Wednesday, August 31, 2011

CBS: MacPhail will not re-sign with Orioles

Reports say that Andy MacPhail will not re-sign with the Orioles at the end of the season.

According to this article, MacPhail will walk away from his job as GM of the Orioles at the end of the season. That's when his contract expires, but reports are that MacPhail will not seek to re-sign with the team.

The most interesting line in the article is that "MacPhail and Angelos were fed up with each other". Hmmm...really? Could there really be in-fighting in the front office of the Baltimore Orioles? Could someone really be fed up with Peter Angelos?

The most shocking revelation is that Angelos was "fed up" with MacPhail, who was hired in 2007 to take over for Mike Flanagan and Jim Duquette. Oriole fans and media alike thought it was a good fit, for better or worse. During his time with the Cubs, MacPhail never spent a lot of money on free agents, made some conservative trades while occasionally making a "risky" move. So it was clear that MacPhail would work within Angelos' comfort zone when he was hired by the Orioles. But right off the bat, MacPhail opened eyes by trading away the O's two best players: Miguel Tejada and Erik Bedard.

The trades were universally praised by O's fans and the baseball world even though the returns on those trades have diminished somewhat since. But since those trades took place during the offseason before the 2008 season, MacPhail has been on cruise control for the most part -- acquiring former Cubs reclamation projects like Felix Pie, Jake Fox and Rich Hill and signing expensive bullpen pitchers like Mike Gonzalez and Kevin Gregg, guys who weren't worth their contracts. He made the occasional good move, trading bullpen arms in David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio for Mark Reynolds, who leads the Orioles with 31 home runs and trading JJ Hardy for Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson, who MacPhail signed to a three-year extension.

But Angelos being "fed up" with MacPhail can only mean one thing: and that's probably proof that MacPhail wanted to do more. The one knock against MacPhail was that he was too slow, too methodical. And that may still be true. But if Angelos is "fed up" with you, that probably means you wanted to do too much: Make a risky move, trade away a fan favorite or invest a lot of money in the minor leagues or internationally. This was, after all, MacPhail's self-admitted "dream job". You have to think that someone who felt that way wanted to do more than what MacPhail did as GM.

Within the last few months or year, MacPhail seemed defensive when he was questioned about his moves by the media. He basically admitted that the modern state of baseball had passed him by when he went on a rant about spending big money on international prospects such as Miguel Sano. And those were probably MacPhail's words, which is why I am somewhat relieved that MacPhail will not be coming back. But his defensiveness probably reflects some of the stress he was under from Angelos. We'll only be left to wonder what really happened. But we do know that MacPhail wanted to hire former Indians manager Eric Wedge, and Angelos wanted Showalter. We know who won that battle. And this past offseason, reports are that it was Angelos who pushed to sign former slugger Vladimir Guerrero, ponying up $8 million to sign the future Hall of Famer who has struggled mightily in Baltimore.

But one thing is for sure. And that is Angelos is still the #1 problem in Baltimore. In Flanagan and MacPhail he had two men for whom being GM of the Baltimore Orioles was a dream job. And what are we left with? One of those men just took his life and the other is willing to walk away from his job.

The circus in Baltimore will never leave town as long as Peter Angelos is the owner. So while people will be interested to see who takes over for MacPhail as GM, it won't matter one bit. They won't be allowed to execute their vision and in three or four years, we'll be right back where we are now.

It's actually ironic when you think about it. The Orioles. The O's. The letter "O" is a circle. The number zero is close. The vicious circle continues.

Round and round we go.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Thoughts on Preseason Game #3

Anquan Boldin reaches for the pylon on a 30 yard catch that resulted in a Ray Rice 1-yard touchdown.

Having missed preseason game #2, I entered the third game of this pre-season excited to get my best look at the Ravens before the start of the season since the third pre-season game is the closest it gets to the real thing. And since it was against the our neighbors to the south, the Washington Redskins, it made it a little more exciting than your standard pre-season game

What I saw was a mixed bag of positives and negatives that left me both excited and anxious about the 2011 season.

To start, Joe Flacco threw a boneheaded interception on a stop route that was picked off and returned for a touchdown by DeAngelo Hall. When he wasn't throwing interceptions, Flacco was under pressure as the offensive line collapsed regularly. But once the first quarter was over, and the Ravens were down 14-0, Flacco and the offense got going, and the positives started flowing.

Flacco hooked up with Anquan Boldin for gains of 18 and 30 yards on a drive that ended with a Ray Rice 1-yard TD run. On the next drive, Flacco connected with Ed Dickson for a 33 yard gain and scored on a perfectly thrown 35-yard bomb to newly acquired WR Lee Evans. After halftime, Flacco led the Ravens on their third scoring drive of the night, hooking up again with Boldin in the middle of the endzone.

Flacco ended his night on a high-note, 17-27, 219 yards, 2 TD and 1 INT.

Tyrod Taylor came in and played well for the second game in a row, further cementing the belief that Taylor can enter the season as Flacco's understudy. He finished 11-18 with 125 yards and a touchdown pass that won the game with just a few seconds left. RB Anthony Allen impressed yet again, exploding through holes with speed and power.

The pluses and minuses existed on defense as well, with DE Pernell McPhee recording a sack and fighting for a spot not only on the team, but as a possible impact player. The defensive line kept constant pressure on QB's Rex Gressoman and John Beck, but when they had time to throw, they exposed the Ravens secondary, namely Ladarius Webb and Jimmy Smith. Since Smith is a rookie, it's to be expected, but Webb hasn't looked the same since his injury. Although Webb ended the night good on paper -- recording a sack and an interception -- he was abused all night. The same can be said of Dominique Foxworth, who is also coming back from injury and looks less than ready.

In the end, the game was exciting for a pre-season game and the Ravens won 34-31 with seconds left on the clock. But the win was somewhat hollow since there were as many negatives as their were positives and when the hated Pittsburgh Steelers are looming on the horizon as your opponent in week 1, you want to be running on all cylinders. There's one more preseason game to go, but don't expect to see the starters much, if at all, as the coaches use the game to evaluate players on the bubble.

What you saw last night may look a lot like the team we see in 2011. And that can be a good thing, or a bad thing.

We'll just have to wait and see.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mike Flanagan dies...

I woke up this morning and got on-line to see how the Orioles did in their game against the Twins and was shocked to find out that Mike Flanagan, former Cy Young pitcher for the Orioles (and Blue Jays), had been discovered dead near his home in Sparks, MD.

No reports are official, but word on the street is that Flanagan committed suicide and WBAL reporter Gerry Sandusky had linked Flanagan's apparent suicide to Flanagan's "despondent" feelings about the current state of the Orioles. Flanagan was the team's GM from 2003-2007, and his contract was not renewed after the 2008 season. One has to wonder if Flanagan never recovered after being let go or felt guilt over his perceived failings as a GM.

While those reports are still forthcoming, no one can deny Flanagan's love for the Baltimore Orioles. Reading some of the recollections of Flanagan from several writers this morning has reminded me how great a guy he was and how much he meant to this team and the city. One story recalled how Flanagan, 39 at the time and at the end of his career, begged not to be traded from the Orioles during the 1991 season, the final season in Memorial Stadium. He wanted to pitch in the final game, and he did, recording the game's final two outs in a loss to the Detroit Tigers. That's awesome. Had he been traded, Flanagan likely would have been dealt to a playoff team. He was having a good year that year. But no, he wanted to be a part of the stadium's farewell ceremony. That meant more to him.

I have some hazy memories of Mike Flanagan the player, and that last game at Memorial Stadium. And Flanagan, along with Cal Ripken, are some of the earliest memories I have as an Orioles fan. That makes it that much sad to learn that Flanagan is gone.

As a broadcaster, he wasn't the best. His monotone voice (combined with the quality of most Orioles teams) lent to uninspired TV, but his humor was always there. It was dry, and always lighthearted. He never made fun of someone in a mean-spirited way and was never afraid to make fun of himself. And no one can deny Flanagan's baseball smarts in the booth and in the clubhouse, where he was a pitching coach with the Orioles, two different times. His mantra: work fast and throw strikes. That was it.

His tenure as a GM was not great by any means, but you could not deny the desire to make the Orioles better. Following the dark ages of the Syd Thrift era, Flanagan and co-GM Jim Beattie attempted to breathe life back into the Orioles by signing Miguel Tejada, Javy Loopez and Rafael Palmeiro in the offseason before 2004. They missed on signing Vlad Guerrero that year, despite having the best offer on the table. They hired rookie manager, Lee Mazzilli, a former Yankee, in a brave move that suggested at a new era of Orioles baseball. The following year, they traded for slugger Sammy Sosa. And even though that trade bombed, it was a decent move at the time. No one could have predicted Sosa's rapid decline from 35 home runs in 2004, to the 14 he hit as an Oriole in 2005.

The 2004 Orioles came close to breaking the .500 mark, but fell short. The next year saw the Orioles in first place for the first two months of the season before injuries and off-the-field problems took their toll and the Orioles collapsed during the second half. But it can be said that Flanagan was the only GM to have put together a winning team over 162 games, when you combine the second half of 2004 and the first half of 2005.

As more and more answers come into the light as to why Flanagan died, nothing will lessen the tragedy of a life cut short. Either way, Flanagan, who was 59, leaves behind a family. One has to wonder why, if the suicide reports are true, a man would do this...especially a man who according to former players and friends, was always cracking jokes and having a good time.

If it is true that Flanagan's death was somehow linked to his feelings about the current state of the Orioles -- and his perceived failings at making them better, the best thing the Orioles can do to honor his death is to put together a competitive team.

Rest in peace, Flanny. You will be missed.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Ravens trade for Lee Evans

Welcome to Baltimore, Lee!

The Ravens solidified their WR corps by trading a fourth round draft pick for Bills WR Lee Evans today.

You may remember Evans from the 2010 game against the Ravens where he torched the Ravens secondary to the tune of 105 receiving and 3 touchdowns. What he did in that game was probably fresh in the minds of the Ravens when Evans went up on the trade block.

Evans, 30, has had some big seasons for Buffalo in 2006 and 2008, but his stats dropped off since '08 due to some poor production at QB and the acquisition of Terrel Owens in 2009 and the emergency of Steve Johnson as a weapon in 2010.

That said, Evans is a speedster and a deep threat, something the Ravens currently lacked at WR unless Torrey Smith became that guy.

And after yesterday's game in which Tandon Doss was impressive, it's looking like a receiving corps of Boldin, Evans and Doss may be potentially dangerous.

Thoughts on Preseason Game #1

Well it wasn't pretty but did we expect it to be? Short offseason, lost a lot of depth and a lot of first and second year players are being asked to step in as starters. So it's going to take some time for this team to gel, if it ever does to the point we expect them to.

The first team offense only managed to score 3 points in about two drives, but Dennis Pitta was the bright spot, looking every bit like Todd Heap as he hauled in a 27 yard pass from Joe Flacco over the shoulder of his defender on the first play of the game. Pitta finished with 4 catches and 47 yards. WR Tandon Doss (3 rec. for 26 yards) also impressed, showing good route running skills and solid hands.

On the ground, Ray Rice only managed 7 total yards but looked good on a couple of runs. Jalen Parmalee owned the team's best drive that resulted in a turnover at the goal line. He rushed for 35 yards on 7 carries. But QB Tyrod Taylor gained the most yardage, 59 yards on 6 carries. The OL looked weak and couldn't open many holes for Rice and Flacco didn't have much time to check down on passing plays.

As for Taylor, he showed signs of promise, especially when running the ball, and completed 67% of his passes for 179 yards. His two interceptions were disappointing, especially one at the goal line, but Taylor is a work in progress and it's unrealistic to ask a 6th round pick to look polished. But you could see why people compare him to fellow VT alumni, Michael Vick.

The defense was a mixed bag as well. Paul Kruger was the unit's standout, recording a sack and putting good pressure on the Eagle's QB's. But starters Chris Carr and even Ed Reed were burned on a big play in a drive that resulted in an Eagles TD. Thank God the Ravens signed Bernard Pollard, who played well, recording an INT and making some big tackles. But when the first stringers were on the field, Eagles QB Michael Vick was running the offense like a well-oiled machine and the Ravens had no answer to stopping them. The defense as a whole allowed too many big plays and even Eagles third string QB, Mike Kafka, was able to throw the ball in the middle of the field all night.

On special teams...well, the special teams didn't get a chance to play much due to the new kick-off rules that moved the ball up five yards which allowed for tons of touchbacks. Over the course of the season, the amount of touchbacks is going to get ridiculous.

As I said, the new faces and lack of depth on offense provided some interesting plot lines, but most of the results weren't pretty. Moving forward, the Ravens have a lot to work on if they consider themselves Super Bowl contenders, and last night proved the need to get a veteran presence at WR and back-up QB.

This is nothing we already didn't know, so the Ravens need to get busy filling some holes.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Preason Game #1: What to look for tonight

Is it just me or did this football season sneak up on us? Maybe it was the labor dispute. Maybe it was from my self-imposed exile from football after losing to the Steelers last January. Maybe it was because I've been too busy hammering the Orioles for being the worst team in the American League.

Anyway, tonight is the first preseason game for the Ravens as they travel to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles.

Much has been made of the Ravens offseason and their inability to make any impact signings, especially at the wide-receiver position, after losing Derrick Mason to the Jets and being left with Anquan Boldin and a bunch of rookies or unknowns.

But the crisis at WR will at least give fans something to look out for tonight. The first preseason game usually features 3.5 quarters of second, third and fourth string players eating up minutes. So players like Torrey Smith, Tandon Doss, James Hardy and Brandon Jones will get plenty of chances to show the coaching staff -- as well as Ozzie Newsome -- that the Ravens needs at WR aren't that desperate.

It'll also be interesting to see Tyrod Taylor play at QB for much of the game, since Joe Flacco will probably only play in a series or two. Taylor, who like Eagles QB Michael Vick, went to Virginia Tech and is a mirror image of Vick. And with the Ravens having lost last year's back-up, Marc Bulger, to retirement, Taylor will also be able to show the Ravens that they may not need to go out and sign a veteran QB to hold a clipboard all season.

On defense, Sergio Kindle will see his first live action. Kindle was the Ravens first draft pick in 2010, taken in the second round. However, he missed the entire season after falling down two flights of steps just weeks before training camp was to begin and suffering a fractured skull. The Ravens sorely lacked a pass rush in 2010, and if 100%, Kindle could help improve the pass rush and take some pressure of Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs who are routinely double-teamed. Also keep an eye our for DE Paul Kruger, who is probably down to his last chance to make an impact on this team after getting drafted in the second round in 2009 and being left inactive for most of his career.

On the other side of the field, you'll have your first chance to see the Eagles, who were the big movers and shakers this offseason, acquiring the likes of Nnamdi Asomugha and Ronnie Brown. They're the hands on favorite to come out of the NFC, so they should give the Ravens a tough time, even though it's just glorified practice.

So enjoy! At least football is back!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The march toward 100 losses

The Orioles lost last night to the White Sox and I was there, unfortunately. The whole experience was much like a funeral. Buck Showalter made it exciting by getting ejected but that was nothing more than making a funeral interesting by knocking over the casket and having the body spill out. Someone in the crowd started a Redskins chant. Other people heckled Felix Pie, who is still an Oriole, although I don't know why.

At 44-69 the Orioles have themselves the worst record in the AL. An 18-31 record in the next month and a half will get them 100 losses.

Why does it matter? Why should we root for it to happen?

There is the draft pick reason. Right now the O's trail the Astros by 6 games for the #1 overall pick. But maybe, just maybe, 100 losses will sound off some alarms down at the warehouse. I know we've come close to 100 losses in the past, but there is something special about a three-digit number in the loss column.

Maybe Angelos will get mad and start firing people and actually hiring some competent people. I know it's a long shot, but that's all we O's fans can hope for.

In a season this bad, it's all we have.