Another MacPhail Fire Sale?

June 22, 2009 | Thyrl Nelson

Is there a tougher job in sports than Andy MacPhail’s?


We all know what a legendarily difficult boss Peter Angelos is reputed to be. By now, we’re all well aware that the AL East may be the most difficult division in all of sports, in which to be competitive. And free agents, also seemingly aware of both of those glaring inadequacies have avoided Baltimore like the plague. There was little reason to believe, when he took the reigns just a few short years ago, that MacPhail could have even a modicum of success.


On the positive side, by the time he stepped into the picture, the difficulties that he was up against were already more than apparent to the fans. Further, the franchise itself was in as bad of shape as it’s ever been, seemingly leaving nowhere to go but up. And moreover, doing a worse job than the 4 regimes that preceded him seemed nearly impossible.


Still, the job that MacPhail has done, in such a short time is nothing short of remarkable. He’s turned nearly the entire roster over in short order, and given the fans reasonable hope for the future. When it’s all said and done, the Bedard trade may go down as the best in Orioles’ history (which would be saying a lot), and we’re just starting to see the real benefits of the Tejada deal, which was pretty good too, relatively speaking of course.


If MacPhail is ultimately able to see this process through, and so far there’s no reason to believe that he can’t, he may be due more credit than even Ozzie Newsome for front office savvy, again relatively speaking of course.


In Newsome, we as fans have been given a great blessing, there’s no need to chronicle that here. And in MacPhail, we may have lucked into another. Again, given the difficulty of his circumstances, what MacPhail has accomplished already may rival the genius of Ozzie. If he sees this thing through, he’ll certainly be due at least as much credit as the Wizard, probably more. It’s a debate that I’d love to be having sometime soon, that’s for sure.


So now with the NBA and NHL in the rearview mirror, and the start of the Ravens’ season still months away, MacPhail and the O’s have center stage. And despite all of the great work that he’s done already, he still has work to do. And the choices won’t be easy ones.


The O’s have not only done a great job at rebuilding so far, they’ve also done a remarkable job at selling the process to the fans. After 12 years of losing, it’s not just a matter of getting fans to be patient through the process. With many disenfranchised fans already, the O’s are attempting to win back fans with the process, despite the fact that they can’t credibly hope to win now. It’s a tough sell, but it’s working.


Astute trades and scouting have led to an exciting product on the field, if not a competitive one. Yet every time they looked poised to pack it in, and we as fans get braced for the swoon, they manage to put together a string of games like their current one.


It’s a nice problem to have, but it won’t make MacPhail’s job any easier, as the pennant race takes shape. Although the O’s won’t likely find themselves in the race for a post season berth this year, the pursuit of .500 could be realistic, and for some fans could be exciting enough. Again, it’s important to think relatively here, and the chance to finish above .500, or even outside of the AL East basement, may be enough to keep some fans interested.


Others, like myself, sold already on the future are looking at a number of ‘tweeners on this team. Players who we could reasonably hope would be contributors, if and when the O’s are ready to compete, or who could be moved for value now, in an effort to continue to load up the farm system.


If the O’s are a traveling sale, they’ve done a great job of showcasing their merchandise over the past couple of weeks. If they’re not, then they’ll need to take proactive measures to insure not to lose these guys for nothing down the line.


There’s nary a contender in baseball that couldn’t find room for Aubrey Huff in their everyday lineup. He’s a professional hitter, known for strong finishes, and can play multiple positions. If the O’s have one guy that could probably get them value from a contender, Huff might be the one. As a free agent this off season, not dealing him is a roll of the dice too, unless you take measures to re-sign him before free agency comes up. Maybe the promotion of Brandon Snyder to AAA gives some indication that the O’s could be looking to him as a replacement, but Huff would be tough to replace in the middle of the order. If you trade him you could also possibly make another run at him as a free agent this off season.


Danys Baez is finally pitching well, and it would be tough to envision him in an O’s uniform beyond this season. He’s still overpaid, even for the way that he’s pitching, but with the O’s already low payroll, there’s no reason not to pay a good portion of his salary, and get back some prospects from a contender. Surely there’ll be a market for Baez at the deadline.


George Sherrill is another tough choice, because he could be seen as a valuable commodity down the line. Still, it’s tough to envision a real contender, especially another 2 or so years down the road, using Sherrill as anything more than a setup man, or lefty specialist. By using him as the closer, the O’s have certainly increased his future earnings potential, making him likely an overpriced option in either of those roles. Sherrill bounced back from early difficulties to redeem himself and boost his value. The O’s should probably sell high on this one.


Jeremy Guthrie is rounding into form once again, and could be a nice part of the rotation going forward, but the abundance of arms at the minor league level, and the desire to continue to restock that pool could lead to Guthrie being dealt to a contender. As a rule 5 pick up in the first place, Guthrie almost represents found money, and could be a long shot to be here for the long term.


Luke Scott is probably young enough to be enticing, but will probably never have better value than he does now. It’s tough to envision Scott improving on, or even maintaining his current pace. He may be the best sell high option on the team.


Anything that you could get for Pie or Andino, or even Wigginton, should probably be explored, although it’s tough to envision any of them fetching much in return. And as for Melvin Mora, he’d have to be encouraged to waive his no trade clause, which is unlikely. Even more unlikely given the fact that the O’s continue to pamper Mora, and leave him in the 5th spot despite his lack of production.


Which if any of these players to deal, and what to get in return can and probably will be the subject of much discussion and debate leading up to the trade deadline. At the end of the day though, I’ll trust that MacPhail has a plan in mind, and will continue to do the right thing. He’s earned that much at least. And much like his counterpart Ozzie Newsome, MacPhail is quickly proving that questioning his methods could be risky business.