Great Lack Of Expectations

March 26, 2009 | Thyrl Nelson

Even With The Team Clearly Headed In The Right Direction, O’s Fans Are Ready For At Least A Glimpse Of The Future. By Not Giving It, Is The Team Hiding Behind The Concept Of Rebuilding?


By all accounts, including those expressed by Orioles’ owner Peter Angelos to the Sun this week, the O’s are still very much a team on the rise, and playing for the future. And for a change, that future actually appears to be bright. Few who have followed the team, and stuck with them through this extended period of misery, can look at the current makeup of their system and not be hopeful. And given the spendthrift makeup of the rest of their division, building traditionally certainly seems to be the right course in this market. But for how much longer, will we as fans continue to wait on this team to mature, without seeing any glimpses of the bright future that we’re being promised?


A change in philosophy for the team was certainly in order, and given the mountains that he’s seemingly moved already, far be it from me to question the vision of Andy MacPhail. By all accounts, MacPhail has seemed to have righted the O’s ship, and has done it much more quickly than any of us could have reasonably expected or even hoped. If he’s proclaiming that the future is still a few years away, then he’s certainly earned the right to see it play out his way. But as opening day approaches, and the legends of these minor leaguers grow, it appears more and more likely that this year’s version of the O’s won’t look much different than last year’s edition, and even a glimpse into the future may still be at least a season away.


As the opening day roster becomes clearer and clearer, so seemingly do the team’s intentions. Despite his best efforts to make the decision a tough one, it appears that Matt Wieters will join the bevy of young pitching talent that the team has amassed in the minors, at least to begin this season.


Writing another season off before it begins, while painful, certainly seems to be the consensus among O’s fans. Whether to take those lumps with stopgaps now while continuing to season the young talent in the minors, or to simply bring on the future and allow these guys to learn their craft at the highest level will continue to be debated until they finally arrive though. As it stands now, there’ll likely be no individual player to get otherwise disinterested fans out to the ballpark, who they couldn’t have gone out and seen last year.


If keeping Wieters off of the opening day roster is simply a way to stave off arbitration for another year, then change could be coming sooner rather than later. Whatever their reasoning for placing Wieters wherever he ultimately winds up, hopefully he’ll be there with Matusz, Tillman, Arrieta and any other prospect that the O’s see as a viable part of their future, gaining familiarity; getting ready to take the league by storm as a group, maybe soon. Given the group standing in their way, another year before arbitration eligibility may be all that keeps any of these young O’s from reaching the majors this season.


And if this is another season to simply write off before it begins, then maybe trader Andy should go back to work and look to get something in return for Aubrey Huff before the season is up. From this time last year until now, his value has increased exponentially. With just this season remaining on his contract, and no guarantee that he’ll ever sniff his production from last season again, dumping Huff while his value is up seems to be prudent. If Wieters were coming up in 2009, then keeping Huff around might be worth it just to provide some protection in the lineup for the young slugger. If Wieters is out of the plans though, then Huff probably should be too.


Mora to the Yankees was floated out there nationally for a minute, but in Huff the O’s would seem to have a more valuable trading piece. Old Yankee stadium favored lefties it’s presumable the new one will too, and after Alex Rodriguez’ return, Huff could adequately play either corner position in the infield or outfield, and can also hit effectively as a DH, which many players are somehow unable to do. If the Yankees, who are clearly back to spending money, could be convinced to part with one or two of the pitching prospects they’ve been waiting impatiently on, parting with Huff might be worth the risk.


If they’re not planning to compete this season anyway, there really is no risk. The Yankees could be just as likely to get Huff after the season in free agency anyway. If the O’s don’t plan on winning the East in 2009, then why would they care who does?


MacPhail, while seemingly a miracle worker already, is not yet into the rarified air of Ozzie Newsome, who seems to roll out of bed making great personnel decisions. That though, is only because as yet, the on field product hasn’t had time to catch up to the front office effectiveness. If it ever does, MacPhail will easily surpass even Newsome in the annals of Baltimore sports lore, as he’ll have done it despite the added disadvantage of the O’s inherently bad ownership, and in the toughest division in sports.


There is a lot to look forward to as O’s fans, but hopefully we won’t have to look too far forward. From the team’s perspective, as long as the fans are buying in to the rebuilding scenario, there may be no reason to rush that future. For now, they’re selling hope, once that runs out, they’ll actually have to come through with product. Until then, it may be easier to hide the talent they’re touting as the future, thereby insuring that they can’t fail, yet at least. 


At the end of the day, it still remains to be proven whether a team in this division can even hope to compete consistently without spending $150 million. The Rays appear to be making their run at proving it now. And the O’s appear to be sitting back, afraid to dip their toe into the water just yet.


It took a long time to decimate the expectations of this fan base from opening day, and it may take a long time to get those fans back on board. For now, low expectations, and general positivity about the direction of the team, could be viewed as a luxury. The O’s seem to be banking on that being enough for now. As Machiavelli said, once you have driven the masses into submission, give back their privileges slowly, keeping the feelings of good will going. Little by little they tore the team down, and now may be afraid of building it back too quickly. Sooner or later though they’ll have to commit to winning and make a run at it. In the meantime, the hottest baseball tickets in town should probably be in Bowie or Norfolk.