The Orioles have lost their manager and a slew of games, but club president Andy MacPhail (right, photo by Reuters), the man who drafted the blueprint for the worst team in baseball, insists they have not lost their way.
"I have no doubt whatsoever that not only we are on the right path, we are on the only path that we can take if we are serious about ever being a contender in the American League East," MacPhail said Friday at interim manager Juan Samuel's introductory presser.
I know how ridiculous MacPhail's vote of self-confidence sounds. The 16-41 Orioles couldn't find fourth place by the end of the season with the help of Bear Grylls and a dozen GPS satellites. Now that Dave Trembley has finally, mercifully been relieved of his duties, MacPhail will be the next guy to be sized up for the chopping block if the franchise's landslide continues.
(Samuel doesn't count. He's playing with house money until the Orioles handpick a skipper for the long haul. "We need to find the right fit," said MacPhail.)
While plenty of angry, impatient fans are already calling for MacPhail's head — the firing of Crazy Uncle Dave wasn't enough to satisfy their bloodlust — I stand by his purposely plodding rebuilding plan.
I know how ridiculous that sounds. But MacPhail's way is the right way: The Orioles "needed to skew young," ditch the overpriced veterans and build up the farm a la Farmville to compete with the big boys in Boston and the Bronx.
In recent years, the tear-it-down-then-build-it-up philosophy worked to revive the Rays, the NBA's Thunder and the NHL's Penguins. Yet that approach has shown few signs that similar success is in the Orioles' future. The problem hasn't been the master plan as much as it has been the execution.
Say what you want about MacPhail's signings of stopgap veterans such as Koji Uehara, Michael Gonzalez and Garrett Atkins — "they sucked" is a popular, poignant assessment — but he has done an excellent job stockpiling young talent since he took over the Orioles' front office three years ago.
Adam Jones. Chris Tillman. Josh Bell. Brian Matusz. All future studs, the scouts said just a couple of months ago. All plugged into the organization by MacPhail.
But bringing in top-flight prospects is one thing. Turning them into top-flight major leaguers is another. The recent regression of players such as Jones, Matt Wieters and Nolan Reimold has prompted criticism that the Orioles overestimated the talents of their young guns.
I say they've underdeveloped them.
To carry out MacPhail's plan to success and follow in the footsteps of the AL East-leading Rays, the Orioles must pour their limited finances into player development, not over-the-hill first basemen. They can't be contenders unless the Joneses and Matuszes reach their full potential.
MacPhail acknowledged the Orioles have taken a "giant step" backward in 2010. The annual fire sale should commence in a few weeks. And though the Orioles are on pace to finish with a 45-117 record, MacPhail said Friday — the day the organization finally based its judgment of Trembley on wins and losses — that he is "not really giving up on the wins and losses just yet."
OK, well, we gave up on them a month ago.
I haven't given up hope for MacPhail just yet. Three years is enough time to evaluate a manager; it's not enough for the president of baseball operations.
The clock is ticking, though. MacPhail has to get his plan back on track fast to be here long enough to see the Orioles find their way.