Friday, September 30, 2011

2011: Another great finish, but an overall disaster, Part I

The Orioles celebrate their win over the Red Sox, which eliminated Boston from the postseason. But the 2011 season was nothing to celebrate.

A night removed from what many are calling the best day of MLB baseball, ever, which featured the Orioles knocking the Red Sox out of the wild card in dramatic fashion, I’m looking back at the entire 2011 season and being reminded of one of the most brilliant masterpieces in the history of cinema.

I am of course talking about the 1987 film, Predator.

In that film, a team of commandos gets picked off one by one in the Central American jungle by an alien who can turn himself invisible. In the end, Dutch, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, goes toe-to-toe with the beast and eventually forces it to commit suicide. After the dust has settled, Dutch is rescued and a somber trumpet plays on the soundtrack. Ducth is alive, but all the members of his team are dead. It was a pyrrhic victory.

And in many ways, the O’s win over the Red Sox on Wednesday night was also pyrrhic, in that they finished their sixth consecutive season with at least 90 losses and fourteenth overall losing season. Yes, they went 15-13 in September. And yes, they stopped the Red Sox from advancing to the postseason, but like Arnold in Predator, they gained nothing.

It was a great night of baseball, however, and the lone accomplishment of the night was that the Orioles played a major part in it and will likely go down as a major villain in Red Sox lore. But now that the night is over, it’s time to look ahead to the future, and the changes that will spread the magic of Wednesday night across an entire 162-game season.

The first step, of course, is finding out what’s going to happen with Andy MacPhail and Buck Showalter. Word is that MacPhail, whose contract ends this year, will not return as GM and most people think that Showalter will move into the front office and take over the GM role while someone like Willie Randolph becomes the new manager or the Orioles hire someone from outside the organization.

Last month reports stated that MacPhail and Angelos were “fed up with one another”, so unless a major bridge-building effort has taken place between the two men since then, I doubt that MacPhail will be back as GM. There is the possibility that he takes another role within the organization, an Angelos specialty, who rarely makes clean breaks with people he’s hired. Personally, I think MacPhail shouldn’t be involved with the Orioles moving forward, but if he’s kept on as a “Trade Adviser”, I wouldn’t complain, since trades were the one area that MacPhail was excellent.

Meanwhile, Showalter as GM creates some interesting possibilities, both positive and negative. Apparently, Showalter is currently Angelos’ favorite pet, which may have come at the expense of MacPhail. It was, after all, Angelos who wanted to hire Showalter, with MacPhail wanting to hire Eric Wedge. So with Showalter as GM, he will at least have total control over the organization – at least for the time being. We all know that MacPhail apparently had total control when he was first hired too, but somewhere along the way, Angelos soured on MacPhail, which lead us to where we are now.

On the other hand, Showalter has no GM experience, and while his connections through baseball are no doubt solid due to his past managerial experience and time spent on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight, one has to wonder if he is familiar with many of the other GM’s in baseball, with whom he will have to deal with while making trades and other moves required of a GM.

I’d say that Showalter as GM is probably the best move for the Orioles under the circumstances of Angelos being a finicky owner who grows tired of people at the drop of a hat. Showalter currently has his respect, and any outside GM candidate wouldn’t. Then there is the whole superiority problem that would exist if another GM is hired. Who works for whom? The Orioles might as well ride the wave of Angelos’ respect for Showalter and hope that he is able to turn the franchise around before the expiration date on Showalter arrives.

Outside of the GM position, changeover should occur in the front office on down to minor league coaches and scouts. The Orioles are in desperate need of a house cleaning and even MacPhail in his honeymoon phase with Angelos was unable to make these moves, as evidenced by the blocked firing of John Stockstill by Angelos. Stockstill was reassigned to Director of International Scouting. So it’s unclear whether Buck will have the authority to make these kinds of moves on his own.

It’s also unclear what approach Showalter would take to turning the franchise around. Showalter has always been a manager who prefers veteran players to unproven prospects, so if he becomes the GM, look for the Orioles to be busy in the free agent market this offseason, and potentially trade a young player or two for a more proven commodity. Hopefully, however, the veteran approach doesn’t come at the expense of the minor league system, which is in desperate need of improvement. The Orioles have an awful track record at developing players, and there doesn’t seem to be a streamlined approach to bringing players through the system. Showalter needs to implement a single philosophy to player development as well as hiring in the best coaches and scouts that money can buy.

To his credit, Showalter has a solid track record with his previous teams. Both the Yankees and Diamondbacks won the World Series a year after Showalter left, and in Texas, he took the Rangers to a winning record in his second season. All of this came as manager of those teams, so who knows if he’d be able to do similar things as GM.

No matter what happens, decisions should be made quickly. The Baltimore Sun reported that Angelos, MacPhail and Showalter met yesterday afternoon so an announcement on the front office could come as early as today. The Orioles have a lot of work to do this offseason, so there is no time to waste. And they might as well take advantage of the buzz they created on Wednesday night and force fans to take notice of the moves they make this offseason to gain momentum going into 2012.

The age-old question still remains, however. Can the Orioles win with Angelos as the owner? We have fourteen years of proof saying they can’t. But maybe, just maybe, Showalter can be the one who changes all that.

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