I have too often wondered what it will be like when the Orioles win again. It's a very strange feeling, to pseudo-feel the long, hard road end in one culminating moment of victory (as if one moment could ever do the past 25+ years justice) and at the exact same time actually feel the crushing weight of one of the all-time longest streaks of complete lousiness in sports history. And I do wonder that a real moment won't ever happen for me.
I can't think of anything sadder.
That's the subconscious product of thirteen years. Thirteen years makes emotions run thicker, judgments run harsher, criticisms turn ever sharper. You put your weight down on every single event that goes sour, as if it were responsible for thirteen years. It might as well be. That's the mean truth of it all: expensive closer Michael Gonzalez blows a save on Opening Day and he better be ready to answer for thirteen years. It's not right, but it's not wrong - it simply is.
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I've been thinking a lot lately about Andy MacPhail's last twelve months. I hated his 2009 offseason when it happened, I hated it when it completely fell apart during the season, I hated how slowly he moved to try to fix things, and I'm a little ashamed to admit that I hated how it almost felt like it was all saved by the hiring of Buck Showalter. I absolutely detested the job performance of the Orioles' GM over the past year.
I imagine I'm not alone.
But there is a big chunk of my brain that is contrariety in nature. There's a pull to look back and try to really figure out why what happened happened. It's not enough for me to simply say "MacPhail doesn't know what he's doing". Nobody gets as far as he has without knowing what they're doing. There has to be a logical thread to follow in these moves...and at the end of that thread are answers about what comes next. I need to tug on that thread - I need to know if I still trust Andy MacPhail.
So: what were the Orioles trying to accomplish in 2010 when they spent nearly $30 million and a top 100 draft pick to bring in some bullpen help, a couple of bench players, Kevin Millwood, Miguel Tejada, and Garret Atkins? There's a lot of punchlines to that question (Mentoring! Stopgaps! Nothing! Hoping against hope that strong statistical trends were a load of phooey!), but let's look at what those moves tell us about the Warehouse's philosophy for the 2010 season:
- The development of the farm system had been pushed to the back burner in favor of major league development.
- The Orioles were not at the point where they want to go after the top free agents.
- The mentality of the young pitchers was a priority for their development.
- Similarly, the young core needed to be complemented with a veteran presence.
- The Orioles' greatest strength in the trade/free agency markets was their financial flexibility.
- With no attractive long-term options available, the Orioles could afford to gamble on a long-shot like Garret Atkins.
I don't agree with all of these philosophies. Taken together, they feel an awful lot like wheel-spinning. "You either have something special or you're building for something special", so goes the Billy Beanism, and this is all in between. To be in between is foolish at best. Where is the logic in this? The Orioles obviously weren't ready to compete, so why go for expensive veteran stopgaps and long-shots to catch lightning in a bottle?
The answer seems kind of obvious: The Plan is and always has been for the Brian Matusz-era Orioles to win. When MacPhail first came to Baltimore the imperative was to rebuild the infrastructure and restock the farm system in the hopes of building a championship level core the old fashioned way. Exiting 2009, that core was in Baltimore already and the focus needed to shift from "restocking the farm" to "turn these prospects' potential into reality". In other words, it was time to start trying to get Matt Wieters and Nolan Reimold and Chris Tillman to start winning games.
The season would be judged by wins and losses.
The second round draft pick that we lost for signing Michael Gonzalez was valuable indeed - but whoever that would have been was pretty unlikely to help Adam Jones hang a pennant on Eutaw Street. Michael Gonzalez could (theoretically) help stabilize the bullpen and build some confidence for the young pitchers, pushing their development along.
I don't agree with the decisions that were made last winter (although, honestly, only the Gonzalez thing really irritates me) and I was not surprised at all to see the product blow up on the field. But I do think that the young core is in a better position overall today than they were one year ago. That was the goal, and for the most part the goal was met, although not bombastically.
So I do still trust Andy MacPhail. We were promised rebuilding and this is just another part of that. It's tough and slow, but I can actually see Brian Matusz turning into something special. I can actually see Matt Wieters becoming the best defensive catcher in the American League. I can actually see Jake Arrieta taking steps forward. Kevin Millwood and Garret Atkins were always going to be footnotes in the story of the next great Orioles team, having wasted some time but done no damage to the franchise. The focus has to be on the young Orioles, and Andy MacPhail made sure that it stayed there.