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Bird Food: Ejecting the Warp Core

ESPN published two articles on the state of the Orioles. And Dan Duquette gave an interview to CBS Baltimore which complemented these two articles nicely. In this edition of Bird Food, I look at all three articles together in order to foster discussion on where the Orioles are now and where they're going. First, let's take a look at David Schoenfield's article on ESPN.

Schoenfield assesses whether the Orioles have a core of players to compete in the near future. Who is that core? Schoenfield points to Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz with Jeremy Guthrie and Brian Roberts providing "old head" leadership. He forgets Zach Britton and Jake Arrieta as part of the youth movement and JJ Hardy as part of the "old head" group but I think these can be forgivable sins. What is the value of this core? Schoenfield gives his quick assessment.

Nick Markakis

He's still a good player who never misses a game; he just didn't turn into that 30-homer, 100-walk monster to anchor a lineup.

Matt Wieters

Wieters appears to be more of a complementary hitter on a playoff team (albeit very valuable production for a catcher).

Brian Matusz

But we have no idea what to expect from Matusz moving forward.

Adam Jones

Regardless, here's the bottom line: A guy with a .319 on-base percentage cannot be the centerpiece of your lineup.

Where does that leave the Orioles? Not in a good place according to Schoenfield. He writes, "I just don't think Wieters, Jones and Markakis are going to be the three best players on Baltimore's next playoff team." And he's right. Two wild card pitchers (with Tillman) and three good, but not great, position players aren't enough to build a team around even when including Arrieta and Britton.

Luckily, Schoenfield doesn't end on a nihilistic note and points to Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado as part of the next core. And given the youth of Britton and promise of Schoop, the Orioles have four pieces to build the next playoff team. At this point, that's where organizational resources and efforts should be placed because, unfortunately, tachyons are flooding the warp core Captain. The old core isn't going to bring a pennant to Camden Yards. If they can't do that, then the organization's overall philosophy should be guided toward building the best team around Machado, Bundy, et al. That means every player on the big league roster, with the exception Britton, should be open for business.

Jim Bowden suggested just that in his article along with other strategies. Overall, Bowden mentions five strategies including stop signing gap players (not that it's bad advice but I feel like noting that Bowden was the king of signing stop gap players like Christian Guzman and Dimtri Young with the Nats) and selectively signing elite free agents, which is ridiculous since the O's don't operate under fiscal conditions to make such signings sensible. For example, Bowden advocated the O's signing Prince Fielder, never mind that he just signed for a ridiculous amount of money, and going after Matt Cain next off season. Bowden's best recommendation is converting valuable major league assets on the current team into high ceiling prospects. He writes, "But the Orioles need to exhaust their trade potential in order to multiply their number of elite players eventually at the major league level. So it's time to trade them and start stockpiling high-ceiling prospects, just as San Diego did by trading a good young player in Mat Latos to get multiple top prospects back." Not surprisingly, Bowden gave the O's offseason a F on his XM radio show where he is currently grading the off seasons of all teams. I think Bowden is partially giving the O's a F because he's giving grades based on what GMs did to improve the team now. And in the case of the Orioles, that's the wrong grading criteria since the O's should be judged in terms of what is being done to build the next core.

Unfortunately, that's the heart of the O's problem. The next core isn't the top priority. Instead, the O's are still focusing on the current core. In the interview on CBS, Duquette mentions reaching .500 in 2012 as his immediate goal. But teams bereft of talent can't build the current core while building the next core and be successful. That's usually a recipe for doing both poorly. But Dan Duquette will try anyways damn it and I suspect ownership won't let him do it any other way since he was probably hired under premise that he could bring a .500 team immediately. So what's Dan's plan?

Well, in the CBS interview, he immediately mentions that his core competency is that he's a good judge of talent and he's a good "systems guy" in terms of implementing "processes" to develop talent. He mentions the Brewers a couple of times as a model of how he wants to win and points to the hirings of Fred Ferreira, Rick Peterson, and Brady Anderson as conduits to reach the Brewers method of growing stars. Each of these guys will bring an unique strength - Ferreira:scouting, Peterson:pittching, Anderson:conditioning - which will help develop talent properly, according to Duquette.

And, of course, Duquette mentions international scouting as a way to build a good farm system and eventually a good major league team (go to around the 4:30 minute mark). Certainly international scouting is a good way to build a farm system, but Duquette's execution has been focused on older, Asian players, which again, signal moves to complement the current core. Not that these are bad signings in terms of expected value and salary, but they're moves to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic. I hope Ferriera, Peterson, and Anderson make vast improvements in player development. And Duquette didn't mention him in the interview, but the addition of Stephen Walters, an Economics professor at Loyola, is a good move. He's giving good advice on how to economically evaluate talent which is an important asset. But bringing in more player talent to the pipeline is just as important as hiring the right guys to coach them. How is Dan Duquette going to address that issue? At this point, I'm not sure, and frankly, that's what's really depressing. If he wants to build the Dayton Moore or Brewers way, it's going to be a long process. And if he wants to aid the process, well, tachyon particles are flooding the warp core Captain, please eject it.