Tuesday, April 20, 2010

2010 is shaping up to be MacPhail's downfall

Will Andy MacPhail still be smiling at the end of 2010? If not, he'll have no one to blame but himself.

Forget the job security of Dave Trembley for the moment. I want to talk about Andy MacPhail.

On the surface, his offseason signings (Garrett Atkins, Miguel Tejada and Mike Gonzalez) were greeted as "OK" since they didn't block prospects like Josh Bell and Brandon Snyder and aside from Atkins, they were players capable of holding their own at the MLB level.

But when you got closer, and examined these moves with a magnifying glass, you could see the flaws pretty easily.

Since he joined the Orioles, MacPhail has preached the importance of pitching and defense. But then why did he sign 2 free agents to play positions that weren't their primary positions?

Signing Atkins was a decent low-risk signing, since he'd once been a good power hitter who'd experienced declining numbers over 4 seasons. And with Melvin Mora fizzling out in Baltimore, even Atkins was likely to be an upgrade at 3B. And there was always the chance he would rebound and become the 20 HR, 100 RBI he had been in Colorado.

But then came the shocker: MacPhail had signed Atkins to play a 1B. This was the real head-scratcher because Atkins' declining offense had the potential to be a disaster at 1B.

For 3B, MacPhail signed Tejada, a career SS. At Tejada's age, and limited range, it made sense for Tejada to move to 3B, but it was still a position he'd have to learn on the job.

So far, Tejada has played 3B about as well as you can expect from a virgin at the position, but Atkins has looked stiff and sloppy at 1B. And thus far, he has not justified his being at 1B at the plate.

And with the defense already mixed up to start the season, the O's have committed several crucial errors that have lead to big innings, and 2 major errors are part of the reason Brad Bergesen was sent down to Norfolk today.

As for Mike Gonzalez, MacPhail paid the reliever to be a closer even though Gonzalez had only filled in at closer for the Braves in 2009 when Rafael Soriano went down with an injury.

Gonzalez's odd wind-up and delivery makes for a wild pitcher, and his 4.2 BB/9 rate is dangerous for a closer, which no doubt lead to him blowing 7 saves in 17 save opportunities last year -- the same number of blown saves in as many chances as Jim Johnson in '09. There were also injury concerns with Gonzalez that were evident all spring and then likely played a part in his disastrous start to the season where he blew 2 saves in 3 chances and has an ERA of 18.00.

On the flip side, MacPhail did a good job of landing the O's an experienced SP, and thus far, Kevin Millwood has fit the bill perfectly: 2.89 ERA, 20 K, 1 BB. Millwood only cost the Orioles Chris Ray.

However, MacPhail did very little to upgrade an offense that was 12 in the AL last year. He banked on players like Adam Jones, Nolan Reimold and Matt Wieters to improve on their own, and so far, they haven't. Is it because they lack protection in the line-up?

And with Brian Roberts and Felix Pie likely to miss months of the season, and Miguel Tejada missing a couple games, the lack of depth is already exposed. The O's called up Justin Turner and Lou Montanez to replace Roberts and Pie. Both Turner and Montanez are better than the kinds of players the O's would have been forced to call up in the past (Brandon Fahey, Darnell McDonald), but they are still fringe prospects who are unlikely to make a difference in the majors.

MacPhail has done a good job deepening the pool of pitching talent throughout the organization, but it was done at the expense of positional talent, and it shows: The Orioles are dead last in the AL in offense this year.

Finally, MacPhail was probably wrong to bring back Dave Trembley and his coaching staff for another year. After the Orioles finished the 2008 season 5-20 and the 2009 season 20-40, no one would have blamed MacPhail for hiring a new manager. But MacPhail stuck with Trembley and the Orioles have continued playing the kind of baseball they finished the 2009 season playing, and in the last 74 games under Trembley the Orioles are 22-52 (.297).

To be fair, Trembley hasn't played with a full deck of talent since he was hired, whether it has been the roster or injuries, and that is largely the fault of MacPhail. But at some point a manager has to be judged on wins and losses and Trembley's record as manager is 174-256 (.404).

At 2-12, the time to use the excuse "it's still early" is running out quickly. And if the 2010 season ends with the Orioles failing to improve on a 64-98 record by at least 8-10 wins, then it's time to really wonder whether Andy MacPhail is the man who will lead the Orioles back to the promised land.

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