It isn't about a divide between fans of traditional stats and sabermetric stats either; by the light of traditional stats, Mark Reynolds sucks, which is something that pretty much everyone here disagrees with. These are false choices. All of us are, in our own way, hopeful for the future of the Orioles. We couldn't bear to be fans if we weren't.
Since the metaphor was chosen, I'll sketch a simplistic rendering of the political landscape on the left since Obama ran for President. Barack Obama was a candidate who used soaring rhetoric to argue for fairly conservative left-center policies, but who was able to capture the imagination of a population starved for inspiration after eight years of George W. Bush and decades of a bankrupt establishment running both political parties. But what many upon many Obama supporters never understood is that their hopes far outstripped the rather modest ambitions of Obama, even before he scaled them back due to the scope of the financial crisis he inherited. The hopes of those people, so out of tune with what they could reasonably have expected, were badly dashed by the reality, and they abandoned a fairly decent President and brought on massive Republican gains in the midterm elections.
After years of painful futility by the Orioles, Andy MacPhail arrived with a plan to restore hope to our franchise. We would rebuild our team, trade away our best players for prospects, focus on the draft and player development and pitching, and buy the offensive players needed to complement our young core. We bought into that plan, invested our hope in that plan, in the idea that here was a road out of the suffering our franchise had caused us.
This offseason, for better or worse, represents the abandonment of that plan, which such a short time ago was the source of all our hopes. Our starting lineup will feature merely two ostensibly young players who were supposed to make up this core: Adam Jones and Matt Wieters, and Jones will be making millions as a first year arbitration player. They will, according to every projected lineup I've seen posted here, be hitting in the bottom third of our lineup. The rest of our potential young core will be relegated to the bench or to Norfolk.
We will feature few of our homegrown arms as well. We will feature at best three young arms in our projected opening day rotation - Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen, and one of Chris Tillman or Jake Arrieta. Of these, only Matusz has shown real potential to be a front of the rotation starter at the major league level. Our bullpen will reflect even less of a "grow the arms" plan; only Jason Berken will represent youth and homegrown talent in our pen, and he will not be expected to claim a late inning role. You could reasonably claim that our young core in the majors is three players: Wieters, Jones, and Matusz. And all three members of this core are coming off what can only be described as disappointing performances in 2010.
Meanwhile, it wasn't that long ago that we were largely considering whether or not to trade Luke Scott so we could have room in the lineup for both Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold to play everyday. It wasn't long ago that the club explained its promotion of an obviously unready Josh Bell by saying that they expected him to play in 2011 at the major league level, and saw no harm to his development to allow him to play above his head in a lost season to get a feel for his new home in the majors. These players no longer represent the Orioles' present nor do they seem to be considered a part of the Orioles' future.
So the question that I am asking (since I won't presume to speak for anyone else) is what exactly is going on here?All of us, after all, agree that the 2011 Orioles ought to be better than their 2010 counterparts. It would be difficult for this not to be the case even if we hadn't made several moves that on paper at least ought to be upgrades. But what exactly is the purpose of this improvement? What is the plan behind it, the internal logic, the strategy that the Orioles are employing? No one from the team has said. No one who reports on the team has really asked the question. Have we abandoned MacPhail's previously stated plan for our long-term success? Have we sensed some weakness on the part of the Yankees or Rays that we think gives us a dark horse opportunity this season? Does the team believe the mantra often repeated in comments here that winning begets winning?
I don't know. I don't know anyone who does know. As Matt Klaassen of Fangraphs stated when trying to explain why the Orioles signed Guerrero in the first place, it is a mystery. The Orioles have added $20 million in payroll, gotten much older and created a team of the now instead of a team of the future. And there doesn't seem to be any good explanation as to why.
And that is the source of my disquiet. Taken in isolation, I can argue for any of our moves of this offseason. But cumulatively, I can't make sense of them. I can't argue for the goal that the front office is trying to achieve, in part because I can't comprehend what that goal is. I don't know what exactly is the criteria that will make our 2011 season a success. And for me to have hope, I have to have an idea of what I am hoping for.
Otherwise, like with Obama and the left, my fear is that our various hopes for the 2011 Orioles and the hopes of the people who assembled and will run the 2011 Orioles are out of sync, and that we will all inevitably be disappointed by a team whose aspirations do not match our own. The Orioles have driven away the casual fans. And if they drive away their base, what will really be left of baseball in Baltimore?