The moribund Philadelphia Phillies announced on Monday afternoon that, following the 2015 season, former Orioles GM Andy MacPhail will take over the role of president in that organization. It was not so long ago that MacPhail came to Baltimore to help revive a team that was stuck in a years-long slump that showed no signs of subsiding.
Though MacPhail was not still here when the Orioles finally turned things around on the field and started winning again, the pieces that he assembled were, and still are, integral to the team's success. The 2012 Wild Card-winning season, the 2014 AL East championship season that ended in a heart-breaking ALCS loss to the Royals, neither of these would have ever happened if MacPhail had not come to Baltimore.
The roster that MacPhail inherited included such luminaries as Daniel Cabrera, Steve Trachsel, Danys Baez, John Parrish, Brian Burres, and Rob Bell. That is a list of the damned. It should come with a surgeon general's warning. We were damned for having to watch that caliber of pitcher.
When, about two months after MacPhail was officially hired, the Orioles got themselves blown out of the stadium in a 30-3 loss to the Rangers, that was not a complete fluke. A bad pitching staff will be hard-pressed to give up that many runs on a given night. The 2007 Orioles were good at being that bad.
For this collection of baseball players, the Orioles paid out about $94 million in salary, which was a little bit more than $10 million over the average team payroll that season. Occasionally things are evaluated in terms of dollars per win. The 2007 Orioles ended up at about a million dollars per loss. For a 93-loss team, that is not comforting. They were expensively failing, all the while steadily bleeding gate attendance.
You don't turn around a ship like that overnight, or even in the span of a year. In his first offseason with the team, MacPhail got the team started on the right path.
The Erik Bedard trade
Orioles trade to Seattle: Erik Bedard
Orioles get from Seattle: Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, George Sherrill, Kam Mickolio, Tony Butler
Even now, this trade is so good that you almost can't even fathom how much of a ripoff it has turned out for the Orioles. As it ended up, Bedard made a total of 30 starts over the next two seasons for the Mariners, and while they were nice starts where he combined for a 3.24 ERA, it was only a half season each year. This was not the pitcher they thought they were getting after Bedard racked up 221 strikeouts for that awful 2007 O's team.
Had the trade only been Jones for the Orioles, the O's still would have ended up ripping off the Mariners. More than any other Oriole right now, you can't imagine this current string of success without Jones being here. He is the best player on the team and he's quite clearly the leader in the clubhouse. Jones has been a part of so much of a new breed of Orioles magic that it's hard to pick just one moment... but if you were going to pick just one moment, surely it would have to be the home run that told the world the 2012 Orioles meant business.
Nor is it very easy to imagine a successful Orioles team in either 2012 or 2014 without Tillman. When Tillman finally arrived in July of the 2012 season, he secured a spot in what was up until then a shaky starting rotation. From there he's turned in back to back 200+ inning seasons, including a surprising All-Star selection in 2013. Much like Jones, you don't get a 2012 wild card or a 2014 division title without Tillman on those teams, and they have Seattle to thank.
The other players in the trade didn't contribute themselves to any of the recent successful Orioles teams, but both did deliver trade pieces who helped the 2012 Orioles. Mickolio was one of two players (the other was David Hernandez) who the O's traded to Arizona to get Mark Reynolds. There were some mixed memories of Reynolds in his two years here, yet that wild card run wouldn't have been what it was without his swan-like toe holds after he switched to first base, and also let's not forget the nine home runs he hit in September of that year.
Even Sherrill, whose flat-brimmed stylings were spun elsewhere in a mid-2009 season deal, returned a piece who helped in the 2012 stretch run. Baltimore-born Steve Johnson floated between the bullpen and the rotation in August and September of 2012, with a 2.11 ERA in 38.1 innings. Is that a huge part? No, but it was a part of something special that MacPhail made happen.
The J.J. Hardy trade
Orioles trade to Minnesota: Brett Jacobson, Jim Hoey
Orioles receive from Minnesota: J.J. Hardy, Brendan Harris
Oh, and by the way, the Orioles only had Jacobson to trade because they dumped Aubrey Huff on the Tigers in an August trade in 2009. For that they got Hardy, who has won the last three Gold Gloves at shortstop in the AL, crushed 22 home runs for the 2012 Orioles and has continued to be an important part of clutch up-the-middle defense for the O's. The year before the Hardy trade, the Orioles shortstop was Cesar Izturis. Here is another MacPhail-acquired player without whom there is no present era of Orioles success.
The Koji Uehara trade
Orioles trade to Texas: Koji Uehara and $2 million
Orioles receive from Texas: Chris Davis, Tommy Hunter
When the Orioles were bad, you had to cling to every remotely interesting and good player you could. Koji, who found his way into our hearts with his glorious sideburns and excellent late-inning relief, was one of the ones you hated to see leave. As it turned out, the day after Texas acquired Uehara on July 30, 2011, they made another trade the next day for another reliever, Mike Adams, from the Padres, and the Rangers gave up two minor league prospects: Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland.
Both of those players were on the Top 101 prospects put together by Baseball Prospectus before the 2012 season. MacPhail had reportedly insisted on major league-ready players, which precluded getting hotshot prospects, and in the case of Davis and Hunter it looked more like insisting on players who had already failed once at the big league level. Davis missed three weeks that year with a shoulder injury and Hunter took his place in yet another disastrous Orioles starting rotation and fit right in.
First impressions are not always right. Hunter, tendency to go boom notwithstanding, has found a new life as a reliever for the Orioles. He had a tough tenure as closer last year, but once removed from that role, he was still an important part of the bullpen for a division winning Orioles team.
Davis has had something of a rollercoaster tenure with the O's, from the highs of his 53 home run, top 3 in MVP season to the lows of an oblique injury-plagued 2014 season that also saw him get a 25-game suspension for testing positive for Adderall. He may have had his greatest season the one year of the last three the O's were not in the playoffs, but that's important, too.
Even the 85-win 2013 year was an important bridge between the two, and probably if you take out his 33 home runs and clutch right field subbing for an injured Nick Markakis from 2012, or even his 29 home runs in 2014, neither of those seasons look quite as good as they do. Even Davis' oblique injury was clutch in a way. It gave the Orioles a chance to retain Steve Pearce.
What about the Padres' return for Adams? Erlin has pitched in 24 games, 20 starts, over two seasons with a 4.58 ERA. He has a 5.96 ERA for Triple-A El Paso this year. Wieland only ever pitched in nine games, seven starts, for the Padres, with a 5.31 ERA in those games. He was traded to Los Angeles as part of the Matt Kemp deal. MacPhail won this trade, just like he won all the others.
There's one more trade MacPhail won, although its impact on successful Orioles teams was less than these others...
The first Miguel Tejada trade
Orioles trade to Houston: Miguel Tejada
Orioles receive from Houston: Luke Scott, Troy Patton, Matt Albers, Dennis Sarfate, Mike Costanzo
Tejada was traded on December 12, 2007. The Mitchell Report on PED use in baseball, in which Tejada was named, was released on December 13, 2007. One imagines baseball teams probably had a heads-up on who was getting named and this probably affected the return the O's got. Oh, and about four months after this trade, it also came out that Tejada was actually two years older than had been previously reported.
Yet even if all five players they received in return were awful, just saving $29 million in some dark, wasted years is something that matters. Not to mention getting to avoid being on the receiving end of more of these laughingstock of baseball kind of stories.
As it turned out, aside from some players who toiled on bad Orioles teams, they ended up getting a useful reliever out of Patton, whose 2.43 ERA in 54 games pitched for the Wild Card-winning 2012 Orioles was proved to be one more weapon in what ended up being a bullpen full of surprising nobodies.
Even when Patton was traded away from the Orioles last year - by MacPhail's successor, Dan Duquette, to be sure - they received one more useful piece of fruit from that Tejada trade tree. Nick Hundley was no Matt Wieters in Wieters' absence, but he played the part he needed to play. So even the Tejada trade ended up playing a part of two future Orioles playoff teams.
That's nine players who played a part on either the 2012 Orioles, 2014 Orioles, or both, who were here as a result of MacPhail trades, including the crucial centerpiece of Jones. None of this happens without Jones, and so none of it happens without MacPhail.
All that said, none of it would have happened with MacPhail, either, but that is another post for another day.