culture of professional baseball will not afford it to exist.

However, committing to the development of a minor league system enriched in raw talent translates into the eventual progression and prominence of the major league franchise. If you doubt the importance of a strong farm system, just look at the Minnesota Twins, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Florida Marlins and Oakland A’s ….. among many other teams that don’t shatter the $100 million payroll threshold.

Yeah, the Yankees and Red Sox both spend well in excess of $100 million, per season. But, they’ve also developed their own young talent for YEARS. The Red Sox have homegrown talent, such as Buckholz, Lester, Papelbon, Pedroia, Youkilis and Ellsbury contributing to the 2008 cause. The Yankees have Chamberlain, Henn, Hughes, Kennedy, Pettitte (he’s homegrown), Wang, Posada, Cano, Jeter and Cabrera as evidence of a viable minor league system.

While I’ll agree the Red Sox and Yankees spend immeasurable resources in luring and enlisting mercenaries to complete their arsenal, they wouldn’t be dominant forces without developing talent, as well. This is an area where the Orioles have truly struggled. And, it’s proved to be their detriment ….. in my humble opinion.

Forget throwing MASN money or any other tangible financial resources at high-priced free agents. The Orioles, under the guidance of Andy MacPhail, appear to finally be following a blueprint ….. and they’re nowhere close to the stage of acquiring “hired guns” to make a difference.

As I said during yesterday’s show, the Orioles’ growing pains may very well involve a sequel to the “2003 Detroit Tigers” season. And, if it does ….. will you jump ship? Or, will you stick with Andy MacPhail ….. as long as he sticks with the THE PLAN?

I’m not a baseball professional. But, I’ve gotta sense this “earth moving” initiative that rests upon MacPhail’s shoulders will not be easy or expedient. It will take a few years of lopsided losses, overmatched contests and futile decisions. I’ll imagine it will be tough to stick with some of these youngsters ….. as they will struggle mightily during stretches of the 2008 and 2009 seasons.

Sticking to THE PLAN will also yield instances of dealing with an infuriated fan base that’s been lied to …… and stymied, more often than the devoted wife of a “womanizing drunkard.” Detractors will exploit the losses that occur in bunches, as opposed to the occasional victory. They’ll also pick at the embarrassing blunders young, inexperienced players are prone to make on the BIG STAGE.

But, if the Orioles are serious about change – and I sense they are – they’ll refute all negativity and stick with THE PLAN. Things are different. This past off-season didn’t net the likes of Torii Hunter, Andruw Jones or an elderly Tom Glavine. Such additions would not have aided the long-term future of the Baltimore Orioles.

Instead, we’re gonna see a team of young, hungry and impressionable talent growing in Bowie, Norfolk ….. and Baltimore. We’re just 3 days away. And. I’m buying ….. as long as they stick to THE PLAN.