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Long-range thinking

The Baltimore Sun

Hired in June to head the Orioles' front office, president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail faces a daunting task this off-season as he attempts to resuscitate a team in the midst of 10 straight losing seasons.

He sat down with The Sun's Orioles beat reporter, Jeff Zrebiec, Thursday for a question-and-answer session. MacPhail, executive vice president Mike Flanagan and director of baseball administration Scott Proefrock will represent the Orioles at baseball's general managers meetings, which begin today and run through Thursday in Orlando, Fla.

You met with Orioles owner Peter Angelos recently to discuss your plans and the general direction of the club. What can you reveal about that meeting?

Wherever I've been, whatever team I've worked for, I've always gone to ownership at the end of the year and tried to give them as realistic of an assessment of where we are, what's on the horizon and different options on how we should approach the future. ... You give him different options and recommendations and then jointly together you determine the course.

What is the course and when will it become apparent?

I've learned through experience that tactically it's best for me that while we can start to employ the plan and prepare for the plan, it's not something that you want to share with your competitors. I think, over time, those things become self-evident and actions speak louder than words. ... I don't think we are a signing or two away from contending for the postseason next year. I think that pretty much says it. You have to take a different approach. If you could ask me five years from now, "What one thing could you accomplish where you'd think your time here in Baltimore was well-spent?" I would like someone to say, "They really created a top echelon scouting and development franchise." I think that's a principal goal for us to achieve to assure our fans that they don't have 10 more years of losing. ... If you stay diligent and you invest the time, the energy and the money, it will pay off. I think an example of that is committing $7.1 million to two draft picks [Matt Wieters and Jake Arrieta]. I think that's putting your money where your mouth is.

There is a perception out there that Angelos wouldn't submit to a rebuilding process. Is that accurate?

The perception, I would imagine, is based on the fact that Peter is competitive. He likes to win, he doesn't like to lose. There isn't too much in his life that he's lost at.

With fan unrest already high after 10 straight losing seasons, do you think Orioles fans could stand a rebuilding process and will that factor in your decision at all?

Clearly, you take your fans into account. That clearly factors into whatever decisions you make and whatever course you choose to chart. It's my belief and my experience that fans have the capacity for a lot on either side of the equation if you are direct and honest with them.

How active do you see your club being in free agency, or do you view trades as a quicker way to get things done?

I think you'd be foolish to arbitrarily close out any avenue without exploring it, whether it be free agency, trades, Rule 5 draft, waiver wire acquisitions, minor league free agents. But I've said it before and I'll say it again, I don't think we are one trade or one free-agent signing or one waiver claim from turning this ship around. I think it's going to take a combination of things and we'll have the opportunity to explore all of them.

Do you see the Orioles being in the running for the top free agents, like Alex Rodriguez or Torii Hunter?

I think the answer to that is I don't see one player - no matter how good the player is - making that much of a difference.

What are the team's biggest needs right now?

I think you win with pitching. While we do have a foundation of good, young starting pitching and one would hope that it stays healthy, you don't enjoy the foundation in the relieving part of it. That's a concern. Outfield production was not what you'd like for a team playing in this league and in this division.

You met with shortstop Miguel Tejada late in the season. Have you had further discussions with him and is moving him to third base a realistic option?

I haven't talked to Miguel since the season was finished, but I'm a Tejada fan. To me, he's a good hitter, plays with a lot of enthusiasm and energy. I gave him different options. I felt I owed it to him to talk to him and give him an idea on where I was coming from. He told me where he was coming from. It's one of those situations where you have to see how things unfold over the course of the off-season.

Have you gotten a lot of interest in Tejada?

There is interest in good players out there. There are more positions open than there are real good players to fill them. I think it's going to be reasonable to expect that there is going to be a lot of interest in the players that performed well for us last year.

Would exploring a contract extension for ace Erik Bedard be a priority before entertaining trade offers for the pitcher?

Twenty-eight-year-old left-handers that are as dominant as he was over the course of the season are hard to come by. ... I am responsible to listen to other clubs and see what they have in mind and what would make sense. I don't think that this franchise is in a position just to categorically reject anything without considering it. We've already had sort of preliminary conversations on an [extension] with his representative, but nothing specific. Clearly, it's something that interests us.

Have you been given a budget by Angelos, and do you foresee the payroll going up?

I've made recommendations to Peter on different approaches. But the last thing I can afford my competitors to read is where my payroll is going.

You're still in the process of hiring another executive. What role do you foresee this person having and will he be considered the No. 2 guy behind you?

The two people that I had earmarked for that [the Chicago Cubs' Oneri Fleita and the Minnesota Twins' Mike Radcliff] both were promoted between the time I could talk to them and the time the season was over. Both of them are now vice presidents for personnel. It may be that I attack this by doing more than one with lesser jobs. ... I'm happy to have Brian Graham supplement our development system. I'm happy to have Lee [MacPhail] come in and help us with some of our major league operations. It changes the complexion of the other parts that I need.

What is the latest on executive vice president Mike Flanagan's status?

I use Mike as a resource often about things that have happened here or how he projects out players in our system. He's a resource for me to utilize. He has a deep background in pitching, which, in my view, needs to be the cornerstone of this franchise.

Are you concerned about the coming release of George Mitchell's study on performance-enhancing drugs in baseball?

It's really not on my mind. I don't take it lightly, but I have a saying, "The truth will set you free." I think you are better off knowing where you are as a sport, and I'd like to think it's going to benefit the sport in the long run. I certainly support what he's doing and the commissioner's efforts to find out. But I think the most important thing is, as best you can, put the proper restraints on the future.

How much do you feel hamstrung by all the lucrative, long-term deals many on the Orioles roster currently have?

I'd rather have the flexibility. That's just being honest. We do have a significant amount of payroll committed over the next two years. My preference would be to have a little less committed in the future, but you are where you are and you have to deal with it.

When do you see things heating up this off-season?

At the GM meetings, you get an opportunity to sit down face-to-face with teams and explore different approaches they may take and how they think that it may impact you. Between the GM meetings and conclusion of the winter meetings, I hope to see the consummation of several trades. I'm hoping for a more active trade market.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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