MacPhail's Orioles legacy: Good arms left ungrown

His contract set to expire at the end of October, Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail is expected to step down from his position after Wednesday's season finale, perhaps as soon as Thursday.

Under his general management, the Orioles won 68 games in 2008, 64 in 2009 and 66 in 2010. MacPhail, who took over control of the front office during the 2007 season, said in the past that 2011 should be evaluated on wins and losses. If they beat the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday night, the 2011 squad will finish 69-93.

Clearly, MacPhail doesn't get a passing grade in that regard. But what about growing the arms and buying the bats? Well, since MacPhail struck out on wiffle-ball-caliber bats such as Garrett Atkins, Vladimir Guerrero and Derrek Lee, let's just stick to the arms. How have the Orioles done developing pitchers under MacPhail?

First, let me once again say that besides his overspending for a few veteran free-agents, MacPhail had the right blueprint for rebuilding the organization. He quickly cashed in his most valuable assets, Miguel Tejada and Erik Bedard, for a haul of prospects and MLB players that include 2011 Most Valuable Oriole Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, George Sherrill, Luke Scott and Troy Patton. And he stocked the farm system with a crop of solid pitchers.

The problem is the arms -- the ones he acquired and the ones he inherited -- didn't bloom as the Orioles had hoped.

Our former Orioles beat reporter Jeff Zrebiec, who now is over on the Ravens beat, interviewed Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus for a story about the team's pitching prospects he wrote back in 2009.

"If you want to be a huge dreamer, you start thinking about those early '70s [Orioles] rotations," Goldstein, a national writer for Baseball Prospectus, told Zrebiec. "Obviously that's hyperbole, but there's definitely a lot of talent. If everything breaks right, you are talking about a 2011 Orioles rotation that could be pretty sick."

More like sickening.

Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton are keepers. But Brian Matusz, Tillman and Brad Bergesen are no longer locks for the rotation in 2012 and beyond. Patton is a bit player in the Orioles bullpen. Jason Berken, also a reliever for manager Buck Showalter, had an uneven season after a fine 2010. David Hernandez has been lights-out in late-inning situations this season -- for the Arizona Diamondbacks (he was included in the Mark Reynolds trade).

To make matters worse, the winner of the Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Tim Bascom, is 26 years old and the organization's top pitching prospect, Dylan Bundy, just graduated from high school.

In other words, the second round of the cavalry is years away from coming to the Orioles' rescue.

If and when it gets here, MacPhail will no longer be president of baseball operations. He had the right general plan of attack to succeed in the big, bad AL East against, as Showalter calls them, all those big, hairy guys. But the cavalry retreated.

The first act of business for whichever brave soul agrees to replace MacPhail -- whether it is Showalter or someone who is willing to co-exist with Showalter -- is to figure out what went wrong and fix it. Was it scouting or player development or both? Then it's time to lay the foundation for another renovation.

Growing some arms would be a good start.

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