Andy Macphail’s tenure as O’s GM was up and down to say the least. Macphail came in on high expectations with a reputation of turning teams around without having to sign big name FA’s. Did he leave this team in better hands? The jury is still out, but looking at the early results, his LAST move was the best.
Macphail’s project for rebuilding the O’s came down to his often said statement, "Grow the arms, buy the bats". In the loaded AL East (best division in baseball before the season started with the Yanks, Sox, and Rays), there was little to no chance of getting any pitchers to come pitch for a bad team in a hitters park. So we tried to grow the arms…and tried…and tried. Didn’t happen. Bergeson came and went. The future big three of Arietta, Matusz, and Tillman? No dice. Hayden Penn, Garret Olson, David Hernandez…if you even remember the first two guys, I’m impressed. Buying the bats went no better as veterans Guerrero, Lee, and Atkins were never more than stopgaps.
Macphail is best remembered for the two trades of Miguel Tejada and Erek Bedard, which netted us ten players total and left the O’s devoid of stars but with much hope for the future. Adam Jones is already a star but besides for that, those trades really haven’t gotten the team any closer. We are just starting to see Troy Patton pitch this year and so far so good. But still, only two players out of ten (especially if you include George Sherrill being flipped forJosh Bell)… Look, GM’s will never be 100% and any GM who signs a superstar shouldn’t get any credit for it (Can you imagine? "Oh wow, you signed Albert Pujols! You’re the greatest GM ever!" Seriously? Who wasn’t gonna sign Pujols?), but for all the expectations from those trades…
And finally, we see results, Andy stole JJ Hardy from the Twins and convinced the D’Backs to let someone else take a chance on Mark Reynolds. Jake Almighty (my nickname for Arietta) has become a solid pitcher, though he’s probably not more than a 3rd starter on a good team. An all for nothing trade for both teams involved netted the O’s,Robert Andino (he of the late 2011 heroics and .330 batting average in 2012). And most importantly, for the first time in years, NO VETERAN STOPGAPS IN THE STARTING LINEUP! (Debatable if Wilson Betemit fits this category but he is not a starter at this point.) The trade of Koji Uehara last season broke some fans hearts (especially after we saw how much it hurt Koji to leave Baltimore. Who knew? By the way, another reason I’m glad we traded Bedard even if nothing had come out of it, he hated it here and I for one was happy he left after the things he said about the city.), but getting Tommy Hunter and Chris Davis? Worth it! I loved Hunter while he was in Texas and (it hurts me to say this) I think he’s even better than Arietta. Chris Davis is a left-handed Mark Reynolds, meaning that anytime he’s hitting and not striking out we should feel blessed, but for now he is hitting and all is well. And then Macphail tradedMike Gonzalez…
…And we finally get to the point of this whole piece. Obviously to win the World Series, you need a complete team. But to me, the final piece to any championship team is the bullpen. You can win by playing small ball or with 3-run homers. Having 3 aces doesn’t guarantee you a title. But when you have the best bullpen in the league, if the lead is yours after 6 innings, you’re in good shape. The O’s have a great closer in Jim Johnson, they finally have some solid pieces in Luis Ayala and Darren O’Day, but to me the key is that guy who bridges the gap, I mean Pedro Strop.
Mike Gonzalez was nothing but a disappointment for the O’s. He came over from Atlanta and was supposed to nail down games for us...i guess it’s easiest to say that he didn’t. Somehow, the best team in the AL, the Texas Rangers, figured he could get outs for them in the playoffs (Hey, don’t look at me. I’m telling you, Macphail must be a genius!), and grabbed him at the waiver deadline in August of last year. The price? A Player To Be Named Later, also known as Pedro Strop.
Ok, I’ll say it, I LOVE Strop. A 97mph fastball, a 97mph slider, and a 90mph something else to wrap it all up. Put it together with a swagger that rivals Kobe Bryant’s (totally out of place in an O’s uni, I love it!) and we have a priceless piece to a title puzzle. He’s 3-1 with a 1.80ERA while facing some of the best teams in the AL through the first month plus of the season! The fact that we have a setup man means a lot for this clubs chances. Lots of teams have closers, even bad ones. It’s the teams that can get to the closers that are successful.
Think of it this way, it’s August, its 100 degrees and humid in Bmore, the O’s scratch out 3 runs, Jason Hammelhas gotten through six with the O’s up two runs. 7th-O’Day/Ayala, 8th-Strop, 9th-Johnson. Game. That’s how it works. That’s what a good bullpen does for you, that 2/3 through the game, you are in control and the other team needs a miracle to pull it out.
Look I’m not saying that the O’s are gonna win anything this year just because of Strop. They are getting awesome seasons so far from Jones, Wieters, Andino, Riemold, Hardy, Hammel, Johnson, the list goes on. Everyone is gonna have to play well for this team to be successful. But I have officially gone all in on 2012, I believe that with the right amount of luck and one or two more moves made to improve, we can make some noise in the AL East and (oh gosh) maybe even (no, don’t say it, DON’T JINX IT!!) make the playoffs (NOOO, HE DIDN’T!!)!
All I’m saying is that you need your bullpen to protect leads in games more than you need 6 runs a game or starters that will go 7 innings each time out (though these are awesome options, cane we make it happen Buck?). A closer’s mentality is overrated (Johnson could be just as good a setup man), 6th inning guys are aplenty, hard throwing, multiple pitch, crazy confident, young, cheap, awesome, inspiring (ok, im getting carried away), setup men like Pedro Strop? Invaluable. And to think, that was the last move Macphail made…