Every August, it starts to wear on me. Following a team that is genuinely, routinely bad is never any real fun. Following a team that gives you no reason over a full decade to think they're actually going to get any better makes it even worse.
We signed Matt Wieters, which is good. But, I won't lie. I have a hard time caring. What's to stop Wieters from being the next Val Majewski or Brandon Snyder? Baseball, like all sports, carries few certainties, and the career of a first round draft pick is never a great time to roll the dice. Most of them never pan out.
I've often said, and truly believe, that baseball is a love affair unlike any other sport. 162 games for the regular season, plus the grind of spring training (which starts with the great jubilation of the day that your team's pitchers and catchers report to Florida or Arizona) and, for many of us, the intense drag of the offseason. It was Rogers Hornsby, legendary prick, that famously said, "People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring."
This doesn't quite apply to the modern times, though. There's plenty of baseball happenings to talk about from October through January. Free agents, trades, steroid allegations. Which agent is arguing with which general managers? Which player is about to get this offseason's most eye-popping contract?
And, for me, can the Orioles actually do anything that might make me think they know what's going on?
Sadly, the yearly answer is a resounding no. What did we get last offseason? Jamie Walker, Danys Baez, Scott Williamson, Chad Bradford, Jay Payton, and Aubrey Huff. All in all, a rather large waste of time. I love Jamie Walker and Chad Bradford, but is this team really better with them than it would be without them? Actually, I'd like to explore that idea.
Walker and Bradford are good players, so yeah, the team is better with them. And I qualify this with the fact that either way, the team isn't really any good. But you do have to get good players in order to build the contender, right? And Walker and Bradford qualify. So, yeah, I'll be fair and optimistic. As for the rest of those guys, not so much.
The Detroit Tigers look like they're going to be a perennially good team, and they went through a long period of total irrelevance, too. Dave Dombrowski did a phenomenal job with their club. I remember when he took over, and there was a leaked quote from a conference or something. I don't remember the exact question that led to it, but Dombrowski's response was something like, "Hey, you want to try to unload Bobby Higginson's salary? Be my guest."
Andy MacPhail is probably going to be caught in a somewhat similar situation, though there is no Higginson-sized albatross in his way. Huff, Payton, Baez -- those guys are pointless to be carrying on a fourth-place team. They aren't good, they're old, and they're being paid more than they're worth. Average (or worse) players being paid average salaries is not OK; it's a detriment. Teams that contend have a tendency to either develop talent to a remarkable degree (which isn't in the cards for the Orioles, probably) or they pay top dollar for top talent, then find their extras on the cheap, either in the farm system or through skills that are undervalued on whatever the market happens to be.
One thing I do know is that the Orioles will never compete with free agency pitching. There are too many guys getting paid $10 million or more a year to be kind of good, or sort of OK, or decent back-end filler. Why pay for that? Get some hitters. Frankly, starting pitching does not concern me. I also don't sweat Bedard's contract status, because I don't see the point in doing so. For now, I'm just enjoying him, and the small glimmer of hope he gives me that this team can win.
But there can't be any more Kris Benson or Jaret Wright trades. Even if John Maine had become no one, I've come to the idea that that was a shit trade. Benson was being paid more than he's worth, and to no one's surprise, he wound up sitting out a season with an injury. In a total stunner, Jaret Wright sat out this season with an injury, too. And these guys were OK by Peter Angelos' strict medical rules?
I don't mean to sound pessimistic, but what is it that makes anyone hold on to hope with this franchise? Seriously. They've given us nothing but garbage for the last 10 years and called it a baseball team, expecting people to show up to watch them lose. People organize ill-advised walkouts and anti-Boston rallies that don't work because Joe Average Orioles Fan isn't paying to watch these bums. And I don't care how nice the park is -- if the team sucks, the park sucks, too.
And there's all that, and it sticks in my mind, and every year around this time, I basically throw up my hands and say, "To hell with it!" Except for 2005, which was such a glorious and all-encompassing tragedy that I couldn't turn away from it for even a second.
Erik Bedard is one of the best pitchers in baseball. Jeremy Guthrie has shown huge gains, apparently from that ol' Mazzone Effect. I think Ray, Bradford and Walker can anchor a very effective bullpen. Markakis is good, Roberts is one of the best second basemen in the game, Kevbo is Kevbo, and I do think Tejada still has some good years left in him, and I know that he wants to win.
The bottom line is, for the first time in years, I can look at this team objectively, and truly believe this is just a team that has holes to fill, and it has a solid chance of being really good. But there are a lot of teams like that, to be honest. And if filling the holes was as easy as all that, then more teams would do it right.
I think Dave Trembley's the right manager. I hope Andy MacPhail is the right head of operations. I believe there are legitimately good players on this team that are every bit as good as the richer, more famous All-Stars.
Perhaps most important (as far as my baseball fan mental health goes, anyway) is that I've come to this conclusion: The only reason the Orioles can't contend is incompetence. With time to evaluate things, MacPhail and Trembley might actually be able to lead a resurgence.
There are very simple alternatives to the things that this franchise has been doing wrong for so long. If they can actually figure this out, we can all wear our caps with real pride again, instead of that pride you get from cheering even though you probably shouldn't. And maybe August won't be such a chore.