In his Q&A Thursday at the Baltimore School of Law Sports Symposium, Orioles general manager Andy MacPhail touched on a variety of subjects, including the state of the franchise, baseball's financial imbalance, whether the Orioles would hypothetically pursue a first baseman like Albert Pujols (should he become a free agent), the reasons manager Buck Showalter was able to make an immediate impact, and where the team stands with its international scouting department.
Much of it couldn't quite make it into our story Friday because of space, but MacPhail's comments are definitely a must-read for Orioles fans, especially as spring training looms.
--Kevin Van Valkenburg
On how Buck Showalter was able to lead such a dramatic turnaround in the final 57 games of the season:
"I think like anything there were probably multiple reasons for it, because it's such a dramatic change, and it happened the day he walked in the door. He would say if he was right here, 'Well, I think the team they envisioned on the field just got healthy.' That might have been part of it, but it's by no means the lion's share of it. I think it's sort of a testament to human nature. The one thing that when you make a managerial change, you're hoping you change the narrative. This is the way we're going forward. It's not a temporary guy. Those guys who might have struggled think: 'Well, I've got a clean slate. I might hit better in a different spot. Things can change.' And also you're dealing with someone who has the reputation in the sport, very well earned, that he's been there. He knows how to give players the tools to succeed. It might be something as simple as telling a hitter: 'You know, when you're 2-2, this guy is going low and away, low and away. It's all he ever does. Lay off it. It's never a strike.' Maybe now he lays off it, the next one is fat, and he gets a double. Or it might be something as simple as a story he told one of our young starters. He said: 'Hey, you're giving these guys too much credit. Throw the ball over [the plate]. You're stuff is pretty good. You don't need to nibble. You have stuff that's as good as Joe Smith, who I had back in '79.' Those are some of the reasons we had such a dramatic change. I think everybody was going, 'What the hell is going on?'
"Because I didn't bring him in with the idea that was going to happen. I brought him in, and I had to cajole him a little bit. I said: 'Buck, we need to make some changes in the offseason. Do you want to be hostage to what I think in the front office? Or do you want to participate and look people in the eye, see who is doing what, and make suggestions with us?' Ultimately, I might have hurt his feelings one time, but I told him that 'you've got to get your feet wet. You haven't done this in three years. You can't put all the pressure on yourself to come in in spring training and magically change everything. You need to get your feet wet and get back into the rhythm of managing.' "
On whether promises were made three years ago by ownership that some of the money generated by the creation of MASN would go toward increasing payroll, so that the Orioles could compete with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox:
"No, I went the other way. I told Peter [Angelos] you had to pare your payroll down, and you had to start investing in your farm system because you're never going to go toe-to-toe with the Yankees and Red Sox because MASN isn't NESN and it isn't YES. And right now, we actually do spend MASN money on our payroll. Now even more so. I think if you're going to be objective, for better or worse, when I came here there was a shift in the mentality. We're going to be a scouting- and development-oriented organization. We're going to throw our money where I think we are on an even field with our opponents. We're not going to chase every free agent and get our payroll up in the neighborhood of $140 million, because this franchise can't sustain that. ... So if you don't like the direction the team took, it's on me. It's more management than it is ownership."On the organization's decision to raise ticket prices despite declining attendance:
"I have two answers to that. The quick and easy one is that I'm a baseball guy, thank God. So I really wasn't involved in that [decision]. But I have a couple of things on that, just based on my Chicago experience. For those people that are price sensitive, there are plenty of good options to buy Orioles tickets if you work at it. And that's what consumers do today with the Internet. They're pretty darn sophisticated. If you want a good price, you can get it. Now, it might be Wednesday night against the Royals and not Sunday night against the Yankees, but those options are still there despite the price increase. The second thing is, when we had the last two months that we had, we made the judgment that we're going to do what we can to sustain this [success], perpetuate this, and move it forward, just because this franchise has had 13 bad years in a row. We've got to move. We can't [keep losing] forever. So to fund in a small part -- and I do mean small -- of the additional $20 million that we went up in payroll, we went from $73 million to $93 million, and the ticket revenue is only going to make up a small fraction of that. But to me, it should be perceived as an indicator that we're making an investment back into the payroll. I took [the payroll] down, spent the money elsewhere, and now we're bringing it back up."
On whether the Orioles would ever go beyond their budget to sign a special player in free agency if they thought it would allow them to contend:
"Well, let's look at the history. We did offer Mark Teixeira $140 million with the idea that we could move up. Now, in my view, that was like the perfect storm. You had a local kid, a switch-hitter, a first baseman, above-average defense, you could [sign him] for seven years and still think you were going to get production at the position [at the end of the contract]. He's one of those rare players who is going to go 0-4 and still help you win a game with his defense. He was a local kid. Everything was there. But if we're wrong about a thing like that, and we're devoting $20 million a year, if you're devoting 20 percent of your payroll to one player, you cannot be wrong. That's a torpedo below the water line. So that was the one guy. But they don't come along that often. It has to be like that perfect storm of things where I would recommend to ownership that you make that kind of investment.
"And you know what? He got a better deal. He went to a team that won a championship. You wouldn't have done the same thing?"
On whether Albert Pujols would represent a similar perfect storm:
"I'll give you a different take on that as I try to evade that question the best I can. There is this assumption that because this guy got [a huge number] and this guy got [an even bigger number], Albert Pujols has to get [a salary bigger than both]. Well, what if there are no bidders? What if the music stops and there are no chairs? Let's say Pujols signs with St. Louis. Where does Prince Fielder go? Do you want to make that bet on Prince Fielder at $20 million per as opposed to Teixeira? I'll be honest with you, the likelihood of us stepping out to the degree that [Pujols] is looking at, for any one player, is remote at best. I read that he's looking for $30 million a year, and I just can't see how that's going to happen. Now, I'm management. I'm not ownership. I make recommendations. I don't own the team. But I just think with what you have to do, I can't see it."
On a real-life example of baseball's financial imbalance between the Orioles and the Yankees, and why it differs so greatly from the way the NFL is run:
"I went on our website to see what you can find for two full-season tickets. I found you could purchase two seasons in Section 14, Row 6, over the course of the entire Orioles offseason, for $5,184. So I went back on the Internet and I thought, alright, what can I get for a comparable seat with the New York Yankees. Well, in just about the same location, Section 13, Row 5, which is maybe just a little further out of first base than the ones I looked at in Camden Yards, you can have those two tickets for $57,500. We're not talking about sponsorships, we're not talking about suites, we're not talking about restaurants they have in ballparks now. That's just the ticket price. The disparity in the local revenue in MLB is so much greater than it is in the NFL. There is no local TV in the NFL. To me, that explains why in the year , you can still have a team in Green Bay in the NFL, and not only can you have a team in the NFL in Green Bay, but they can be the world champions.
On the Orioles' decision to sign Vladimir Guerrero, and how the team made the decision to increase its offer to $8 million:
"I don't know how much of this I can really talk about because he hasn't passed a physical. But I'll kind of go hypothetical. It's not something we were really anticipating. We tried to take advantage of the situation. They were rather dogmatic on what they wanted. We ended up finding a creative way of doing what we needed to do, and yet satisfying what they needed. And one of the motivations was I kept reading this Michael Young stuff. Michael Young was with the Rangers, but what if he does get traded? The [Rangers] had an interest in Vlad earlier in the offseason, and they had him last season, so maybe they jump back in the bidding. So finding a creative solution was [important]. While I didn't discern another active bidder at the time, my experience has taught me that that doesn't mean there is not going to be a bidder down the line. So if you can make the right deal, just go ahead and make the right deal."
On the relationship between owner Peter Angelos and Cal Ripken Jr., and why Ripken isn't working in the Orioles front office in some capacity:
"Cal and Peter will have lunch together -- I don't know when the last time was -- but usually on a monthly basis. I've gotten to know Cal a little since I've been here, and Cal will be the first to tell you he doesn't have the Aberdeen franchise unless Peter gave it up, because that was the Orioles' territorial right. They work together. Peter was the one owner who would not go for the replacement players, partly because of his union background, but because it was going to disrupt Cal's streak, which he held in high esteem. They have a good relationship. Cal has been clear to me that as long as his son Ryan is at Gilman, and he can make up some of the time that he wasn't able to spend with him as a player, that's what he's going to do. And then once Ryan goes to college, all bets are off. Cal is a great baseball mind. You can't achieve what Cal achieved on talent alone. There's got to be a lot more there. And he will make a good asset to what I hope will be the Oriole organization, or any organization that he goes into, once he determines that's what he wants to do."
On how the Orioles are doing in international scouting, specifically the Dominican Republic and Venezuela:
"It's a good question. We're still not head over heels in international scouting. We get criticized occasionally for not spending enough there. But you've got to understand, in the Dominican Republic, the whole game has changed. It used to be you'd go there and see a lot of kids playing baseball. Now there is something called a buscón. They're agents, and what they'll do is they'll take a kid who is 12 or 13 and has some promise. They'll feed them, clothe them, and put them in a workout regimen. They're not playing baseball anymore. What these guys prepare them to do is to come in all these complexes -- and now we have one of them -- and they'll do workouts. They're not playing the game anymore. They're guys who have been developed over three or four years to look good in a three- or four-day tryout. And there are those old-fashioned amongst us who are concerned that's not really the look we need to make a good read on a 17-year-old kid out of the Dominican. We would much rather see them play games. Just think about a lot of U.S. players who wouldn't do that well in a workout, but they are good baseball players because they can play the game. We've lost an element of that in the Dominican, and where we apply our resources is somewhat of a reflection of that.
"We are not in Venezuela nearly to the degree that we need to be in. We have our approach in the Dominican. It might not be the best, but Venezuela is definitely something we need to look into in a more studious fashion because the last time I checked, you've got 6 percent of players in the major leagues are coming out of Venezuela, and we need to be more active there."
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