Monday, September 29, 2008

Things I learned in the second half of 2008...

During the usual Orioles second-half collapse (26-53 in the last 3 months), I learned some telling things about the Baltimore Orioles. Here they are...

1. Andy MacPhail will always take the long road. What we thought could be true during the never-ending Erik Bedard trade was cemented in fact when he failed to call up hot prospects Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold, David Hernandez and Brad Bergeson. Instead, MacPhail rode out the season with aging veterans Ramon Hernandez and Jay Payton along with a never-was in Chris Waters. On the bright side, MacPhail seems intent not to rush his young prospects, but if ever there was a good time to get a look at these players in non-stressful situations, it was during the second half of 2008.

2. Shortstop is kind of an important position. After being spoiled with Mark Belanger, Cal Ripken, Mike Bordick and Miguel Tejada at shortstop for the better part of the last 40 years, O's fans finally got a taste of what it looks like when the SS position is a glaring weakness. Luis Hernandez, Alex Cintron, Freddie Bynum, Brandon Fahey... none of these guys played the position well enough to become even a full-time stop-gap at the position, making the 2008 season that much more painful.

3. Veteranosity is not always a bad thing. Aubrey Huff and Melvin Mora each shed their "dead-weight" image and closed out some impressive seasons. While Mora's hot finish to the '08 campaign was more of a last hurrah than a career resurrection, Aubrey Huff could be a decent Plan B if the Orioles miss out on signing Mark Teixeira during the off season. It also shows you that picking up a veteran after a down year is a smart thing. Buy low, sell high.

4. Vertanosity is not always a good thing. See: Ramon Hernandez, Kevin Millar, Jay Payton, Steve Trachsel, Jamie Walker.

5. The Daniel Cabrera Era is over. Danny-boy failed to improve upon his dismal 2007 season, baffling and angering O's fans yet again in 2008. He started the season off well, putting together two months of solid pitching before reverting back to his old walk-this-ways. His control got worse, he's still a butcher as a defender, and the MPH on his fastball has gone down. Talk of moving CaBBrera to the bullpen is liken to re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Either make Cabrera a throw-in player as part of a trade, or simply release him. Anything other than having Cabrera sporting an O's jersey in 2009.

6. Dave Trembley is not the great manager we all thought he was. He's actually more similar to Lee Mazzilli and Sam Perlozzo than Davey Johnson. But that's hardly a criticism, as those managers were playing with a short stack as well and got the wrong end of a raw deal. However, like those past managers, Trembley made a slew of questionable moves in 2008. He assigned players to restrictive roles (especially in the bullpen) and stuck with those pesky veterans longer than he should have. He deserves better players to manage, but it turns out Trembley is human after all despite his painfully honest, and sometimes uncomfortable, post-game press conferences.

7. Player development is in shambles. Failure to throw strikes and injuries are this organization's two most puzzling problems. Whether it is a philosophical problem or just bad luck, something needs to change -- and fast -- in the minor leagues. The Orioles led the AL in walks, again, and watched as their starting rotation and bullpen were decimated by injuries.

8. You can scratch Garrett Olson and Radhames Liz off the "key players of the future" list. Olson, 6.65 ERA. Liz, 6.72 ERA. Both pitchers had problems throwing strikes, which is no surprise if you read #7. Olson did manage to finish the season on somewhat of a high note, but Liz looks like nothing more than a bullpen arm, and based on his control problems, it's a stretch to say he could even be that. But the fact remains, based on what we saw in 2008, neither looks to be starting pitchers on a competitive team, which is what we hope the Orioles can become over the next few years.

It was an ugly finish. A disaster. That isn't to say there are no positives for the Orioles, but they are greatly outweighed by the negatives and question-marks surrounding this team. Andy MacPhail has his work cut out for him this off-season, but reality can't be ignored. This organization still has a long way to go, and it's something that can't be done in the span of a six-month offseason.

This offseason is very important, and the foundation for a winning team down the road can be put in place within the next few months. But it's a tall order. And with each passing week, I wonder if MacPhail is the right guy for the job.

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