Let me set everyone straight that thinks I'm a pessimist. I'm not. I'm an optimist (I did predict an 85 win season barring managerial collapse). But, I am absolutely a realist. If you want a good debate, I'll set the stage with my views which seem to bring out a whole lot of different views from you guys. There will be no finger pointing or bad will intended. We are all Orioles fans and each one of us wants the O's to succeed.
The Orioles are not a lost cause. The Orioles have a good young pitching core that includes Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta. Even Jeremy Guthrie is young enough to include. And, the Orioles control his contract for two more years. In the minors, Zach Britton is inching closer to the big club that could use his sinkerball in the worst way. There is also Pat Eagan and Kam Mickolio who both stand at least 6'8" tall and are intimadating on the mound. Add Frank Mata, Troy Patton, David Hernandez, Brad Bergesen, Jason Berken and Tim Bascom to the mix and the Orioles should be able to not only set a formidable rotation in the near future, but stock the bullpen with better arms than they have now in Alfredo Simon, Mark Hendrickson, Jim Johnson and Matt Albers. The biggest needs the young arms will have will be with direction, development and run support. That is simply the staple of needs of any successful pitching unit. The O's offer none of those needs at this juncture. That will have to change immediately (and I'll address those issues later).
The O's also have a few solid position players that form a strong nucleus to build on. Nick Markakis and Adam Jones have high ceilings. Jones, like the young pitchers, lacks the proper attention needed to help develop his game at this level. Markakis is in dire need of line-up protection so he can rediscover his power stroke. Nick may not ever be a 30+ homer guy, but he should be able to hit 20-25 on a yearly basis. Jones too. Matt Wieters, Luke Scott and Brian Roberts are also excellent core type players. Roberts adds speed, disipline and a veteran presence to the line-up that often goes overlooked until its missing. Wieters is simply trying to be a franchise savior which is truly unfair to the kid. He and Scott need other decent power bats around. Both would probably blosoom as hitters if the O's FO would provide some impact bats to the order.
Every O's fan and most baseball fans knew that Dave Trembley wasn't the answer when he finally was fired. For the life of me, I don't know why it took some of you so long to see that Dave just wasn't a good fit. And now, many fans here and certainly on other sites, are starting to fall off the Andy MacPhail bandwagon. I never liked his hiring either. He has no successful track record. The Twins handed him a winning club and he gutted their farm. The Cubs waited twelve years for his phases and plans to work. They didn't and he was finally fired. He is also given too much credit when it comes to the O's farm system. Many prospects (including Markakis and Wieters) were already in the system or drafted before MacPhail's arrival. Actually, the farm took a turn for the better with the arrival of Joe Jordan, the director of amateur scouting, who proceeded MacPhail in coming to Baltimore. The farm's success has more to do with Jordan than MacPhail and that includes setting up facilities in the Dominican Republic and Asia. Even Sarasota was being discussed (Dodgertown in Vero Beach too) before Andy's arrival. Don't be so quick to credit him for all of these things. Remember, he opted to keep Trembley, Kranitz and Crowley too. Three hundred losses later, the worst ERA for two years running, a team that can't hit or drive in runs, and all young prospects regressing is the result of such poor personnel decision making. That, however, you can credit MacPhail with.
That aside, MacPhail, if he makes the correct managerial hiring, can save face. The losing culture that holds Baltimore hostage can be reversed rather quickly with an overhaul of coaches and a new manager with a successful ML track record. The core players are already here and under contract. Developing those players at the ML level and putting them in situations where they can succeed will go along way in turning this franchise around. It can actually be done fairly quickly. The team desperately needs structure, disipline and an identity. New management could put their stamp on all of those things right away.
Once a new management team is in place, its imperative that the team's needs are identified quickly. That includes the progress of minor leaguers who are still projected to be big league players. Britton, Bell and others will need evaluating, as will the entire ML roster which like the minor leagues, is thinning out rather fast. The Orioles hold an option on Atkins (which they won't take) and lose Izturis, Wigginton, Lugo, Hendrickson, Uehara, Ohman, Millwood, Patterson and Tejada at year's end. It appears that Moore, Albers, Tatum, Simon and Montanez are not in the future plans either. That leaves Roberts, Wieters, Jones, Markakis, Pie and Scott as the only position players next season. The starting staff if no free agent is added would include Guthrie, Matusz, Tillman and Arrieta, with Bergesen, Patton, Bascom and Britton vying for the fifth spot. The three losers of that competition could join Hernandez, Gonzalez and Berken in the pen. So, the pitching, going forward, looks solid even though its very young. An experienced bullpen arm or two and a veteran starter would be a recipe for further success next season, however.
So, here's what I would do if I was in MacPhail's shoes:
The first priority is to hire a manager with a successful ML record. No more nice guys! I like Showalter, but Wedge is also intriguing. The rest of the former managers are too old. Rick Dempsey, IMO, is just not managerial material. He's too clumsy in his statements and I watched his entire career and he's just not that impressive as a baseball mind. As a player I loved him.
Next, identify needs. Obvious ones are a veteran starter, a power hitting 3B, a power hitting 1B and a bullpen arm which may or may not be a closer (but who has some experience in that role). Once identified, target certain players and have a back-up plan. Know the free agent market this season and next. Its not necessary to fill all the needs with one free agent year. Spend wisely but open the wallet and bring in impact players. Talented guys in their prime. Make commitments in years and dollars. Signing the right free agent is also an investment in your core players like Wieters, Markakis and Jones. Protecting them in a line-up is critical to their growth and development.
The Orioles spent $16.5m this season on Tejada, Atkins, Lugo and Izturis. Adam Dunn cost the Nationals $20m over two years ($10m avg), Alex L. Gonzalez cost the Blue Jays $2.75m, and Placido Polanco signed with the Phillies for $18.0m over three years ($6.0m avg). With Lugo and Atkins as nothing more than bench players, it certainly appears that the O's did a poor job of free agent signing over Andy's tenure. Dunn, Gonzalez and Polanco cost a combined $18.5m which is roughly $2.0m more than the O's spent on Tejada, Atkins, Lugo and Izturis. Dunn at 1B, Polanco at 3B and Gonzalez at SS would have made the Orioles club much stronger. And Gonzalez and Dunn were signable last winter for sure.
The last part of my plan would be to continue to draft well and continue to add pieces via the farm, trade or free agency. The prospects would be ready not rushed, I'd sign free agents that would have an impact on the team (including role players and BP arms), and I'd trade from the team's strength (something the team doesn't have yet although the pitching is being developed).
1. Hire a successful ML manager (and his coaching staff)
2. Identify needs and target free agents (with a back-up plan)
3. Sign impact free agents and make a commitment to those players
The Orioles may not win the pennant next season, but shaking the "loser" tag and altering the culture that has consumed the club will be positive moves in an attempt to make the team more competitive and more attractive to talented free agents. Everyone insists that a good foundation (the farm) is how to grow a team. I disagree. It starts at the top first. Without the proper baseball minds in place at the top of the organization, player development and drafting amateur players is greatly compromised. Every team up and down the franchise's system must be on the same page. Teaching and developing right up to and including the ML level. Consistency is key. It definitely starts at the top. MacPhail has to make the right call with the next personnel move or he will set the Orioles franchise back another three or four years.