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The Orioles’ Season Spins Away. Now What?

At press time, the Orioles just lost 13-5 to the Rangers. Fred Manfra noted during the proceedings how he he knows it “sometimes gets difficult,” then thanked us for continued listening.

Yeah, Fred. Sometimes it gets difficult.

Any hope of surprise is lost. I can’t yet give up on my prediction of .500 or better but it’s pretty clear that if they get there it’ll only be by a game or two. Even that will take a hell of an effort. I don’t like to write those words yet here we are.

So, then, let’s sigh and take a shot of rye (or whatever you like). Then let us ask: what now? Three things.

1. The trading deadline.

Conventional wisdom suggests that for the next three weeks the O’s will be in “sell” mode. They have pieces, for sure. But assuming that cornerstone guys like Markakis, Jones, Wieters, and the young pitchers are off-limits, what’s realistic?

They have Lee and Guerrero but it’d take a wizard with more power than MacPhail to spin them into a useful return. Hardy and Guthrie have real value at the major league level. Maybe you could make a case for throwing Koji and/or Jim Johnson into that mix. Maybe there’s a minor leaguer or three.

Trades are all about the right fit and I’d be willing to let almost anyone go for a strong deal. That said, trading Hardy would be a mistake.

If I’m MacPhail I’m re-signing Hardy today at an above-market rate and accepting the attendant risk. We need someone to fill the SS hole while we wait for Manny Machado. Hardy has proven himself up to the task. If the question is “spend money and take the chance” versus “trade for potential and try to fill that hole again in the offseason” I’m siding with the former all the way. Now’s the time to step up and lock down something solid for 2012-13. This team needs that, assuming it’s even doable.

2. The rest of the season.

Put yourself in Buck Showalter‘s shoes. Think about what you would do with half a season left at the helm of a team that just spent three weeks cutting down any real shot at meaningful progress. Yeah.

The rest of this season must be given over to development and growth. The only metric that should matter from this point forward is performance. No favorites played.

3. The long-term strategy.

I’ll probably devote several posts to this down the road. For now, though, here’s the thing: it’s highly unlikely that a top-tier free agent like Prince Fielder will arrive in the winter to alleviate our woes. MacPhail and Angelos have proven themselves conservative decision makers. We can debate the wisdom of that approach all we want but we can’t change who they are. This simply isn’t an organization built to improve through long-term, high-dollar commitments to free agent players.

Maybe they should throw eight years and $300 million at Fielder or Pujols because it’s worth it and it’s what we need. That might or might not be true but it doesn’t matter. That’s not how the Orioles work. Not right now.

So, what then? I wish I had a good answer. I don’t. Instead, I offer a very tenuous roadmap, free of pipe dreams and fantasy scenarios:

They spend the rest of this season making targeted, smart trades to build up young talent while simultaneously continuing to evaluate and develop the talent they already have. They figure out who is legit and who isn’t, and make moves accordingly.

Once the offseason hits they take everything they’ve learned and set out to fill holes judiciously. There won’t be a big splash, but there can be more moves like the one that brought Hardy here. Smart and serious.

They learn their lesson — finally — about bringing in guys like Lee and Guerrero.

Then, when spring 2012 arrives, they’re stocked with both useful parts and hard-earned wisdom. They’re in year two of Showalter’s three-year contract with legitimate reasons to think that by the time that contract runs out, they’re contenders. Maybe not for the AL East crown but for a Wild Card at least.

Read that carefully and you’ll see that I’m suggesting yet another two years of waiting. Which I suppose I am. Damn it all anyway.

There’s more to come on why we still shouldn’t give up, why there are still small things to love if you choose to seek them. Truth is, though, that if you choose 2011 as the season you finally give up then I have to admit that I can’t truly and fully condemn the decision.

I wouldn’t agree with it and I’m not going there myself, but these are tough times. Only a fool would claim otherwise.

19 comments to The Orioles’ Season Spins Away. Now What?

  • Vlad to Meet You

    I have trouble siding with you on keeping Hardy. If we can both agree the Oriole’s won’t get a Pujols or a Fielder, we need to be a grow ‘em from the farm team. Did you see how many picks the Ray’s had between our first and second pick! We won’t be a contender next year. Trade Hardy for prospects and draft picks, stink again next year while waiting for Manny. It’s tough for me to say that but I only do because I know we stink this year with Hardy. Last is last, whether you are 10 games under or 15 games under.

  • Andrew

    The X factor is of course the answer to: “How high is the MacPhail era payroll going to go?” (And I’ll assume that Andy signs a new contract basically immediately and without any tension come October)

    I don’t ask that in a snarky, this-is-all-Angelos’-fault kind of way (in fact, I think blaming the owner is both tired and inaccurate at this point), but as a serious question whose answer greatly shapes the way we perceive the current situation.

    To wit: The O’s are dropping a lot of pricey contracts after this season, totaling about 32 million bucks but then they’re giving most of that back in arbitration and contract raises (of the four players under contract through next season, only Brian Roberts isn’t getting a raise). And all of that is before any new players are signed, including re-signing a guy like Hardy.

    2011 also marks the second highest Orioles payroll ever. So it’s an entirely fair question to ask if the Orioles can afford Hardy at his price in addition to the soon-to-be-very expensive core guys like Jones, Arrieta, Reimold, Matusz (hoping he comes back) in addition to signing actual good players, because to compete with these guys requires free agent help, not draft help, not international free agency help, but MLB free agent help in all facets of the game. And the Orioles have a lot of holes to fill to get competitive. Can they afford to do that?

    If the answer is no (and I’m afraid it is) then there is only one real course of action, and it isn’t to resign Hardy at above-market price.

  • dan the man

    Jones is going to be real expensive, and he’s a guy you really cannot afford to let go. And as competitive as he is, he’s not going to tolerate this losing for too much longer.

    Andrew is pretty spot on, though. Can we sign Hardy and then afford to keep the core in tact, plus try and sign somebody like Fielder?

    But if you don’t sign Hardy (or Reynolds, for that matter), you have to add SS to an already incredibly long shopping list that features pretty much the entire infield save Wieters.

    What an incredible disappointment this season has been so far, and it’s really not about Lee or Vlad or Reynolds… it’s about Brian Matusz and the starting pitching depth.

  • Andrew

    @ dan the man:
    Not just someone like Fielder. The Orioles are at least two or three big-time superstars (and I don’t mean that reputation-wise, but rather production-wise. Other places on the ‘net would call these guys “5 win players”) away from being competitive. Now, a guy like Zach Britton (or really any of the young, talented players on the roster) could become one of them. Adam Jones could, too (and while Jones is a pretty good player, let’s not be too hasty to call him irreplaceable). Reynolds as a first baseman (maaaaaaaybe) or a DH could be, too.

    The sad truth is that the Orioles were relying on two things to be true today that just aren’t:
    1) The Orioles’ positional core would have at least two or three big-time star players between Wieters, Jones, Markakis, and Roberts (and perhaps you could include Bell, Pie, Scott, and Reimold in there, too).

    2) The Orioles’ pitching core would have at least two or three big-time star players between Matusz, Arrieta, Tillman, Britton, and Guthrie.

    The whole big plan revolved around both of those points, and right now it hasn’t worked out on either front. The closest thing the Orioles have to just one of those guys is Wieters, Hardy, and Jones if you believe his defense is better than its listed as (and the sustainablity of those guys is a big topic on the “what now” list, too).

    Anyway, the point is I guess that the team right now is a pretty large investment, and it is pretty terrible. And to make it good with the current core is going to require it to be very expensive, and we haven’t seen the Orioles cross the 100 million dollar threshold yet. And to me that is The Critical Question: Are the Orioles willing/able to put out a $150MM team?

  • neal s

    @ Andrew: They’re definitely able to field a $150m team. Whether they’re willing is doubtful, but even if they are it raises the question of whether or not they’d be willing to overspend significantly to bring in the best free agents they can find. Merely competitive offers won’t get it done.

  • sci

    Fascinating quote from MacPhail, from Roch’s blog:

    MacPhail still can’t lure the top free-agent pitchers to Baltimore.

    “They’re not coming here,” he said. “Trades are the only way. You’ve got to get them on an involuntary basis. All things being close to equal, they wouldn’t come.”

    Wow. That’s an amazing thing for a GM to say, honestly. It’s true, but it’s very depressing, and I actually think it applies to all top free agents. Unless we drastically overpay, why would any top FA want to play here? This year kind of cements that.

    My gut feeling is that AM leaves at the end of the season. Would that mean a blow-up of the whole front office? I wouldn’t really be opposed.

  • dan the man

    @ sci: I believe he was speaking specifically about free agent pitchers, though, no?

    But still, yeah, things look hopeless. All the GMs and managers that roll through Baltimore, though, have to ask themselves: “What am I not doing that Tampa did?” Other than obviously your predecessors not drafting well. Clearly, it CAN be done – the Orioles just can’t seem to do it no matter who is the GM.

  • dan the man

    @ sci: Nevermind, you mentioned the pitchers. But yeah, I mean.. way to inspire confidence, Andy.

  • Andrew

    @ dan the man:
    The question for me is:

    MacPhail specifically says the Orioles can’t sign good free agent pitchers. Why is that? If he had said “The Orioles can’t sign good free agents” then that’s sort of obvious to see where he’s coming from. But with the implication that the O’s can sign position players, why not pitchers?

    Or is it that MacPhail doesn’t WANT to sign any pitchers starting pitchers because those guys have a tendency to not do that great (I for one am certainly happy the Orioles don’t have the sunk corpse of John Lackey on the payroll)? That’s defensible.

    But then, ALL pitchers have that problem, not just the ones you can acquire “voluntarily” and I didn’t see MacPhail reluctantly picking up Kevin Millwood’s 10 million dollar tab. Not to mention the bullpen gaffes that as much as anything define the MacPhail era.

    I don’t understand.

  • dan the man

    Yeah, I just don’t understand what the plan is at this point. Buck honestly isn’t helping at this point in time because you know he just wants to play his veterans at a time when the O’s need to jettison Vlad, Lee, Gregg, Gonzo, and Scott.

  • Mike R

    Yeah, I don’t know what to make of all this. It feels like there are more holes this year then there were last.

    I think you have to move Hardy. As much as I love the guy killing it in the leadoff spot, With or without him the O’s aren’t going to win next year either. Not to mention the fact that Hardy’s track record says he’s bound to hit the DL, if not later this year then he will again next year. I think you sell high, right now, before his value goes bye-bye. One thing MacPhail is good at is selling teams on trades. Package him with a minor league arm and get a stud young pitcher for him. A real deal. Pitching is going to win more games. Thats why people don’t understand why we aren’t like the Rays. We can’t pitch. Of course its a moot point if they bring in a stud pitcher and don’t let him pitch past the 6th inning ever.

  • The clip above is exactly how I feel after watching the O’s for their 13th consecutive losing season, along with the Yankees inexorable run of relevancy.

    Hockey is now my favorite sport.

    RIP BASEBALL

    I’m out.

  • Sci

    This franchise is a sad joke.

  • Dan H

    It’s sad when you can cut and paste these kinds of posts from past years and they still apply. Perpetually. Change dates and names and you’re good to go.

  • dan the man

    @ Dan H:
    Pretty much. The losses have turned embarrassing now, which at least puts pressure on Andy and Buck to do something. There’s no more excuses about track records and “things didn’t go our way”. It’s straight up, unadulterated, point-and-laugh suckage at this point.

  • sci

    The really scary thing is that if we trade Guthrie, which we very well might, we will be left with two major league quality starters in the entire organization (given that Matusz’s future is, at this point, totally up in the air). If that isn’t an indictment of the MacPhail era, I don’t know what is. (This obviously doesn’t count pitchers in the minors who may eventually be good. I’m just talking about those who could pitch in the majors right now, or who are even close.)

    And one of these two pitchers, Arrieta, is currently struggling mightily, and the other, Britton, will have to be shut down at the end of August or early September. This season will get much, much worse, it’s almost a guarantee.

  • dan the man

    It’s only an indictment on MacPhail because of the lack of depth. While it might be true that there is something happening in the Orioles organization that is making our prospects fail (and that would be on MacPhail), it’s just as likely that it’s dumb luck and typical prospect-y type shit.

    But when you don’t acquire depth, you’re screwed. Funny thing is, it looked like we had 7 or 8 potential starting pitchers and people were all up in arms about “make sure the prospects pitch at the major league level, don’t get any veterans!” But I guess it’s just as well, because the only veteran pitchers the Orioles can acquire are the shitty ones, so says Andy himself.

  • Mike R

    Well, if you can’t beat em…beat em up.

  • dan the man

    Newfound respect for Kevin Gregg. Gotta love it.

    Fuckin’ hate the Red Sox…