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Orioles: Abandon “The Plan”?

Another evening passes with another utterly disheartening loss for the Orioles. For the second night in a row they didn’t really put up a fight in Toronto.

At times like this many fans resort to questioning the team’s desire (or “heart”) and effort. I don’t. These guys aren’t content. But I do question the results, and to some extent the approach. Both of which have been broken all season and are in dire, desperate need of repair.

Ever since Andy MacPhail took over we’ve bought into what has come to be known as The Plan. The key components of which are as follows:

Build up the farm system through drafting and shrewd trades.
“Grow the arms, buy the bats.”
Improve overall organizational strength through things like scouting and facilities.

We’re now just into the fourth year of MacPhail’s tenure. And, as of today, things on the field look worse than they did when he arrived. The managerial situation is in flux. Not a single young player is currently performing up to expectations. All of last year’s key offseason acquisitions have either underperformed or busted entirely.

I’ve written before that the upcoming offseason is crucial. Long-term, overall health of the franchise, “we might be at a tipping point” crucial. Usually when I’ve said that the thought in my mind has been “Andy really needs to get Phase Two going in a big way.” More and more, though, I’m wondering if “Phase Two” even matters. More specifically: is The Plan broken?

Note that I didn’t use the word “flawed.” The Plan is not flawed. It’s highly sensible and, by design, ought to work. But at the moment it’s not working.

Certainly MacPhail shoulders the blame for two problems: last year’s bad offseason and the managerial situation. What’s less clear is how culpable he is for the underperformance of prospects.

I don’t think he has overvalued them per se. Pretty much every baseball writer I’ve read has rated these guys highly — this isn’t a Matt Riley or Sean Douglass scenario. But if the problem is development then, yeah, Andy gets some blame. So what now?

My gut tells me that we have to see this through. We have to give him one more offseason to make the right moves and we have to give the young players an allowance for the fact that it takes time to adjust to the major leagues. We shouldn’t be impatient, as hard as that may be.

Then again, maybe MacPhail was the right guy to start this process but not the right guy to finish it. Maybe we need someone more forward-thinking, more innovative, to take the partially-rebuilt groundwork and turn it into something great.

I really don’t know. Disruptive change hardly seems palatable but I shudder at the thought of another “stay the course” offseason and a best-case scenario of 78 wins in 2011.

Someone needs to find a hat, and that hat needs to hold a rabbit.

28 comments to Orioles: Abandon “The Plan”?

  • dan the man

    The more they get shelled like this, the more I’m interested to see what happens as a result. I guess that’s where I’m at.

    The Plan should work. It worked for the Rays, the Marlins, the A’s. Hell, the Red Sox, the Jays. Teams everywhere are using this model. It just ain’t happening for us at the moment.

    It’s been a confluence of events: injuries to veterans, sophomore slumps, personal issues (Reimold), rookies taking their lumps (Arrieta), ineffective offseason additions, you name it. Hell, now we can’t even sign the draft picks that are the whole Plan in the first place.

    It’s also things like, why hasn’t Crowley been on Wieters’ case since Day 1 to kill that ridiculous leg kick? What has Kranitz really brought to the table? Why is everyone so damn good at AAA and so terrible in the big leagues? We don’t really know.

    It could be as simple as dumb luck or as complex as an organizational failure in scouting and development. I’ll tell you one thing for sure: none of us sure as hell know.

    Andy gets one more year, I agree. More and more I feel like this organization needs a real forward thinker, someone who can out-think and out-hustle the big boys in the AL East, who can multi-task and get his hands dirty and shake up the whole damn thing. Which sucks because Angelos probably won’t hire that guy. Welcome to the hardest baseball job on plant Earth. This is Birdland.

  • neal s

    @ dan the man: I’ve got a post brewing in my head about Angelos and the idea of hiring a forward-thinker/innovator. I think you hit on something pretty important there.

    On Reimold I’ll say this: I have some info on what the “personal problem” is and it explains a lot. It’s not my place (nor, frankly, anyone else’s) to share the details but suffice to say that his struggles make sense. I just hope he can get it straightened out and work his way back to where he belongs.

  • dan the man

    @ neal s:
    I mean if you take even a little of what you can find online about it, his struggles are understandable. I think it was a savvy move to get Brady Anderson to talk to him a little “about his swing”. I’m confident Nolan will get it together. Talk about some shitty luck for the O’s, though.

  • Greg

    MacPhail has done a lousy job in free agency, pinching pennies to get more value for less. I really think that’s the wrong way to go about things. They should have sucked it up last year and put Adam Dunn in left field. They desperately need that cleanup spot to be filled.

    Eventually I think the pitchers will settle down and be legit pitchers (Phil Hughes had a rough couple years before figuring out the majors). Bergesen’s stuff doesn’t play well with the Majors; only Carlos Silva has had any success doing what Bergy does.

  • Dan H

    @ Orioles: pain.don’t.hurt

  • neal s

    @ Greg: I’m not sure he’s been pinching pennies. I think it’s more that he has a very conservative approach to estimating return on investment. Which, yes, is a problem in itself. But I really don’t believe money is the issue. The issue is how it gets spent, and there’s plenty of room for criticism there. He needs to start spending smartly.

    On the pitchers, I think Arrieta and Matusz will be just fine. Let ‘em work it out. Bergesen is probably a guy with some back-rotation value but not a cornerstone. The biggest question mark is Tillman. Right now, and I hate to say this, he screams 4-A player. Given that, I’d let him go in a deal for a bat with pretty much no hesitation. I doubt, though, that there’s a competing GM out there who doesn’t see what we all see.

  • neal s

    @ Dan H: You are, again, correct. If we lose sight of the fact that Pain Don’t Hurt then we’ve lost everything.

  • Mike R

    Pain dont hurt. Going to D.C. to watch Strasburg pitch and getting Miguel Batista instead, that hurt.

    Abandon the plan? What plan? Andy has a plan? I thought the plan was to sign as many former Cubs as possible?

    Build the farm system through drafting and shrewd trades? That hasn’t happend. The farm system sucks. After Britton comes up, thats it. There is no one else coming up. So if the young arms don’t pan out, we’re fucked. Erbe is 0-10 with a 5.73 ERA. Patton isn’t a sure thing with that labrum thing. Bascom has a 7+ ERA. Chorye Spoone has a 1.60 WHIP in Bowie. These guys are not even close to being ready. Hobgood is years away from even talking about. Strike One

    Grow the arms buy the bats? Just mentioned the arms, or lack there of. But how many bats have we bought? Since Andy took over, not counting trades, cause buying means $$$. Alex Cintron, Gregg Zaun, Ceaser Izturis, Ty Wigginton, Garrett Atkins, Julio Lugo, Miguel Tejada. Strike Two.

    Scouting and facilities improvement. I don’t know, is the Dodgers old home in Sarasota better than Ft. Lauderdale? Injuries seem to have increased, to key players none the less. Scouting must be terrible, I’ll use Chris Tillman as an example. Here’s a guy we were told had a lightning arm. Mid to upper 90’s fastball. Big hook curve that misses bats. We trust the scouts cause we can’t go to minor league games with a radar gun, or watch the highlights every night. So we trust the scouts. All of a sudden Tillman gets to Baltimore, he hovers around 88-91 on the fastball, he’s all over the belt high middle of the plate with that curve, and he is a “fly ball pitcher”. Thats a nice way of saying he throws batting practice to the opponents for 1 to 5 innings. If the scouts were good they would have said back in 2008 “Andy, Tillman’s not that good, but maybe we can include Brandon Morrow in that Bedard deal instead.” Morrows name was mentiond in that deal. Today he’s 6-6 in the toughest division in baseball, although he has a 4.71 ERA, he’s effectivly wild with 119 K’s in 107 IP. I hate the quality start stat, but he’s got 8 of em in his last 10 starts. Strike 3.

    Sure those 3 components when used should make for a competitive team, shame we’ll never know.

  • sci

    Here’s the thing: The Orioles are likely going to have the worst year in the history of the franchise — worse than 1988, and anyone who lived through that year knows how incredibly bad that was. We are in the fourth year of MacPhail’s tenure, so he’s had that much time to get to us here. Again: the worst year in the history of the Orioles franchise, at least up to this point. They are 20 games out of FOURTH place in their division. Of course there are myriad reasons for this, but the brute fact is that historically bad years tend to get EVERYONE fired, and they should. That’s just the way it works. Does anyone still really believe MacPhail is the right person to turn this thing around?

  • sci

    I mean, in terms of the record, we’ve had the exact opposite of improvement — we’ve had massive regression. Really, how else, in the end, do you measure the success of a team’s leadership? I’m just tired of having to look at all the tiny details to find some sense of hope. We need some results on the field, for god’s sake. We’re not even competitive this year, from game to game. With the resources and market this team has, it’s beyond ridiculous. I’ve basically had it…

  • Andrew

    I, too, have heard about Reimold’s problems…and it really makes me wonder. The guy is in his prime years, and if he’s been this derailed by a bad situation, you have to wonder if he was ever going to be able to handle the long-term big league situation. It makes him look a lot more like Dimitri Young and a lot less like Brady Anderson.

    As for the Plan, it’s not like these guys weren’t going to struggle, and it’s not like we didn’t know instantly that MacPhail’s offseason was balls. There weren’t any pickups that I actually liked on the day they were made. The best was indifference, and every single one of those pickups hit on the doomsday scenario.

    But two things about the organization in mind are handicapping the team: one is the half-assed approach to amateur development both internationally and domestically. The Orioles have done better, but they still trail most of the AL East in the Rule IV draft, and they trail basically everyone in baseball on the international front. It’s like they only want to throw a token “Hey, we built a Dominican facility!” when they need to be seriously investing a lot of dough into players. MacPhail let Miguel Sano walk away over less than a quarter of a million dollars, and spent 5 million on Garret Fucking Atkins. Sano is a top 50 prospect now…for Minnesota. That’s egregious, it really is. It’s half-assed and we are by far the lesser for it.

    The other thing is an obvious lack of understanding of key ideas at the big league level. Why are the Orioles among the worst baserunning teams every single year? Could it have anything to do with an infatuation with the hit-and-run, or that just because a guy is athletic-looking he ought to steal more bases, among many many other things? Why do the Orioles NEVER walk, NEVER work the pitcher? Matt Wieters’ walk-rate dropped by half over his minor league days. Adam Jones’ walk rate is dropping to ungodly levels. Why don’t the Orioles prioritize that shit?

    It’s all half-assed, trying to win as if this is still 1987. We don’t need Venezuelans. We don’t need high OBP guys. We need to be aggressive at the plate and on the basepaths. We need some veterans who can mentor our young players. It’s egregious.

  • dan the man

    @ Mike R:
    @ Andrew:
    No good counter arguments for either of these posts. Half-assed is pretty much spot on. If Andy wants to compete in this division, he can’t do it “waiting for the market to percolate”. Not that there’s a market that the Orioles can really take advantage of, but the point is that he’s doing everything at a slow and measured pace, tiny increments at a time. There’s so much to be done to fix this thing and making token positive steps isn’t going to cut it. Doing it with an inner circle staff of like 5 dudes isn’t enough. This organization needs a movement with a concerted effort from the top down. This is the most competitive, cut-throat, and intelligent league in baseball and you just have to step up your game. 110% all out in every aspect or you’re toast.

  • Andrew

    @ Mike R:
    Normally, I wouldn’t do this, but over at Camden Chat I was writing about the term “effectively wild” and brought up Morrow in particular. The bottom line is that I think his success will be either short-lived, or due to him changing his approach entirely and significantly improving his command. Guys with that many walks, regardless of their other numbers, who stick around and find success are few and far between.

    So let’s not just give up on Tillman yet. His curve is nasty – we’ve seen it be dominating at the major league level (9/11/09 anybody?), and his continued development of the cutter and two-seamer and his age (he’s only 22) make him a better long-term bet than Brandon Morrow, in my opinion.

    But I get what you’re saying. Tillman – like so many others – just seems completely ill-prepared for the big leagues. Is that the coaching staffs? The organizational rush job most of them get? Bad scouting of our own guys? All of the above? I dunno…but with the Orioles giving more or less the same treatment to Zach Britton, you can tell that they think it’s on the player and not the organization. Which is pretty damning, too.

  • Mike R

    Andrew wrote:

    The other thing is an obvious lack of understanding of key ideas at the big league level.

    Agreed. I think you could place part of that blame on Miguel Tejada. He’s a hacker at the plate, which has worked for him in he past. He goes to rightfield in the right situations all the time, he gets a pass for not walking much. But I think the younger guys, Jones, Wieters etc… see this, look up to this veteran and say “I can do that. I don’t need to be paitient.”

    The other part is piss poor management, which MacFail(intentional mispellling) has had no sense of urgency to do anything about. I was calling for Trembleys head since about game 14. We all know how long that took. I don’t know why there is so much secracy when it comes to Showalter. I still think it benefits the team next year to get this done this year. Getting him in here would probably encourage our top draft picks to sign. Say magically the team shows improvement under him, maybe it helps lure big name free agents here. Buying the bats. You can’t buy guys who don’t want to come here at all. If Samuel is at the helm at the end of the year, and we lose 115 games, no one will want to come here.

  • Andrew

    @ Mike R:
    I don’t think that bringing in any new manager is the panacea (or even any panacea) you make it out to be. The draft picks won’t be motivated by our record in the first two weeks of August. Free agents won’t look at our record in September. I do absolutely believe that this needs to get done before the end of the season (which was my primary reason for wanting Trembley fired mid-season), but it’s not even August 1 yet. There’s so much time on the clock yet, I have a hard time believing Samuel is still in charge on October 1.

  • Mike R

    @ Andrew:
    All of the above. I’m not ready to give up on the big 3, soon to be 4 yet. Looking at the Braves big 3 that these guys are always compared to, they struggled in their first full seasons too, then all 3 turned in sub 3.00 ERA’s, and winning records in their 2nd seasons. I think Maddux even won 18 games.

    I just don’t know why we see the same thing game in and game out from these guys. Hanging up in the zone, middle of the plate. Shouldn’t Kranitz be able to fix their mechanics to nullify this? They pitch so well in AAA, promote Norfolks pitching coach here. I know the hitting isn’t as talented there, but he at least has success with them at his level. He must be doing something right if Tillman has a no-hitter and a 1-hitter under him.

  • Well, congratulations guys. After reading this thread, I’m as thoroughly depressed as I’ve ever been in my Oriole fandom. The worst part is that I can’t think of a logical counter-argument. We are basically the Royals with the slightest veneer of professionalism.

  • Ballmer Bruce

    O’s wil not compete with Stinkees or Red Sux until they:

    A: Upgrade scouting department. Not just in number of scouts but pay top dollar to get the best ones.

    B: Spend some real money on top tier young free agents from Latin America.

  • Andrew

    @ Ballmer Bruce:
    Those are both some pretty solid things to say, but look: neither of them are reasons why the Orioles suck in 2010. Those are long-term things that are going to bite us in the ass and keep us from picking ourselves up off the floor in five years. Missed opportunties. But they didn’t hurt us in 2010.

    We’re bad because Andy MacPhail isn’t any good at free agency, and because the young guys have ALL regressed. That’s bad luck, but is it mostly bad luck, or is it the fault of a system that has its priorities wrong (which is what I mean by saying the prospects were rushed and the organization not valuing things like walks, strikeouts, ground balls, stolen base percentage, and so on appropriately). It’s a system that if it doesn’t imply failure, it certainly tilts the playing field, making it harder for the young guys to succeed.

  • Larry

    Neal, I think disruptive change is exactly what the Orioles need. And bold action — something that hasn’t been associated with the Orioles in many years.

    Look, it’s impossible to view this epic collapse as a product of bad luck. Not when EVERY young prospect has regressed in a significant way. Not when the minor league system is so devoid of position players. Not when every free agent signed in the off-season under-performs or is a complete bust. Not when other teams are light years ahead of the Orioles in scouting players from other countries. Not when the team has failed to post a winning record in 14 years.

    No one knows exactly what’s wrong, although Tony Pente’s recent post (Orioles Hangout) about deep organizational dysfunction rings true to me in many respects. What else other than disruptive change and bold action is going to change the fortune of this team?

  • Greg

    If anything, draft picks should be excited to play in the Baltimore system because it’s probably the easiest route to the majors. Try having been a shortstop in the Yankee system over the past twenty years and thinking you had any chance of going to the Show with Derek Jeter running out there every day. I think Josh Bell said something similar about his acquisition; he was excited to be in Baltimore because he wasn’t blocked at the big league level.

    The biggest problem with the Oriole development of pitchers is the inability to prepare guys for the bigs. Tillman himself said it; he was just using his fastball to strike people out because you can do that to AAA batters. In major leagues, players have better discipline and just don’t buy into the tricks that work at AAA. Until our rookie pitchers figure out that what works in the minors doesn’t play well up top, they are going to struggle. This is what appears to be missing from our minor league instruction. I just hope that they can learn the batters and learn to adjust their approach up here; the sooner the better.

    There’s no way that all of these highly regarded prospects are this clueless on how to pitch; they weren’t overvalued prospects either. This has to be developmental at some point on their path to the majors. It doesn’t seem like it would be Kranitz or Mazzone; they both had success with other clubs but struggled to get rookie pitchers to adapt here.

  • sci

    Brad Mills shuts down the Orioles. And on and on our hellish season goes. On and on and on…

  • Mike R

    Derek Lee exercises his no trade clause cause he wants to stay a Cub past this year. Well theres some hope. I hope the Cubs still want him, or else I know one guy who would cream his jeans if he hits the FA market.

  • dan the man

    0-11 against the Jays! That #1 pick is looking pretty damn likely.

    Although I have to admit that doesn’t excite me much because I have The Fear about the O’s not being able to sign top picks at the moment. Bryce Harper and Machado were jiving on Facebook about staying in college and teaming up to win a championship and while that’s likely lame high school Facebook leverage-y shenannigans, it’s still worrying. (The transcript of that FB convo is so douchey that it makes you feel bad you were ever a 19 year old tool).

    Anyway, Machado will likely wise up and take a boatload of money, but if they for some reason he doesn’t, it wouldn’t surprise me considering that everything else has gone wrong this season outside of Alfredo Simon and Jeremy Guthrie.

  • Andrew

    @ dan the man:
    Let’s see…

    the Pirates have played like a 32-68 team (.320), and the Orioles have played like a 32-69 team (.317). The Pirates are presently 6 games ahead of the Orioles in the loss column (as is Arizona, who has played like a .386 team), and Seattle (.373) is 7 games up. So, I’m not going to get the exact probability (though I could), but yeah, it’s pretty likely the Orioles are going to get that draft pick. It’s something like 80% or more at this point.

    There’s no reason to worry about the Orioles signing any of their top ten picks right now. At all. It’s all leveraging. Harper can’t up his stock any more, so he’d be a complete fool to not sign. Machado would also have a very difficult time getting a better position than 3rd overall. They’ll sign. No worries.

  • sci

    @ dan the man:
    If they don’t sign Machado, fans may actually form a posse to get MacPhail’s head on a stick and put it up by the big #8 outside OPACY.

    And to be that much worse than the fourth place team is truly an accomplishment. We’re seeing epic futility here. We should perhaps savor it just a little.

  • Greg

    I try to tell myself that someday, the Orioles won’t always be bad. I may be fifty years old by then, but I will see a good Orioles team again in my lifetime.

  • dan the man

    @ sci:
    Hey, we might be witnessing history here so maybe you’re right. Years from now, people will say, “Remember that historically bad 2010 team? At least our Orioles aren’t that bad.”