In listing Orioles' needs, don't forget a little luck

The Baltimore Sun

When the news broke yesterday that young Orioles closer Chris Ray, one of the cornerstones of the club's supposedly brighter future, is probably lost for the 2008 season after undergoing radical elbow surgery, the strangest thing popped into my mind.

It was that interview given by owner Peter Angelos awhile back when he postulated that a lot of what has gone wrong with the Orioles organization over the past eight or nine years could be chalked up to bad luck.

I remember chuckling at the time, so sure that Angelos was in some kind of deluded dream world where it was possible to shake off responsibility for nearly a decade of mismanagement. Now I don't know what to think.

I'm certainly not letting Angelos off the hook for stubbornly steering the once-proud Orioles franchise onto the rocks, but I can't help wondering why fate seems to sucker punch the club every time it looks like it might actually turn a corner.

The timing of the Ray announcement is a cruel twist, too.

The Orioles just won back-to-back series against their chief American League East rivals, and they did so in such exhilarating fashion that even some of the jaded, I'm-done-with-them-forever fans had to take notice.

If that wasn't enough to lift the spirits of a broken baseball town, Angelos and new club president Andy MacPhail worked late into Wednesday night to sign top draft pick Matt Wieters and beat a deadline that would have sent the young catcher back to college. They gave him the second-biggest rookie signing bonus in major league history, which should - at least until the free-agent market opens in November - temper widespread cynicism about ownership's commitment to building a winner.

Even Angelos deserves to bask in a little good publicity once in a while, but the honeymoon didn't last a day. Ray underwent Tommy John ligament transplant surgery Thursday and, presumably, changed the way the franchise will have to approach the offseason.

The Orioles figured to go into the winter with the emphasis on upgrading their run-production potential, but now may have to divert several million dollars to sign a stopgap closer. No doubt, they're capable of addressing more than one weakness if Angelos is willing to sign the checks, but it would be nice if the club could go into free agency focused on getting better instead of getting well.

Last year, the focus was on fixing the bullpen after the Orioles lost way too many games in which they were tied or leading after the sixth inning. Relief problems persist, but club officials had hoped to address them from within the organization this time.

Maybe that's still possible. The Orioles called up right-hander Jim Hoey last week with the intention of getting him enough work to make some judgment on his ability to help the club in 2008. Going into last night's game in Toronto, he hadn't given up an earned run in five middle-relief appearances since his return, so it might make sense to have him audition for the closer role.

Manager Dave Trembley said yesterday that it is way too early to put that kind of responsibility on Hoey, but don't be surprised if the club is more open to the idea if Danys Baez fails to settle into the role of emergency closer.

The Orioles will need a lot to go their way next year to morph into a legitimate playoff contender. They'll need to add a legitimate run producer to the middle of the lineup and get breakthrough seasons from a couple more young pitchers. They'll also need to avoid the kind of injury problems that have hampered them since February.

In other words, they're going to need the one intangible that has eluded them for all these many years.

They're going to need a little luck ... and the right kind this time.

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Saturdays and Sundays.

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