Orioles 2010 – It’s Not Just About Wins & Losses

April 06, 2010 |

Well, as I’m posting this latest blog, we’re just hours away from another Orioles season. And, after such a tumultuous decade-PLUS of baseball drama, it’s hard to criticize the resounding feelings of any Baltimore baseball fan.

Heck, I’ve found an array of opinions between media members – and we supposedly know the games and workings of the Orioles, more closely than the common fan. I’m not so sure about that …..

In fact, in many cases it’s just not true.

Combine media and fans together, and we’re still likely to find a diverse dose of the ills that “plague the Orioles.” That said, I think such opinions are divided into three distinct classes …..

Kool-Aid Drinkers – this is the group that avoids accountability, while making excuses for the franchise. Some of this group’s members work for the team, directly or indirectly. And, some in this group just choose to believe the Orioles can attribute their long, bad stretch …. to LONG, BAD LUCK.

Pigs Don’t Fly – this is the group that chooses to see both sides of the issue, while admitting they don’t have the vital insight to diagnose the Orioles core plight. Although, this group is educated, the members don’t mind admitting their lack of front office experience in dealing with the BUSINESS OF BASEBALL. But, they’re not naive, either …..

Conspiracy Theorists – this group is not much different than the Kool-Aid Drinkers …. they’re simply at the other end of the spectrum. They’re convinced the Orioles problems and solutions are easily discernable. Members of this group can fix the problem – just ask ’em. They’re 100% convinced the Orioles don’t really care about winning. They can also build a space shuttle, out-invest Warren Buffett and solve any riddle.

(Sorry, I don’t have a photo of Wayne In Timonium)

Where am I among these groups? I think I’m closest to the “Pigs Don’t Fly” group …..

Yep, that’s my ugly mugg.

I’ve lived through the lean, rather meaningless seasons of dysfunctional baseball. To an extent, I consider myself a VICTIM …. along with thousands of similar Baltimoreans. At times, I’ve felt betrayed – beyond the customary untruths teams tell the common follower. And, I’ve certainly disagreed with many organizational decisions.

I’ve always suspected Peter Angelos shipwrecked the Orioles organization by chasing Davey Johnson and Pat Gillick away. In fact, I think his undermining of Gillick, during the 1996 non-waivers trade deadline was really the defining dagger in the heart of the team’s long-term future.

And, we didn’t even realize it. Heck, most of us embraced it ….. without considering the true ramifications.

As July neared an end, the Orioles hovered around .500 and Pat Gillick wanted to start reloading for the FUTURE. This meant parting with a couple veterans …..


Mr. Angelos nixed the deal and it looked like the right decision – in the short term …..

The Orioles got hot and made the playoffs. And, they continued winning, in 1997. Heck, the Orioles went to the American League Championship Series.

But, the resulting damage was obvious. Davey Johnson left. A year later, Pat Gillick left. And, twelve seasons later, a short stretch of losing has resulted in a dynasty of disappointment.

When Mr. Angelos commanded that short-term fix, in 1996, he obviously developed a miscalculated sense of shrewd baseball intellect. Pat Gillick wasn’t worthy. Frank Wren wasn’t worthy. And, Syd Thrift ….. well, he was willing to accept MEDDLING.

Better yet, lets be honest ….. Syd was a FRONT and that’s it. That’s what I sensed.

He didn’t know the inner workings of the organization, and he LIED to cover his tracks. I still recall Syd’s appearance on a WBAL radio show, during the 2001/02 off-season. A caller asked about the status of prime Orioles prospect, “Gary Dell’abate” …..

I almost wrecked my car, as Syd lauded praise on the youngster. I don’t recall the exact words, but he emphasized that he knew of Dell’abate and the club was very interested in the prospect’s future.

If you’re still wondering about the punchline, Gary Dell’abate is the producer and faithful sidekick of Howard Stern. Disciples of Stern are known for pulling pranks just like this one – and Syd Thrift took the hook.

He wasn’t around much longer.

But, Syd Thrift is remembered as a guy who was really obliged to acting at the whim of his boss ….. CONFEDERATE MONEY, or not.

And, to a lesser extent, it looks like Mike Flanagan and Jim Beattie were bound to accept the same conditions. The Orioles storied reputation – which developed over decades, was destroyed in a mere matter of a few years time.

I don’t feel Mr. Angelos has really been personally accountable to the damage caused by his actions and decisions. It doesn’t matter if he OWNS the team. He has minority partners – and THOUSANDS of stakeholders.

I think Mr. Angelos, while probably acting in the best interest of the Orioles franchise, made alot of bad moves that virtually crippled the organization.

But, I do think the hiring of Andy MacPhail was a huge step in the right direction. While Mr. Angelos hasn’t really expressed any true contrition towards the Orioles faithful, he has indicated that MacPhail has full autonomy over the Baseball Operations of the franchise.

Have we heard that before? Maybe, in a roundabout form. Yet, unlike the small group of men who preceded him, Andy MacPhail hasn’t echoed a single syllable of frustration over his 33 months on the job.

And, he’s made tangible changes ….. for the BETTER.

Regardless of how I feel about Mr. Angelos’ actions resulting in the diminishment of the “Oriole Way,’ I care far more deeply about Baltimore Baseball. The team is bigger than the owner – period.

The Baltimore Orioles can be reconstructed. They are being reconstructed. But, it’s not a quick fix. It’s not a kinda-quick fix. It’s a plan and a prolonged one …..

I will choose to judge the Orioles development from the day Andy MacPhail seized daily control …..

Digging up bones is unproductive, pure and simple. That’s just how I see it.

When MacPhail took over, what or WHO did he have?

Better yet, in his nearly three years on the job, who has arrived?

Adam Jones, George Sherrill, Chris Tillman, Luke Scott, Matt Albers, Josh Bell, Brian Matusz, Justin Turner, Felix Pie and Kevin Millwood …..

These players arrived via trade or draft. Of this group, six of them are arguably integral pieces of the long-term future of the organization. They’re talented and YOUNG.

Yet, aside from Jones, none of the half-dozen talents are on the doorstep of their prime years. That’s right, Matusz, included. They still have alot of “rookie mistakes” to make.

I’m buying BIG TIME on Brian Matusz. But, if you really don’t think that kid is gonna get distracted by a couple baserunners and throw the wrong 2-2 pitch to Alex Rodriguez, in a close game this year, you’re fooling yourself.

Patience and refusing to compromise a dedicated plan to development is key for me.

I wanna believe this is how an organization builds from the foundation. And, I don’t see how the franchise can fast-track the revitalization effort. Young hitters are still developing at the major league level. And, young pitchers typically develop, even longer, at the major league level.

I doubt Andy MacPhail believes Matt Wieters is ready to exhibit a champion’s pedigree at the highest level ….. yet. And, I’ll imagine he feels the same way about the younger guys, listed above.

I get it – fans are fed up with losing. That’s a natural reaction, especially in this situation. What do you want Andy MacPhail to do? Spend exuberant funds on free agents? Will it make a difference at this point?

Tell me how …..

For every veteran who is signed, a kid usually ends up getting blocked and ultimately buried, in the minors. It can happen with a team’s own players.

Justin Turner has performed at every stop in his minor league career. But, there is no spot for him on this Orioles team. Brian Roberts plays 2nd base. Yeah, that Brian Roberts.

I understand Orioles fans wanting a star or two to support. But, the expense is in denying an opportunity to the “Justin Turners” of the baseball world. And, why? We all know ….. to suffice the fan base.

I won’t be a hypocrite, by contradicting my “Pigs Don’t Fly” description. But, I’d be willing to bet Andy MacPhail would’ve preferred to trade Brian Roberts, prior to last season. I’d wager every last dollar on it.

But, he caved.

No, I don’t think MacPhail looks at Roberts as a player who will be part of the planned return of the GLORY DAYS. He’s just a short-term investment to keep fans happy and the promotions department busy.

That’s how I see it. But, I could certainly be wrong.

I’ve always said the “Andy MacPhail Orioles” appear to be built for contending in 2011 and beyond …..

I’m not just taking a stab in the dark. The 2011 season will mark a point where 2 or 3 of the prized pitching prospects will have a season of big league turmoil under their belts. And, the batting lineup will most likely include 5 young hitters (28 yrs. and under) who’ve spent a full season together, as well.

If that’s the case, the Orioles will need plenty of cash in a few years. No need for paying off contracts of overpriced, aging veterans, right?

A common topic for discussion is always the amount of money dedicated to the Orioles player payroll. Everybody has an opinion and most fans would like to see more money devoted to this area.

I would usually agree. But, not in this specific era.

Most fans are deeply in the dark when it comes to the inner-workings of professional sports franchises. Heck, I’ll raise my hand – I don’t know how the Orioles or Ravens actually run their organizations. I don’t think any “outsiders” really do.

If you’ve been to a BOARD OF DIRECTORS meeting for the Orioles or Ravens, stand up. If not …..

But, I’ve been part of a collaboration that spends money by the MULTI-MILLIONS ….. and they plan well ahead time – years ahead of time.

The Orioles have forecasted budgets that include proposed long term deals to Wieters, Matusz, Reimold and Jones. I’ll guarantee it.

In fact, budgets for 2011, 2012 and beyond already exist. Here’s the figures in COMMITTED payroll …..

2011 – $28 Million – Roberts, Markakis, Gonzales, Matusz (+ 3 buyouts)

2012 – $23.5 Million – Roberts, Markakis

That’s a GOOD problem to have, right? Right now, there is not a penny devoted to DEAD MONEY, going forward. Ask ’em ….. Warren Buffett, Peter Lynch, George Soros; I wonder what they would think of spending money on fruitless or unproductive investments?

And, don’t say Mark Teixeira. He wasn’t coming here. And, I don’t blame him – he’s 30 years old and wants to win for the remainder of his career, while making alot of money.

Makes sense, huh?

The 2011 & 2012 budgets will include players who are arbitration eligible. I’d like to see the Orioles give Adam Jones a Pedroia-like, 6 year/$40 million deal. And, if Andy MacPhail has ANY shot of tying up Matt Wieters, beyond 2015, it will most certainly come no later than 2012.

If Brian Matusz lives up to the hype, he too, is gonna require one of those generous deals that buys the team long term security, while affording the player early wealth. Toss in a similar pact with Reimold or Pie ….. or both, and the committed budgets really start to increase.

The Orioles gotta plan on paying Wieters, Jones and Matusz – before they reach free agency. They’d better plan on it.

Yeah, I know Wieters is represented by Scott Boras. And, he might not negotiate before testing the market, following 2015. If so, there’s a decent chance he rivals “Mauer Money.”

That’s baseball OUTSIDE of New York, these days …..

Tying up this handful of players, and extending Nick Markakis, could land the Orioles in the neighborhood of $50 – $60 million, by 2013. And, that’s just a half dozen players. Throw in an Adrian Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki-caliber duo, and the payroll is now surpassing $90 million, annually.

And, this is prior to inking every other contributing player in the lineup, as well as a respectable veteran arm. No, I’m not referring to the Kevin Millwood’s of the baseball world, either.

I can envision the Orioles topping $100 million, in payroll, very soon. But, it will occur at the optimal time.

2010 is not the time.

It’s baseball season.

After 3 blizzards and a hellish winter, the Orioles are back on the field.

Regardless of what others say, I still don’t believe the Orioles are in a spot where WINNING or LOSING ballgames is the primary consideration of where the organization stands.

I want the stupid baserunning blunders to stop. I want the goofy Sunday lineups to stop. And, I want the mid-summer meltdowns to stop.

I want the Orioles to continue promoting youth. I want the core group to continue learning and growing, at the big league level. I want good basic baseball skills and fundamentals on display.

But, most of all, I want Andy MacPhail to continue doing his job.

This is just one guy’s view.